Weight-Loss Researcher Focuses on Failure-Prone Diet Behavior

Article excerpt

Diets that focus on weight loss don't work.

If you're among the 99 percent of women who are trying to get or stay thin, you already know this. But it's one thing to deduce it from your own experience, quite another to have it confirmed, in unequivocal terms, by an

obesity researcher.

His name is Michael Lowe. Officially, he's a psychology professor at MCP Hahnemann University. His specialty: dieting behavior. In other words, he makes his living studying how folks react to victory and defeat in the battle of the bulge.

Truth to tell, there are mostly defeats. In fact, most folks on a diet can expect to lose only about 10 percent of their starting weights, says Lowe.

How does this translate in real life? If you're a woman of a certain age whose fondness for Doritos and vanilla-fudge ice cream and contempt for exercise, have caused you to grow rather zaftig since your cheerleading days (when you were a 120-pound sprite), and you now tip the scale at, say, 170 pounds, you're a dreamer if you think you're going to be able to pare away much more than 17 pounds of lard. Sure, you may dip below 150 but every fat cell in your body will be on the brink of mutiny, clamoring to be fed. And you'll give in.

Within a year, most folks gain back about a third of what they lose. Within five years, nearly everyone gains it all back, and then some.

But why? I asked him when we chatted the other day. Why do the pounds always come back?

Three reasons:

As we age, we lose muscle, and muscle is "metabolically active" -- that is, it burns calories even when you're at rest. When you diet, you don't lose your fat cells. You just shrink 'em, and they can shrink only so far.

When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down because, in Lowe's words, "your body is reacting defensively to the caloric deprivation." Eventually, your metabolism rebounds, but the furnace never gets as hot as it once was. Reason: Of the weight you lost, about three-quarters was fat; one quarter was muscle, and muscle is special.

Pretty discouraging. Yet, Lowe, 48, is pumped about his work. …