Recently, a colleague of mine forwarded me a paper published by McKinsey & Company, Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis, that covered the growing obesity epidemic (pun fully intended), that suggested if current trends continue, roughly half of the world’s population will be overweight or obese by 2030!
Obesity, with a current economic cost of 2 trillion dollars, is now considered among the top 3 global social burdens, trailing only smoking and armed violence/war/terrorism.
Uh… still short a few zeroes….
Shortly after being sent this paper, I received an interview request for my thoughts on whether I thought this projection was accurate (I suggested it might be only a slight over exaggeration) and whether we were all doomed to get fat.
Specifically, the interviewer wanted to know how effective exercise was as a tool for combating obesity.
Although reversing obesity levels is a complex problem, the short answer is that exercise, by itself, isn’t all that effective for producing sustained weight loss.
Several years ago a great review paper was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association investigating the effects of various interventions on long-term weight loss.
(Franz et al.,Weight-Loss Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Weight-Loss Clinical Trials with a Minimum 1-Year Follow-Up, Volume 107, Issue 10, October 2007, Pages 1755–1767)
As we can see, the only groups that lost weight and kept some of it off were the ones that either involved:
- caloric restriction
Given my leanings as a nutritionist and diet coach, I tend to promote diet interventions as the primary tool for helping people lose weight. While I don’t condone the use of medications for the majority of individuals, clearly they are clinically indicated for some people.
What this review paper also shows us is that interventions that consist of either just exercise or giving people advice don’t tend to do a whole lot.
In other words, just reading about diet strategies or spending countless hours on the elliptical doesn’t produce meaningful weight loss results for most people.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think exercise is awesome!
Not only is regular exercise one of the most potent activities for optimizing your health, but exercise really does seem to have a significant role in preventing weight regain. But for weight loss? It just isn’t all that effective by itself.
If you are new to the blog, feel free to check out some older articles that highlight how ineffective “exercise alone” interventions tend to be:
- Ladies, Cardio Sucks for Weight Loss
- Long Slow Cardio, Another Dagger To the Heart
- The Role of Exercise in Weight Loss
Now this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone but simply reading (i.e. the advice) about diet strategies that produce weight loss isn’t going to magically make the weight come off… you actually have to put these diet changes into practice on a regular basis.
Having a long-term commitment to changing your eating behaviours is why rigid meal plans don’t generally lead to great long term results. Far too often meal plans are written in such a way that they don’t help people answer this critical question:
Do I like eating these foods enough that I could see myself eating this way for the rest of my life?
If the answer is no, then the plan isn’t going to work for you.
Although having a template to guide your diet selections can be valuable as a teaching tool and can help you lose weight, if you don’t enjoy the foods you are eating, you eventually will fall off the wagon, go back to your old eating habits and regain much of the weight back.
While I can’t speak for what it’s going to take to stem obesity on a planet wide scale, I can give you one simple strategy to improve your diet immediately: keep your protein intake consistent.
Much of the recent diet literature (which I will be reviewing in the weeks to come) is showing that achieving sufficient protein intake (at a level quite a bit above the RDA mind you) is associated with increased fat loss and superior body composition changes.
So if you are someone who finds your current weight loss efforts stuck, here is where you can start: download my protein bar recipe guide.
It’s a collection of my 5 favourite homemade protein bars… the kind of recipes I give my clients to help them build a diet approach that keeps them lean for life.
These recipes have helped them drop thousands of pounds over the years, and I know they’ll help you too!