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Surveys show that Americans believe that obesity is tied with cancer as the greatest threat to health. But they aren't able to use diets and exercise to get thin.

The survey also found that 95 percent of all Americans have been on a weight loss at one time or another. Herbalife, Dexatrim, and similar supplements have been used by over 70 million people. Fifty million Americans have sat down with a nutritionist. Twenty million Americans have tried hypnosis and prayer groups. Twelve million Americans have tried weight loss medications such as Saxenda, Qsymia, and Contrave. Between three and four million have had gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or gastric band surgery.

Americans do just about anything they can to make diets work, but diets by and large almost never work. Most Americans think that the reason their diets don't work is that they lack willpower to stay on them, but almost no one has that kind of willpower (and if you do, you are likely to have other issues). The reasons almost no one has the willpower to stay on a diet long enough to lose weight and keep it off are at least three:

  • When you are dieting, your brain becomes more sensitive to cues to where you can find food. Not only are you more likely to notice food when you are dieting, if you eat it, it will taste better. You will want more. Your brain will keep making you enjoy food until you have eaten enough to make up for the fat you lost and a little more.  
  • When you are dieting, the way your body makes the hormones that regulate your appetite changes. It makes less of the hormones that make you feel full. It makes more of the hormones that are something like your stomach's screaming at your brain "Feed me! Feed me now!" You don't just feel hungry. You feel hungrier than before, and it takes more to fill you up than it did before you started dieting.
  • When you reduce calorie consumption, your body "turns down the thermostat" so it burns fewer calories. The fewer calories you consume, the fewer calories your body uses. There are ways to get around this plateau effect as you are losing weight, but they involve going off your diet periodically. And going off your diet periodically exposes you to the full effects of the first two changes in your body when you are dieting mentioned above.

When people lose weight on a diet, they call it a success. When people later gain weight back, they assume that they failed. But they didn't. The diet failed. Diets are never more than a temporary way to lose weight. 

Trying to force your body to weigh less than its normal range, other than with weight loss surgery, generally simply does not work over the longer term. Your hormones, except with surgical modification of your stomach, will eventually undo your diet efforts. Some people simply must change their weight to fight morbid obesity, but most people, and certainly most Americans, need to pursue the best health possible at the weight they are now.

  • University of Chicago Press Release. New Survey Shows Obesity Ties Cancer as Top Health Threat, Bigger Than Heart Disease and Diabetes for Most Americans More. 31 October 2016.
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