Against the backdrop of worldwide obesity, doubling since 1980, the need for a scientifically backed method for weight loss could never be greater. Here in the UK a quarter of adults are obese and over a third are overweight. But are diets the answer?

For many students the culmination of a new setting, often coupled with increased alcohol consumption, can often lead to weight gain. In the US this is known as ‘Freshman 15’ – the somewhat arbitrary 15 referring to the pounds supposedly gained during a student’s first year. In reality freshers gain “three pounds on average” according to research conducted at Ohio State University.

The research went on to suggest that “anti-obesity efforts” aimed at first year students would have little effect on obesity prevalence and could even elicit further weight gain. Professor Traci Mann in her paper ‘Diets are not the answer’ stated that as many as two thirds of dieters “regain more weight than they lost on their diets”.

Dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain; scientists call it “dieting-induced weight-gain”. Reductions in calorific intake are your body’s cue to initiate hard-wired starvation protocols. Slower metabolism coupled with enhanced food cravings only exacerbates the speed at which carbohydrates are converted into fat.

So what is the dieter to do? Exercise certainly helps. Simple thermodynamics states that if energy intake (calories) is lower than energy expenditure, body weight will be lost. But with a market expected to reach over half a trillion dollars by 2014, there’s little wonder dieting’s counterproductive methodology is swept under the carpet. In the long run losing weight is a lifestyle change, requiring consistent exercise and becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals, regardless of what Atkins may say.

Aaron Mcnulty

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