Last summer, Saima, a 36-year-old housewife, was beaming with confidence. She was losing more than one kilogramme every week after consultation at a local fitness centre. The trainers had assured her that the combination of herbal pills, a strict diet plan and a variety of vigorous exercises would help her slim down for good. The 30-day diet programme did her wonders initially and she consequently reduced enough weight to fit into size 2 clothes. But only after a month of coming off her diet, she began regaining weight. Saima who is four feet 11 inches and weighed 69kg last summer, presently weighs 75kg and has been diagnosed with clinical obesity.

Saima isn’t the only one whose dieting has failed her. Nabeel, a middle-aged engineer, has a similar story. In January this year, he started following an online nutrition and exercise plan. By March, his weight reached well within the range of being called healthy, after which he continued the diet plan but exercised intermittently. He, too, started regaining all the weight he had lost. “I’m confused why this is happening? Has my diet plan failed? I feel like quitting it altogether!” he says, disappointed.

Regaining weight a few months after completing a certain diet regime is a common problem. This is because our body fights hard to gain back the mass it has lost. It is quite demotivating for even the most devoted dieters to become bulky again; some reach the verge of saying, “why bother?” But why do we regain weight after successfully completing our diet plans? The most pressing question is, “why do diet plans fail?”

If not careful with your diet plan, you can pile up more pounds than you have lost

A simple answer is: dieting fails because people are usually looking for a “quick fix” or a “magic mantra” to slim down, instead of understanding that physical fitness is a result of healthy eating, engaging in physical exercise and adopting a positive attitude. Unfortunately, most dieters don’t acknowledge fitness as a lifelong commitment. They believe they can attain a perfect body in a short time by joining fitness centres, using herbal pills, going on random crash-diets or even fasting for long periods, and that the results would last for a lifetime. But, this isn’t possible. These methods might help them lose weight; however, they won’t be able to sustain it for long, just like Saima and Nabeel.

For a more detailed answer to “why dieting fails?” we need to first look more closely at what happens inside our bodies when we are dieting. Once we understand the science behind weight-loss, we’ll know the reasons due to which diet plans fail. Then, finding a way to sustain our weights won’t remain a mystery anymore.

Sana Azfar, a clinical dietician, receives many patients who are concerned about weight regain after dieting. She explains that we play havoc with the metabolic system of our bodies when we cut off calories from our diets. “Since our body’s metabolic rate is determined by the body’s muscle mass, it slows down when there is less muscle mass,” Azfar says. “The metabolic rate doesn’t increase when the muscle mass increases (after stopping the diet plan) because by this time, the body has become efficient in sustaining itself with fewer calories. The extra calories remain unburnt, and eventually, store as fats in the body. Hence, one begins to regain weight they had lost while on diet.”

If you wish to manage your weight loss (and metabolism), Azfar recommends reducing only five to 10 percent calories out of the total calories required by your body. She strictly advises not to restrict too many calories. “If you do that, the metabolic rate will drop drastically and won’t increase soon. Cutting only a few calories will help metabolism return to normal fairly quickly once you resume eating ordinary food. This will help you sustain the weight loss,” she elaborates.

Many of us make this mistake. Take Saima’s example. She was losing 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) per week, which is quite steep. “Ideally, you shouldn’t try losing more than two pounds (0.5 kg – 0.9 kg) per week if you wish to keep off the weight for good,” Azfar advises.

However, a slow metabolism is only one reason for diet failure. Physical trainer and gym instructor Shakeel Ahmed explains why dieting fails. He highlights three reasons: firstly, weight loss largely depends on the composition of one’s daily food intake and how their bodies react to it. “One person might shed a few kilogrammes on one type of diet, while the other might follow the same diet plan, and end up gaining more weight in the long term. Diet plans need to be personalised, because one plan doesn’t fit any two people,” Ahmed says.

Regaining weight a few months after completing a certain diet regime is a common problem. This is because our body fights hard to gain back the mass it has lost.

Azfar agrees with him. “You should let a dietician or a fitness instructor make a customised diet plan for you, rather than following random online plans,” she emphasises. “Professional trainers can assess how an individual’s body is going to respond to different nutrients. They also ask patients if they’ve been on any diets before and take into account their medical history before suggesting a holistic diet plan. Many a time, underlying diseases such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, etc., can also induce weight gain, which can’t be lost until the disease is treated.”

The second reason, Ahmed explains, is that many people don’t want to make simple alterations in their daily lifestyle. Simple but meaningful changes such as exercising regularly or engaging in any physical activity such as walking, jogging or doing household chores can help dieters sustain their weights. “Successful dieters habitually engage in some form of physical activity every day,” says Ahmed. “If your argument is that you don’t have time, then you’re not serious about your health. If you argue that you have a desk job that limits your physical movement, then I urge you to look [either Google or visit a gym] for some easy desk exercises for legs, thighs, arms and waist which can be performed during lunch or tea breaks. Take the stairs and walk to nearby shops/marts instead of driving. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper — and weigh yourselves once a week!”

Thirdly, Ahmed believes that one’s attitude and mindset plays an important role in maintaining physical fitness. “If you believe you can reduce and look smarter, you will. If you’ve regained weight, lose it again but this time do it the right way. It might be difficult, but think positive. Dieting is not the end of this world!” he smiles.

Diets can fail for a number of reasons (apart from the ones mentioned here) but don’t make weight loss your life’s topmost priority. Instead, focus on being healthy and active and embrace your body. Love yourself for who you are, not how you look!

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 3rd, 2017