Why Dieting Fails — Metabolism & Set point theory
(Content warning screen)
This video contains mentions of diets and dieting and detailed discussions of weight loss and how it works on the body.
Monster — You keep saying that diets don’t work, but I’ve lost 5 pounds a bunch of times! I’m on a great lifestyle wellness cleanse diet fasting plan, and all I have to do is just stay on it forever! IT’S SIMPLE. STOP MAKING EXCUSES!
Ali — Ok, but the definition of a diet working is that it should keep working, right?
Monster — NO EXCUSES!
Ali — You know, fine. Come back to me in 3 years and let me know if that diet is still working for you then.
Monster — Just do it forever! Until you die! NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT HAVING A BODY THAT CONFORMS TO ARBITRARY CULTURAL STANDARDS!
Ali — Cause it won’t be.
Monster — **SCREAMING** (The words “Time to freak out” appear)
Ali (wearing a pink squid hat) — For the purposes of this video and all my videos and everything I ever say on this topic ever — calorie restriction is dieting.
You can call it a lifestyle change. You can call it cleanse. You can call it wellness. You can call it whatever you want. Calorie restriction and monitoring is dieting.
(Hold up a drawing of a duck that says ‘Quack bih’) Your lifestyle change that includes calorie restriction quacks like a diet.
IT’S A DIET. There’s duck feathers everywhere. We all know it. I know it and you know it too.
You may be asking yourself, why is she wearing a squid hat? And the answer is, because I felt like it.
Ali- We all know someone who eats a lot, doesn’t really exercise and yet remains thin. And we all know someone who stays fat no matter what they try. Sure, they may lose some weight but they always gain it back.
Why does this happen?
Set point theory tries to answer this question by proposing that each person has a level of body fat that is normal for that individual person. That level of body fat is their individual set point, and this level will be different for different people.
If less than 1 percent of diets result in permanent weight loss. (A screenshot of ‘Dieting is Failure video, with a silly slowed down voiceover — check out my video on the rates of diet failure, they’re very high!)
Then there has to be a different explanation for people being different sizes, other than just some people are just bad and wrong, and should be yelled at forever, every day of their lives.
Monster — Hey. Fat girl. Can I tell you a little secret?
Ali — Oh YES, kind stranger! Please bless me with your wisdom that I certainly didn’t ask for, and haven’t received already from a million other random strangers, in every conceivable situation, and which I certainly didn’t ask for.
Monster — You just gotta stop drinking soda. Yep! Me? I stopped drinking soda and I lost 7 entire pounds. That’s it, you just have to have the willpower to put that 2 liter bottle down…
Ali — I don’t even drink soda. I mean if you put enough bourbon in, it’s barely even a mixer. More like a little light flavoring at that point. (exaggerated drinking and Ahhh noises **it was really Gatorade, y’all**)
Monster — Yep, just stop drinking all the soda that I’m imagining that you drink, and you could lose 7 human pounds, just like I did. Finger guns, finger guns, finger guns, finger guns. Yes.
Ali — Ok, firstly, you’re still a drawing, and you don’t weight even half a pound, so I am a little skeptical of your research.
Besides, I don’t understand why this keeps coming up. Because I could lose 7 pounds and literally no one would notice, including me. So I’m not sure why weird, weird and very aggressive strangers keep bothering me about this. These are not the same thing.
(Zoom) It’s not the same thing!
(Different shot, close-up) It’s not the same thing!
White text on a pink screen that says “It’s not the same thing” with a zoom, alarm sirens.
If we say that fat people can just make themselves thin by eating less, then it would make sense that thin people should be able to eat enough to make themselves fat, if they wanted to.
Does it work that way? Well… no. Not really. **laughing**
In the 1960s, Dr. Ethan Sims wondered if the metabolic differences between fat and thin people were caused by different amounts of body fat. Or! Or if it was the metabolic differences that caused the people to be different sizes in the first place.
Basically, up until then, no one had ever stopped to wonder which came first — the Fatness Chicken! (holding up a drawing of a fat chicken) Cluck! Look at this chunky clucker!
Or! The Metabolism Egg! (holding up a drawing of a fried egg surrounded by colorful abstract shapes)
Josh — (off screen) Is that what metabolism looks like? Those shapes?
Ali — Yes it is! This is what a metabolism looks like. It’s these shapes.
Josh — (off screen) Even the little bar shaped one?
Ali — Mmm hmm! That one too!
Josh — (off screen) What’s the curly one?
Ali — It’s vaporwave! I made it! I made it vaporwave! By hand. I know we all love vaporwave.
Josh — (off screen) Does everyone’s metabolism look like that?
Ali — Yes. (pause) Science!
Josh — (laughs off screen)
So Sims decided. He would take a group of thin people, turn them into fat people, just for a little while, and then study them to see if their metabolism changed as a result of the weight gain.
But there was only one problem. None of these people could gain enough weight!
To start, Sims took 4 college students and asked them to gain 20 percent over their usual body weight by eating extra food. None of them could do it. Some of them couldn’t gain even 10 percent over their usual weight, which for a person who’s 120 pounds, that’s only 12 pounds. Well, it should be easy, right? Just eat a lot of cake! Wrong.
Sims tried again in 1964 with prisoner volunteers in the Vermont State Prison. He screened for subjects who had no family history of fatness or metabolic issues. The men did not find it easy to gain weight, even when doubling their usual intake of food and reducing their activity levels. One subject was able to gain 28 pounds, but only by eating 7 thousand calories a day. And when he went back to his original style of eating, he began to lose weight immediately. Another subject was able to gain 20 percent over his starting weight — which is thirty pounds in someone started out at 150 pounds — but only by eating 10 thousand calories! A day!
If what everyone weighs is solely determined by what we are and aren’t eating, then why were Dr. Sims’ subjects not able to gain weight, and gain it easily?
In a different study of identical twins, researchers fed the twins an additional 1 thousand calories a day over what they should need to maintain their weight. The twins couldn’t maintain a higher weight either. And what’s even more interesting, while the twins matched each other for amount of weight gained, the amount of weight gained by different sets of twins varied from 9 pounds to 29 pounds.
Why did some people gain 3 times more weight on the same amount of calories as others?
(close up) Because of metabolism (draggy sound effect on the word metabolism- Big text insert)
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is the chemical reactions inside our bodies that keep us alive.
We take in energy in the form of food, which our bodies break down to use as fuel.
A lot of people have been taught every individual person’s weight is determined based on a calorie balance model. You hear people refer to it all the time when they say “calories in, calories out.”
“I’m a very judgmental person.” (laughs)
But this model is basically wrong. Or at least over simplified to the point that it is not just useless — it’s become actively harmful.
Metabolism is anything but simple.
Our weight and our appetites are controlled by a bunch of different hormones. These hormones send signals to the brain, which then sends its own signals called neurotransmitters, back to the rest of the body.
Scientists are still discovering new hormones and neurotransmitters all the time. Every new discovery has the potential to change our understanding of how people’s bodies deal with our food.
(Scene reading the list and badly mispronouncing the complicated name, which quickly scroll by as text)
leptin, insulin, adiponectin, GLP-1, ghrelin, glucagon, GIP, incretins, PYY, oxyntomodulin, amylin, melanocyte stimulating hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, neuropeptide Y, agouti-related protein, propiomelanocortin, gamma-aminobutyric acid.
A lot of people have this idea that somehow they are fully in control of their own bodies, like a little person inside their own brain, directing it what to do.
But anyone who has ever had the stomach flu or food poisoning should know that there are times when our thinking brain is absolutely not in control of our bodies.
Your body does not know the difference between a diet and a famine. And when you diet, your body thinks you could be in danger of starving to death. And if there’s one thing your body will fight for, it’s to keep you alive.
When you drop below your set point, the body has a lot of tricks to basically force you to eat.
The attention and reward parts of your brain become way more active. An experiment with subjects who had restricted calorie intake showed that this kind of brain activity was way higher when the subjects were shown pictures of high calorie versus low calorie food.
When you’re dieting, your brain makes high calorie food look way better to you than it might otherwise. And the longer the calorie reduction, the more blood goes to your cerebellum. Increased blood flow in the cerebellum is linked to hunger and appetite.
**Picture of cerebellum w/ words and arrows — more blood flow here = hungry**
I also have to tell you, that in addition to showing hungry people pictures of cheeseburgers and cauliflower, this experiment also had a group of subjects that either got a milkshake. Or, for the control group, what they called a “a calorie-free tasteless solution” that was supposed to feel and taste like spit.
Is that a part of my argument? No, it is not. But since I have to know about the spit experiment, now you do too.
(The word Science! With a horn sound effect)
(Finger guns) Boom.
Another experiment showed that calorie reduction was related to reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you make decisions and not immediately act on your impulses.
(A screenshot of Ali in the squid hat with the word “Impulses”)
So your brain keeps you fixated on high calorie foods, and then throws the brakes away. And it gets worse the longer you struggle to stay below your set point.
Also, did you know? Body fat is a part of your hormonal system? Body fat makes hormones that control sensations of hunger and feeling full. As you lose body fat, the hunger hormones go up and the feeling full hormones go down.
When you diet, your body also tries to conserve fuel by slowing everything down and using every calorie as efficiently as possible. This slows down your metabolism. And it makes it harder to maintain a weight loss even on the same amount of calories.
These changes in hormones and energy usage can last a long time. Studies have shown over a year after stopping the diet, and even when all weight lost has been regained — hormone and energy use still had not returned to their pre-dieting levels.
And now let’s turn to the mental health effects.
Now we’re back to talking about Dr. Ancel Keys, a frequent topic of Ok2BeFat videos
(An Ancel Keys/Mean Girls meme- why you are so obsessed with me?)
In the 1940s, Dr. Ancel Keys, conducted an experiment into the effects of famine that would come to be known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
The men were allowed to eat 1600 calories a day and also greatly increased their exercise levels.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking. That that is way more calories than most people eat while on a diet.
(close up) But it’s also way less calories than you actually need.
The UN Convention Against Torture requires that prisoners be fed a minimum of between 2,210 and 3,345 calories a day to prevent torture by withholding food.
I also just wanted to remind everyone on the Left that the George W Bush administration used the existence of the diet industry in America as a reason why it was totally ok for them to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay with starvation.
(Picture of George W Bush with the words “Because Fuck That War Criminal”)
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment subjects became completely obsessed with food. They talked about food. They dreamed about food. They lost interest in anything else.
Sound familiar, anyone who’s ever been on a diet? Or been within 20 feet of someone else on a diet? Or any kind of calorie restriction?
(Text- Warning Self Injury Discussion)
Calorie restrictions affected the mental health of one man so badly that he chopped off three of his own fingers with an axe. To get out of the experiment.
Dieting has also been proven — with Science! — to be inherently stressful, physically as well as mentally.
This study is pretty cool- the researchers took women who wanted to diet and split them into three groups.
One group restricted their food intake to 1,200 calories a day and kept detailed food diaries of everything they ate.
One group was given prepackaged food by the researchers. So while the subjects were restricting calories, they didn’t have to do any of the like, mental work of tracking the calories.
And there was a control group wasn’t asked to do either.
The women’s stress levels were measured by tracking how much of the stress hormone cortisol was in their saliva.
Which they did by having their subjects chew on a cotton pad until it was totally filled up with spit! And then they tested the spit pads!
It’s so cool!
(An inaccurate reenactment — marshmallows stand in for the spit pads. Ali is doing a comedy by putting a lot of marshmallows in her mouth)
Ali — **muffled noises**
Josh (off screen) — Are you feeling stressed now?
Josh (off screen) — Are you feeling stressed?
Ali — Mm hmm
Josh (off screen) — How stressed are you feeling?
Josh (off screen) — Is your stress level increasing?
Ali — **muffled noises, shaking head**
Ali — I don’t wanna do this anymore. Ughhhh, it was a mistake! I’m never going to be able to eat a marshmallow again.
It turned out that it didn’t matter if the subject was trying to track calories or not — restricting calories on its own caused stress.
The elevated cortisol levels caused by chronic stress are linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and reduced functioning of the immune system.
And also weight gain.
Dieting can cause the problems that are blamed on fatness.
Which brings me back to this guy (holds up the drawing of the troll monster)
Your set point is where your weight stays when you don’t think about it or do anything about it. Barring any health or medication issues that can cause weight gain or loss, most people’s weight will stabilize once they stop paying so much attention to it.
A stable weight that can go up or down about 15 to 20 pounds without activating the body’s defenses against starvation.
So when this guy (show drawing) loses 7 pounds around the same time he stopped drinking soda, he’s still within his set point. And that experience can’t be extrapolated out to mean that it would be easy for someone to lose half their body weight.
The ‘I stopped drinking soda’ argument is really weird and ridiculous (sighs) and oh my god, it’s so common. But no one should take that seriously. Thin people who say this ridiculous thing are like rich people from rich families who claim they made it all on their own.
And to the people who say — ok, if dieting doesn’t work, what am I supposed to do instead?
Well. I don’t really want to tell you what to do, and I really couldn’t even if I did want to. The kind of health commandments that really sell well on YouTube are not what I do. Because there’s no health recommendation that works for absolutely everyone.
Some people can’t eat many vegetables because they have intestinal issues that make digesting vegetables hard.
Some people have physical limitations that make exercising difficult or impossible.
It’s better to make health goals that work for you and not worry about what other people are doing.
And you’ll have better results if those goals don’t have to do with obsessing over your weight or with counting calories.
You can decide you want to lift heavier weights and work towards that.
And you can decide how many servings of fruits or vegetables you want to eat in a week and work towards that.
You can decide to meditate or do stretching exercises.
You can decide you need more sleep. And you probably do!
It’s really up to you.
Generally, choices that work for you will be the ones make your body feel good, and whatever works for one person may not work for another.
That’s really it.
It is! That’s it!
That’s all you have to do.
(The Monster dancing on Foxy & Hodge as visuals, with this as voiceover)
And that is metabolism!
As always, a huge thank you to all the fat activists — past, present and future. And to my patrons!
If you liked this video or found it helpful, you can also support me on Patreon, see the link in the notes below the video.
The notes also list all my sources and provide a link to a transcript.
Please like this video, tell me what you think in the comments, and share it with everyone you know. Make some new friends and show it to them too! And subscribe!
For my next video, I want to show y’all a bunch of the experiments I read about for this video that I think are super awesome, but didn’t really fit well into this one.
(Text, no sound- ‘The diet industry is a capitalist parasite that would not exist in a just world.”)
( Weird Riker face meme)
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“The Dieter’s Dilemma” by William Bennett and Joel Gurin.
“Experimental obesity, dietary-induced thermogenesis, and their clinical implications” by Ethan A.H. Sims; Clinics in Endocrinology and Metabolism
Volume 5, Issue 2, July 1976, Pages 377–395
“Secrets from the Eating Lab” by Traci Mann, PhD
“The Response to Long-Term Overfeeding in Identical Twins” by Claude Bouchard Ph.D., Angelo Tremblay, Ph.D., Jean-Pierre Després, Ph.D., André Nadeau, M.D., Paul J. Lupien, M.D., Ph.D., Germain Thériault, M.D., Jean Dussault, M.D., Sital Moorjani, Ph.D., Sylvie Pinault, M.D., and Guy Fournier, B.Sc.; New England Journal of Medicine, 1990; 322:1477–1482
“The Metabolic Storm” by Emily Cooper, MD
“Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods” by Eric Stice, Kyle Burger Sonja Yokum. NeuroImage, Volume 67; February 15, 2013; Pages 322–330
“Circulating glucose levels modulate neural control of desire for high-calorie foods in humans” by Kathleen A. Page, Dongju Seo, Renata Belfort-DeAguiar, Cheryl Lacadie, James Dzuira, Sarita Naik, Suma Amarnath, R. Todd Constable, Robert S. Sherwin, and Rajita Sinha; The Journal of Clinical Investigation; September 19, 2011
“Dieting in the Torture Memos” by Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times AskWell Blog, APRIL 22, 2009
“The Great Starvation Experiment” by Todd Tucker
“Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss” by Priya Sumithran, M.B., B.S., Luke A. Prendergast, Ph.D., Elizabeth Delbridge, Ph.D., Katrina Purcell, B.Sc., Arthur Shulkes, Sc.D., Adamandia Kriketos, Ph.D., and Joseph Proietto, M.B., B.S., Ph.D.; New England Journal of Medicine; October 27, 2011; 365:1597–1604
“United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention; Second periodic report of States parties due in 2007” 12 February 2009
“Low Calorie Dieting Increases Cortisol” by A. Janet Tomiyama, PhD; Traci Mann, PhD; Danielle Vinas, BA; Jeffrey M. Hunger, BA; Jill DeJager, MPH RD; and Shelley E. Taylor, PhD; Psychosomatic Medicine. 72(4):357–364, May 2010