How is it possible to diet and then actually gain more weight than you started with? Why does the Yoyo phenomenon of weight loss / weight gain inevitably kick in and sabotage our good intentions? Dr. Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It explains the physiology of why we always gain weight when we diet.

When you go to a dinner event, you are asked to bring your appetite. So, how does one work up an appetite? By eating less and going for a long walk. Dr.Taubes links this analogy to dieting: What does a typical diet plan look like? The usual approach is to cut down calories, usually by eating much less food, and by increasing aerobic exercise. Dieting, thus, ‘works up’ an appetite’. Dieting makes you hungry. And hunger creates bigger cravings for energy dense foods, such as sugar and starches.

Not only that, but dieting also increases the impulse to binge on these foods. This is called the deprivation effect. This is an evolutionary strategy that the body uses to replenish the caloric deficit that dieting produces. The reward impact of the food you eat is magnified to entice you to eat more. This is all to ensure that you eat enough food to compensate for the deprived calories resulting from the diet. Thus dieting is a sure way towards eating more ‘fattening’ foods. Dieting is a sure way towards becoming obese.

Can doing more exercise curb the damage of a binge by burning off the excess calories? Considering how few calories are expended in a workout, the loss of calories can seldom meet the challenge of a binge: a person would have to jog half hour to burn off only one latte, or one can of cola. A binge would literally require hours of exercise! And to top it off: Taubes says simply: “Exercise makes us hungry.” Hunger and cravings increase the longer the exercise continues and so the cycle continues.

Thus the most effective weight loss strategy is one where you are NOT hungry, and are actually expending less energy. Exercise is crucial for good mental and physical health… But, like dieting, it is not an effective weight loss strategy.