Although science has revealed a lot about metabolic processes that influence our weight, the key to success may lie elsewhere
From my cover story in the February 2011 issue of Scientific American
Obesity is a national health crisis—that much we know. If current trends continue, it will soon surpass smoking in the U.S. as the biggest single factor in early death, reduced quality of life and added health care costs.
Why are extra pounds so difficult to shed and keep off? It doesn’t seem as though it should be so hard. The basic formula for weight loss is simple and widely known: consume fewer calories than you expend. And yet….almost everybody who tries to diet seems to fail in the long run—a review in 2007 by the American Psychological Association of 31 diet studies found that as many as two thirds of dieters end up two years later
weighing more than they did before their diet.
Maybe someday biology will provide us with a pill that readjusts our metabolism so we burn more calories or resets our built-in cravings so we prefer broccoli to burgers. But until then, the best approach may simply be to build on reliable behavioral psychology methods developed over 50 years and proved to work in hundreds of studies. These tried-and-true techniques, which are being refined with new research that should make them more effective with a wider range of individuals, are gaining new attention. As the NIH puts it in its proposed strategic plan for obesity research: “Research findings are yielding new and important insights about social and behavioral factors that influence diet, physical activity, and sedentary behavior….” read more (Subscription or payment to Scientific American needed to read full article at the site, but you can read a copy here)