Cutting carbs, taking medication on your own, setting big short-term weight loss goals. Those who try to lose weight in this way go against the grain of recent scientific evidence on obesity. In addition to not yielding good results, the methods can aggravate nutrient deficiencies and mental disorders.
“If losing weight was easy, a simple piece of advice would solve everything”, says endocrinologist Maria Augusta Karas Zella, professor at Fempar (Faculdade Evangélica Mackenzie do Paraná). But that’s not how it happens, according to the doctor. Obesity, which affects 1 in 4 adults in Brazil, is multifactorial and, therefore, there is no single formula to treat it. In addition, the condition is chronic, which demands continuous attention and lifestyle changes that are feasible in the long term.
The problem is that many are unaware of these aspects, mainly due to the stigma associated with being overweight, which blames the subject for the condition.
A study published in 2019 in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism analyzed more than 14,000 participants in 11 countries and showed that 81% of people feel fully responsible for their own weight loss. This can lead to a delay in seeking professional help, something that can be considered a problem when it comes to losing weight.
Meet three of the main mistakes made by those who seek to lose weight, according to experts.
Searching for a ‘magic formula’
To lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit, they say. The phrase is not a lie, but that is not the only variable in the equation, says Zella. Hunger and satiety, for example, are mediated by hormones such as ghrelin (produced in the stomach) and GLP-1 (synthesized in the intestine). The desire to eat for pleasure is associated with neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. The function of choosing to eat or not occurs in the prefrontal cortex.
In other words, your entire body works in a multiple process, also influenced by cultural, economic, psychic and socio-environmental aspects.
“It may be necessary for the patient to undergo behavioral therapy to process all these circuits”, indicates the endocrinologist. Thus, trying to lose weight thinking only about the caloric deficit or a medication (especially without a medical prescription) will be inefficient.
Not seeking professional help
On average, it takes people six years to see a specialist to treat obesity, says Zella. Before that, they try to lose weight alone, being vulnerable to complications.
Calcium deficiency usually appears among patients who started diets without specialized monitoring, says nutritionist Flávia Auler, coordinator of the nutrition course at PUC-PR (Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná). “People under 40 years of age may suffer a gradual loss of bone mass, developing osteopenia, a condition that precedes osteoporosis”, she says.
Iron deficiency also shows up and can lead to anemia, adds nutritionist Fabiana Fontes, from Clínica Reviva, in Salvador (BA). There may also be severe muscle mass reduction, the so-called sarcopenia, in addition to memory loss, cognitive deficit, discouragement, fainting and serious psychiatric conditions, such as anorexia and bulimia.
Another frequent problem resulting from the delay in seeking help is the worsening of diseases that could have been treated early. Excess fat is often linked to secondary causes, such as metabolic syndromes, says the doctor. If the person does not know this and tries to lose weight alone, he will be frustrated and still take risks.
Enter “fad diets”
Studies conducted by nutritionist Sophie Deram, author of the book O Peso das Dietas, have shown that 95% of people who start a restrictive diet (such as those circulating on the internet among influencers) gain weight again. This has both biological and behavioral explanations.
Zella and Fontes indicate that the body has a defense mechanism that is activated when the individual starts to lose weight. He understands that he needs to “hold” the adipose tissue, leading to a stabilization on the scale and making the weight loss process difficult, or recovering what was lost, causing the person to gain weight.
There’s also a practical factor: diets that have a beginning and an end rarely work, says Fontes. Treatment to lose weight should, therefore, be continuous, individualized and fit into the patient’s long-term routine, leading to changes in lifestyle.
A famous diet, but contraindicated by the nutritionist, for example, is the “garbage day”, in which the person deprives himself of succulent foods for a period, but, once a month or week, he abuses foods rich in fat, sodium and other harmful nutrients. The practice is problematic because, in addition to overloading the body at once, it only associates high-calorie foods with a happy affective memory. In the long term, the practice becomes unsustainable.