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Great information or the heart of the overweight epidemic?

“Out of breath.”

That was my answer when a major media outlet asked me to describe the current state of the average dieter.

The reporter wanted me to clarify, “You mean from all the cardio?”

“That’s what you’d think. But most people are exhausted from running to one diet to another. They’re fatigued. Mentally. Physically. And their stomachs pay in the form of retaliation, frustration, and weight gain.”

“And all the money lost,” the reporter added.

I hesitated for a moment.

“Don’t get me started.”

The interview was supposed to be about health trends. I wasn’t much help because the only health trend that matters is the one no one addresses. Maybe it’s because the issue hasn’t been fixed for more than 30 years and shows no sign of slowing down.

I asked the reporter if she would share my comments on the dark side of the nutrition industry. She declined because of concerns about “angering advertisers.”

Anger? How about the anger of the millions of people with a limited understanding of nutrition that is stuck in an endless pattern of weight loss hell?

“People deserve to know,” I said at the end of the conversation.

“You’re right, but who will publish it? It’s not sexy, even if you are right.”

At this point, I’m guessing you’ll trade success for sexy. So here’s what few are willing to discuss:

You are being sold — literally — a bunch of lies by a diet industry that claims to be part of the solution. And this isn’t about diet pills. It’s bigger than that. The nutrition industry (not even considering fitness) has become a burden on your health, your sanity, and your understanding of what is good for your body.

If you’re tired of running for your health — either literally or figuratively — then it’s time to open your eyes to the biggest fraud of them all…

The diet industry. Arguably, the worst $100 billion investment. And for a change, it’s time to honestly assess the vicious cycle of broken promises

The first time I tried a weight loss diet, I cut out all carbs. No bread. No fruits. And yes, no vegetables either. You know, because vegetables are carbs. No means no. And I took the mantra seriously.

This doesn’t sound too bad until you realize it’s hard to construct a worse diet. (My apologies if this is how you eat now. But take it from my former self: it’s a bad idea.) Yet there I was, a professional in the fitness and nutrition industry, representing all that is wrong with modern-day nutrition.

The diet was dumb. My weight experienced more highs and lows than Colorado edibles (hypothetically speaking, of course), I lost muscle (not fat), became frustrated, and like many others, I decided to quit the diet game…until I started the next one.

I was 20 years old, training people, and admittedly had no idea what I was doing with my own nutrition.

Fast forward nearly 15 years, and I no longer recommend diets that consist of broiled chicken and more broiled chicken. I’ve invested thousands of dollars in nutrition education, spent endless hours of mentorship with the top nutritionists, and read research until my eyes bleed. But the problems are worse than ever. If something doesn’t change soon, the discussion will be the same in another 15 years with more severe consequences.

Let’s just put this out into the universe and hope it sticks: one food will not automatically make you gain weight.

That means there’s a place for ice cream, burgers, beers, pizza, and cake. Research suggests that frequent dessert can be a healthy long-term weight loss strategy.

I’ve tried many diets; even those that I know are not supported by science or rock-solid research. Sometimes it’s fun to experiment. After all, your job is to find what works for your body.

Unfortunately, discovering the “you solution” has become more complicated than ever. Rather than embracing the individual nature of every body and focusing on big picture goals (sleep, protein, fruits, and vegetables), the diet industry majors in the minor. It’s the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) in reverse.

The more ridiculous the claim, the better it sells. Blood type diets, alkaine-acid diets, detox diets, cookie diets. All are ridiculous and without any scientific support.

Technically, you can lose weight on any diet. That was the purpose of “The Twinkie Diet,” where Dr. Mark Haub showed how he could lose 27 pounds eating mostly Twinkies. Haub wasn’t trying to tell people to eat more Twinkies. On a deeper level, he was showing how manipulating calories can lead to weight loss, even if you’re not selecting the healthiest foods.

Unfortunately, the diet industry takes advantage of this reality but with something that is much easier for you to believe and accept. You hear “Twinkie Diet” and think gimmick. If a doctor sells you on the idea of “eat fat and avoid carbs,” that’s easier to digest. But it’s far more dangerous.

The more restrictive the approach, the easier it is to sell the solution because it’s something you haven’t tried before.

If you trust statistics from The National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of obesity among adults more than doubled since the 1960s, increasing from 13.4 to 35.7 percent in U.S. adults age 20 and older.

Before hundreds of diet books, supplements, and Bulletproof coffee, being overweight wasn’t a growing problem or a global epidemic.

Sure, the food industry should take a big step forward for their dirty role in the rise of obesity; hyper-palatable, sugar-loaded foods, bigger portion sizes, misleading marketing, it all adds up. But many people are already skeptical of the food industry.

It’s the diet and nutrition industry that continues to throw the ultimate sucker-punch.

The more science has advanced, the more we have regressed in our ability to lose weight. Why? Probably because 99% of the diet industry is caught somewhere between self-experimentation and pseudoscience. It’s the world’s greatest (and worst) case study of science-gone-wrong.

And now we’re all paying the price.

Your health is the ultimate investment, but the health industry has a dirty secret: You’re putting your money, faith, and health into a broken concept.

For the most part, diet books, pills, and supplement powders have shown no ability to reverse the obesity trend. The “magic bullet” mentality powers an industry valued at more than $100 billion worldwide. You’re told that weight loss is a journey, but most people feel like it’s a one-way road with an inevitable dead end.

That’s not to say diet books and supplements are the cause of the staggering increase in overweight and obesity. They are not.

Some books and products are valuable and have helped people lose weight and change their lives. Unfortunately, they are the exception to the rule, and, oftentimes (unfortunately), reach a smaller audience.

If the good information reached more people, then we wouldn’t be living in the scary reality outlined by The Atlantic:

From 1980 to 2000, [obesity rates] doubled. In 2001, the U.S. surgeon general announced that obesity had reached “epidemic” proportions. Seven years later, as the obesity rate continued to rise, 68 percent of American adults were overweight, and 34 percent were obese; roughly one in three children and adolescents was overweight, and nearly one in five was obese. Americans now consume 2,700 calories a day, about 500 calories more than 40 years ago. In 2010, we still rank as the world’s fattest developed nation, with an obesity rate more than double that of many European nations.

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The leanest state is >20% obese. This is what we call a problem.

Let that sink in. As early as 2000, people in the United States spent 17 billion alone on supplements. That’s a lot of protein powder. Just 16 years later, that number jumped to $35 billion.

Do the math: a $20 billion increase in spending occurred at the same time obesity rates skyrocketed. Coincidence? If you think so, I have a pet rock I’d like to sell you.

The generic promise of diet books and pills is the kiss of death. Literally. We follow empty solutions that make you fear certain foods or habits, force you into a lifestyle that might not be the best fit and ultimately break your willpower and mindset about what it takes to live a healthier life.

It’s the dieting spiral aka the “yo-yo” problem. You gain weight, become more frustrated, try another quick fix, and the problem repeats itself. Each failure is another rejection that threatens your mindset and weakens the belief that something will change.

Just as “move more, eat less” is worthless advice, putting your faith in supplements, extreme diets, superfoods or “biohacking” miracle waters is not doing anything to shift the scale. In fact, it’s costing you more money, increasing disease, and cutting lifespan.

To quote the CDC:

Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. The medical care costs of obesity in the United States are high. In 2008 dollars, these costs were estimated to be $147 billion.The annual nationwide productive costs of obesity obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion ($79 per obese individual) and $6.38 billion ($132 per obese individual).

So why punish yourself? Why start another short-term fix that is more likely to lead to frustration than fat loss? It’s time to break the vicious cycle.

Listen, I understand the desire to make quick changes. I’ve dedicated my life to helping others by building a respected online fitness coaching platform, creating free content, and writing books (I’ve authored 6 of my own, and another 3 as a ghostwriter), and creating a supplement business that does everything the right way (and invests in safety) in an attempt to help more people. Sometimes it works great. Other times it fails.

I’m the first to admit that some of my old advice is wrong. Not purposely, but still wrong. And that guilt pushes me to make a change and champion a new movement. One that starts with the very foundation of how we eat and where we look for solutions.

Ditch diets that offer the “easy” fix. Scientists have literally pitted one against the other, only to find out that…surprise!…there’s more than one way to drop pounds. Many diets work.

Create a diet that primarily (but not exclusively) consists of real foods (think proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and yes, even grains), but also provides enough flexibility to eat some foods that you like.

Most diets work on a concept of addition by subtraction. Remove one food (or many foods), eat other foods, and you will lose weight. But this has behavioral implications (Paleo eaters miss pasta, detox drinkers miss real food, all humans crave dessert) that leads to burnout and a lack of consistency.

The real diet secret: you need to find a plan that you can realistically follow for a prolonged period of time. Not just 4 weeks or 60 days. You didn’t gain weight immediately and you won’t lose it quickly either — at least not in a way that will keep it off in the long-term. After all, less than 20% of people are able to keep off the weight for more than a year.

For the average person, losing fat takes time. In general, the more fat you have to lose, the quicker it will come off. Most “overweight” people can expect to lose around 2 to 3 pounds per week (at most). They can lose more, but that’s the average. The less you have to lose, the slower it will come off, with leaner people losing a maximum of 1 to 2 pounds per week. And those that are already really lean, the process is even slower.

Losing 1-pound per week doesn’t sound like much. Four pounds a month won’t have you jumping for joy. But if the law of averages holds, and you lose 24 pounds in 6 months that won’t come back, isn’t that better than the 4-week quick fix and immediate regain? Or, as most people experience, year-after-year-after-year of battling weight loss and gain?

Play the long game. Slow and steady really does win the race, and you can enjoy dessert in the process. I don’t care if you’re a mom who has struggled with weight loss, if you’re a man trying to regain your edge in your 40s, or a cancer survivor.

If we can’t teach people what really causes weight gain and loss, pretty soon everyone will think starvation is the only option simply because we’ll run out of foods to blame. Already, the list of “at risk” foods or eating behaviors that have been featured in diet books includes:

  • Carbs
  • Fat
  • Gluten/wheat
  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Lactose
  • Red meat
  • Night eating
  • Breakfast
  • Snacks
  • Big meals
  • Solid foods
  • Cooked foods (raw food diet)

What’s left? Fasting as a growing trend because it has some scientific support for potential health benefits. But in a world where more is better, a 16- or 24-hour fast (supported by research and safe) has suddenly swelled to 48 hours or more (potentially unsafe). We have arrived at the point where people think it’s OK to starve themselves.

The only other option is the ultimate backlash and the reality for most: confusion, frustration, and a downward spiral. You eat everything, in large quantities, and lose all control because we no longer know wrong from right, up from down, “superfood” from dessert. (After all, dark chocolate is a superfood, right?)

Weight loss is complex, especially when you consider obesity is oftentimes not a choice. Calories matter. So does food quality and selection, genetics, hormones, exercise habits, your body fat levels, age, and even the weight of your parents.

So where do you go from here?

It’s time to focus on behaviors and making choices that match your lifestyle. Reset expectations and stop pushing for rapid weight loss. It’s not real. You can drop a bunch of weight in one week, but what good is it if you gain it all back one week later…and then add even more?

If you want to remove food because it’s not something you enjoy or eat often, then do it.

If you have reason to believe (medically) that a type of food is causing problems for your digestive system, then make the adjustment. Food allergies and sensitivities. From lactose to gluten, those are real problems and can be problematic. But they only affect a tiny (tiny) proportion of society.

If you feel better making small adjustments, then you should alter your diet and do what works best for you.

But don’t believe that any individual food–-especially one that is “natural” and has numerous studies suggesting health benefits–-is problematic. Any diet that suggests absolute certainty is likely to lead to long-term frustration and weight gain.

Aren’t you tired of running?

This is your chance to catch your breath and walk on a new path to a better body and a better life.

Hard Times = More Help

The introduction of COVID has changed everything for everyone. That’s why we put together a free comprehensive resource of tips, workouts, articles, and recipes to help you stay healthy in any situation. You can access it all here.

Written by

NYT Best Selling Author. Chief of Nutrition @ Ladder. Founder of Born Fitness, Pen Name Consulting, and two12. Former Fitness Editor @ Men's Health.

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