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The diet industry – a £30bn a year scam?

(A slightly different subject today) The worldwide diet industry – books, special foods, dieting programmes, weight-watching groups etc – is probably worth over £30bn a year. But is it all just a pointless, self-serving scam?

Until recently, I’ve never tried to diet. Though I have tried to control my weight through exercising five days a week. But I’ve designed a new diet that both reduces calorie intake and increases metabolic rate (the speed at which we use the calories we have consumed), so I decided to give dieting a go. My aim was to lose 10 kilos (about 12% of my body weight) in three months.

In addition to my diet, I also increased by daily exercise from around 1,000 calories a day to between 1,500 and 1,800 calories a day.

At first things went swimmingly. I lost 7 kilos in 8 weeks and it looked like my 10 kilos target would be easily reached. Then suddenly everything stopped. Despite further increasing my exercise and keeping to the diet, my weight at first stayed constant and then even started to creep up a little.

Having looked around on Google, this is what I suspect happens when a person goes on a diet and/or increases their level of calorie usage:

It’s quite easy to lose around 5% to 7% of your body weight through reducing calorie intake and increasing calories used. Hence most diets are effective for the first few weeks. But we’re at a unique time in human history. Whatever the season and whatever the weather, most people in the world have enough to eat.

However, for tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of years, this wasn’t the case. For perhaps 99% or more of human history, humans have had to live through times of plenty and times of food scarcity. And our bodies have learnt how to adapt. When food is scarce, our metabolic rate slows down so we can survive despite taking in fewer calories. I suppose this process is a mini version of the way some animals slow down their bodies when hibernating.

So, what does this mean for dieting?

It means that when you start a diet, ideally combined with an increase in exercise, you will definitely lose weight if you use more calories than you consume. But after a few weeks your body will adapt to you taking in fewer calories and using more calories than before and you’ll reach a new equilibrium so won’t lose any more weight.

But then comes the cruel part. Your body has now adapted to the reduced calorie intake and increase in calories used. So, if you slack off on your diet and/or reduce your level of exercise and return to the way you lived before your diet and exercise regime, your body’s slower metabolic rate will ensure you rapidly put on weight faster than you did before you started your diet and exercise regime.

diet scam

Of course, I’m not a scientist or a nutrition expert. And millions of hugely obese, obscenely waddling fat mountains need to get a grip, eat less and exercise more. And it probably doesn’t matter which, if any, diet they follow, as long as they reduce their consumption of junk food and get their lard-arses away from their sofas and flat-screen TVs.

But for people who are fairly close to their genetically defined weight, I have a feeling that what I’ve written above is something approaching the truth – diets will cause us to lose weight in the short term. But they can’t really work over a longer period because of the way our bodies adapt if we start using more calories than we consume. Moreover, I suspect that most people in the highly lucrative £30bn a year diet industry know this.

However, this is a truth none of the magazine articles and diet books and diet programmes will ever tell us as this would destroy their extremely profitable £30bn a year business. So, the magazines keep on churning out articles telling us how we can get the perfect body and smart people make millions writing books about their particular new supposed ‘wonder diet’.

1 comment to The diet industry – a £30bn a year scam?

  • MGJ

    I agree. Counting calories is completely pointless. However keeping an honest log of what you eat is not. I’m frequently told how “lucky” I am not to be fat by people who are constantly stuffing themselves with sweets and snacks whilst claiming they eat next to nothing.

    The only diet I have any faith in – and I tried it just for fun – is to cut right down on carbs, particularly sugar. When you get most of your calories from fat, you never get insulin-induced food cravings and over-eating is practically impossible because you feel full. Contrary to what many “experts” say, it is neither unhealthy nor boring.

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