The diet and weight loss industry wants to sell you the idea that they have a solution that’s easy to follow. Effortless. Comfortable. The pounds will just melt off if you just follow this particular plan, take this supplement, or drink this shake (and, of course, pay them for it). I believe that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. (And wouldn’t we all be thin if that quick and easy solution had been discovered?) Scientific research has shown us time and time again that diets don’t work (weight regain after about 6 months being the norm), AND that every diet works as long as people actually adhere to it. Let me repeat that: almost any diet will work to produce weight loss, and the primary determinant of success at weight loss and longer term weight maintenance is one’s level of adherence. The people who stick with the plan the best and continue to show up day after day are the people who lose the weight and keep it off. This applies whether you follow a low fat vegan diet or a low carb ketogenic diet. The reasons why “diets don’t work” is because people stop following them, not because they don’t technically work. So why do we stop following them?
Is this our fault? We just don’t have the willpower, the strength of character, to follow a diet? No, it’s not a moral failure. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU if you struggle with obesity. Our brains and bodies are built to search out and eat food and to store it as fat, and these very strong counter-influences make weight loss extremely hard for people. Our brains and bodies evolved during thousands of years of relative food scarcity, before the advent of industrialized food production, so our biology is set up to store energy (as fat) whenever and wherever we can. Our brains evolved to create desire to get us up off the cave floor and out hunting for food — the natural high, courtesy of our friends dopamine and the endorphins, that we got when we came across some honey or a handful of ripe berries was an advantage that kept us healthy and allowed the human race to flourish. The people who couldn’t gorge on food and store fat died during times of food scarcity. If our brains didn’t have a mechanism to make us want food and drive us to go get it and eat as much of it as we can, we’d be extinct. The problem is that in the last few centuries, our brilliant brains have come up with all kinds of solutions to make life easier for us. We now have food in abundance, available anywhere we turn, 24 hours a day. We don’t have to work for it anymore. And not only is food ubiquitous, it’s also now been transformed from whole foods like berries and meat to processed foods which take the small amount of pleasure we would’ve gotten from a handful of berries and concentrating it into a refined source of megapleasure: sugar. A brain that has evolved over thousands of years to give us a natural high with every bite of sugar is no match for the current food environment in which massive doses of sugar are available at arm’s reach anywhere and always. It’s perfectly natural for us to overeat sugar and refined carbohydrates. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. And it makes us feel gooood in the moment. Trying to counter against this is NOT easy, I don’t care what any diet plan or product tells you. It’s not going to be effortless, and it is very often uncomfortable (especially in the beginning). And we don’t want to be uncomfortable! But we are the most brilliant, powerful beings on the planet, and that same primitive brain that wants us to eat sugar and refined carbohydrates all the time has also evolved to have a higher center — the prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain that is aware, can plan ahead and make decisions that are good for our futures even when our instincts want us to do something else in the moment. The human part of our brain is so brilliant and powerful that it is capable of overcoming thousands of years of evolution, overcoming our fat-storing biology, and overcoming the current food environment where we can eat sugar or refined carbohydrates any time we want without lifting a finger. No matter what any diet plan or supplement advertisement tries to sell you on, weight loss and long-term maintenance is NOT easy or comfortable. It’s hard as hell.
Luckily we brilliant humans can do hard things. We just have to be willing to let our executive brains rule our primitive brains and be willing to feel the resultant discomfort. Anyone who is unwilling to feel some level of discomfort will not be successful at weight loss or successfully keep it off, period. (And, by the way, isn’t it ironic that we would then feel discomfort anyway, just for a different reason: the discomfort of living in an overweight body). So we need to get comfortable with discomfort in order to achieve our goals. If you’re willing to invest the effort, it just takes practice… and then, over time, it gets easier.