Media’s Botched Coverage of Rapid Weight Loss | The Paleo Diet®
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Media’s Botched Coverage of Rapid Weight Loss

By Christopher Clark
November 14, 2014
Media’s Botched Coverage of Rapid Weight Loss image

A study recently published online in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal compares rapid and gradual weight loss diets.1 We’ll examine this study, but first let’s fast-forward to its conclusions. Study author Katrina Purcell said contrary to widespread recommendations for gradual weight loss, “our results show that achieving a weight loss target of 12.5% is more likely, and drop-out is lower, if losing weight is done quickly.”2

In an editorial published in the same journal, scientists Corby Martin and Kishore Gadde expressed modern, crash-diet products are well-formulated, provide adequate nutrition, and are “safe if used under expert supervision.”3 They added that for weight loss, “a slow and steady approach does not win the race, and the myth that rapid weight loss is associated with rapid weight regain is no more true than Aesop's fable.”4

The popular press swallowed this pro-crash diet slant and swiftly regurgitated it for readers touting:

  • “Crash diets might not be so bad in beating fat after all, suggests new study”5The Independent
  • “Does it matter if you lose weight quickly or gradually? Apparently not.”6 CNN
  • “Fast Weight Loss May Be More Effective, Study Says.”7 Men’s Fitness
  • “Crash diets may be most effective weight-loss technique, U.K. study suggests.”8The Telegraph
  • “Another Diet Myth Exploded: Gradual Weight Loss No Better Than Rapid Weight Loss”9 Forbes

What’s going on here? On the surface, based on comments from the study’s authors, an editorial published alongside the study, and sensational headlines spewed across the web, this study seems like fantastic news for crash-diet product manufacturers. Keep this in mind.

The study

This was a two-phase study involving 204 participants, whom all had BMI (body mass index) scores between 30 and 45. In other words, the study involved only obese participants. Do its conclusions also apply to those only slightly overweight and in better metabolic health than the participants? We cannot say, but the discussion around this study has avoided this question, taking a more “crash diets work for everyone” tone.

During phase 1, participants were randomly assigned either a rapid weight loss (RWL) or gradual weight loss (GWL) program. Here’s where it gets interesting. RWL participants consumed only 450 to 800 calories daily for 12 weeks, subsisting solely on Nestlé’s Optifast products. GWL participants consumed an energy-reduced diet based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHL) and with one or two Optifast meal replacements daily.

The AGHL is nearly identical to the USDA’s MyPlate as both are high-carbohydrate, grain-centric diets. Additionally, both encourage dairy, discourage saturated fat, and promote vegetable oils. Nestlé’s Optifast products are heavily processed, featuring ingredients ranging from hydrogenated oils to soy protein isolate, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and other nutritional abominations. Additionally, these products contain little to no fiber and low amounts of vitamins and minerals. The ingredients and nutritional information for three Optifast products are pictured below.

"OPTIFAST HP® Shake Mix." OPTIFAST HP Shake Mix. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Optifast 800 Shake Mix Optifast 800 Shake Mix
Optifast 800 Shake Mix Optifast 800 Shake Mix

Of the 204 participants who completed phase 1, only 104 completed phase 2. The authors explained, “The main reason given for withdrawal in both groups was difficulty adhering to the diet.”10

At the end of phase 1 (12 weeks), 81% of RWL participants achieved 12.5% or more weight loss, whereas only 50% of GWL participants achieved such results.

For phase 2, participants were placed on individualized diets based on the AGHL. At the end of phase 2 (144 weeks), RWL participants regained 71.2% of the weight they lost, whereas GWL participants regained 70.5% of the weight they lost.

Conclusion

This study shows that neither grain-centric diets, nor crash diets are effective for long-term weight loss and neither are health supportive. The headlines should have highlighted this. Instead, many of them read like Optifast advertisements, focusing on crash diets being slightly more effective than grain-heavy diets for short-term weight loss. Interestingly, Joseph Proietto, the study’s lead author, “was Chair of the Optifast Medical Advisory Committee for Nestlé Healthcare Nutrition Australia Ltd from 2005 to 2010,” as fully disclosed in the study’s Declaration of Interest.11

The Paleo Diet is a nutrient-dense template delivering optimal nutrition for sustainable, long-term health. The Paleo Diet is wholly unlike both the Nestlé crash diet and the U.S. / A.U. government-endorsed, grain-centric diets. Unfortunately, irresponsible reporting around this study is sending the message that all diets fail long-term, but at least short-term benefits can be enjoyed through crash diets consisting of synthetic, heavily processed products. We see this as a grave error and encourage people to consume nutrient-dense, natural foods, in accordance with the Paleo Diet, for both short-term and long-term health.

References

[1] Purcell, K, et al. The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 16 October 2014, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70200-1

[2] The Lancet. (2014, October 15). Gradual weight loss no better than rapid weight loss for long-term weight control. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141015190832.htm

[3] Martin, CK and Gadde, KM. Weight loss: slow and steady does not win the race. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 16 October 2014, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70153-6

[4] Martin, CK and Gadde, KM. Weight loss: slow and steady does not win the race. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 16 October 2014, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70153-6

[5] Cooper, C. (October 16, 2014). Crash diets might not be so bad in beating fat after all, suggests new study. The Independent. Retrieved from //www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/crash-diets-might-not-be-so-bad-after-all-suggests-new-study-9796651.html

[6] Kimball, H and Ryan, D. (October 17, 2014). Slow and steady may not win the weight-loss race. CNN. Retrieved from //edition.cnn.com/2014/10/17/health/five-studies/

[7] Fox, K. (October 16, 2014). Fast weight loss may be more effective, new study says. Men’s Fitness. Retrieved from //www.mensfitness.com/weight-loss/burn-fat-fast/fast-weight-loss-may-be-more-effective-new-study-says

[8] Knapton, S. (October 16, 2014). Crash diets may be most effective weight-loss technique, U.K. study suggests. The Daily Telegraph. Retrived from //www.telegraph.co.uk/science/sc... /

[9] Husten, L. (October 15, 2014). Another Diet Myth Exploded: Gradual Weight Loss No Better Than Rapid Weight Loss. Forbes. Retrieved from //www.forbes.com/sites/larryhusten/2014/10/15/another-diet-myth-exploded-gradual-weight-loss-no-better-than-rapid-weight-loss/

[10] Purcell, K, et al. The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 16 October 2014, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70200-1

[11] Purcell, K, et al. The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 16 October 2014, doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70200-1

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