Most diets fail. I’m not sure if this “fact” is actually true, but it’s repeated often enough to make me think there’s something to it. It also just seems likely to be true. During my second year of university, I gained about 20 - 30 lbs and tried to shed it quickly by adopting a
I also developed a pretty extreme obsession with watching food-related content on YouTube and the like when I under went a significant calorie deficit for a period of a few months. While arguably improving my knowledge of culinary techniques and recipes that could be available to myself, I was barely able to put any of it into practice while following the very diet that was producing such interest. A unique torture lol.
What has always led to weight loss for myself, with minimal effort, has been being away from my parent's home. Eating similar meals every day and a reduced amount of snackable food in the vicinity naturally dropped my body weight by about 10-15% with zero effort on my behalf. This equating to a drop in BMI from about 24 to 22. I wouldn't even say that this has been associated with a reduced enjoyment of food either, though I do generally consume highly sugared products less often. If you have a particularly strong sweet tooth, then this may be harder for you.
Contrary to your above point about alcohol consumption, my periods of heaviest drinking usually led to me losing some weight as well. On a hangover my appetite was severely reduced. Part of that weight loss might be just due to dehydration though lol. It does seem possible to me that binge drinking 3-4 times a week versus daily consumption of a few alcoholic drinks may lead to different body weight outcomes?
Oh, and a nicotine habit. Many of my skinniest friends are smokers and I have found it "fills a hole", or at least makes you less aware of said hole. Of course, picking up nicotine consumption in an attempt to lose body weight may be trading one pathology for another.
For what it's worth, I gained weight after I went vegan. My case was certainly unusual:
- I was extremely fit as a teenager, doing ≥10 hours of gymnastics training per week, so despite a few years of no exercise and subpar eating in my early twenties I still didn't have a huge amount of weight available to lose;
- I was already on an upward trajectory with my weight when I went vegan, albeit a slower one, partly due to the aforementioned;
- It was during the pandemic, where loads of people gained weight.
So yes, I don't think my example tells against the generalisation 'going vegan might help you lose weight'. But I certainly did feel that suddenly having a much reduced base of recipes caused me to eat out and order in much more, rather than (as other vegans do) throwing themselves into learning new recipes.
And so even if my experience doesn't tell against the claim that going vegan leads to weight loss in expectation, I do feel that it helps give weight (no pun intended) to the idea that using major lifestyle changes as a tactic for weight loss is going to be a high-variance strategy. (Which, anyway, seems like it's almost definitionally true.) There might be a good chance you lose weight, but the amount you are likely to lose is all over the place, and there's also a non-negligible chance you gain weight - because a big lifestyle change is just a *change*, and its effects are not inherently guaranteed to be positive or negative. Certainly, I can see other weird interaction effects leading to weight gain from stimulant use or even exercise (I know many fellas who got into powerlifting to lose weight and ended up gaining).
I couldn't tell you how likely any of this is for any given lifestyle change, but it worries me, because the downsides of being overweight are not linear: being overweight is worse than being a healthy weight, sure, but it's so much better than being obese. I I were offered a 50/50 coin toss between losing 10kg (and becoming a healthy weight) and gaining 10kg (and becoming obese), I would turn it down every time. And so, high-variance strategies for weight loss which include the possibility of weight gain seem like they would be a bad idea - especially when you factor in the high up-front cost of a major lifestyle change.
I did some water fasts of up to a week and I can report that, yes, I had obsessive thoughts about food but after I become conscious of them I could easily avoid them. I had no ill health effects from the fasts because besides drinking water I ate salts and minerals. I also didn't lost much weight because it's not something sustainable.
Fasting for longer periods is also not that hard. The second day is the worst and I would get keto flu symptoms. After that I would get hungry only at my usual meal times. Side effects are feeling cold and low libido.
Paul Lindyman Skallas went on Semaglutide and is convinced it is going to solve the obesity problem https://lindynewsletter.beehiiv.com/p/took-experimental-weightloss-drug
Malcolm Gladwell's podcast "Revisionist History" did a good set on the MN Starvation experiment.
There is actually a technological solution now, and it's only going to become more effective. https://www.worksinprogress.co/issue/the-future-of-weight-loss/
I took up running a few years ago and lost 35 pounds over 6 months, and kept it off even now I don't run so much. Certainly worked for me, and it may work for some others.
Intermittent fasting worked well for me. I just delayed breakfast every day until about 10am and then ate as I pleased for the next 8 hours. Would ignore it on some days if I went out for late dinner or drinks. Lost 20kg from a 27 BMI 115kg starting weight.
My experiences have been similar to Sam’s -- crash diets are effective but dominate one’s thinking. The time in my life where I’ve found it easiest to be slim was when I was running 30km+ per week, which again tracks. I’m about to go back on another diet, and I’m hoping this time I’ve found a major intervention, namely cutting out wheat from my diet entirely. This is well-motivated for reasons beyond losing weight, as after years of suffering annoying gastrointestinal issues, I seem to have figured out that I have a wheat intolerance. Given that most of my most calorific foods are wheat based (especially pizza and pasta) I’m optimistic that this will allow me to lose weight sustainably, but we’ll see!
Second to your caveat on long distsnce running - I tried this for weight loss as a way to not have to regulate my eating. More fun but totally ineffective if you don’t also diet. After a run where you burn 1500 calories, you are gonna need to eat some pasta even if youre goal was extremely low calorie in take, and you end up needing to do just as much math to make weight loss happen.
Did some intermittent water-fasting (monthly 72 hour water fasts, with two 7 day water fasts) for about six months, and had a pretty similar reaction to you that lasted around eight months. I never felt satiated, and could easily down 3000+ kcal in one sitting, I got so hungry several times I started stealing food from my housemates. I soon gained 20-30lbs, and the feeling of my belly jiggling while running was the most disgusted I've ever felt about my own body.
Anyway, I eventually lost it all and have kept it off primarily through five things that worked for me:
1. Hypertrophy/building muscle. This is probably the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of weight loss for most people. The logic is pretty simple: more muscle means higher Basal Metabolic Rate, meaning more calories burned through just existing. And obviously, the act of lifting some heavy weights will burn calories itself.
2. Doubling-down on protein and fiber in every meal. Protein is by far the most satiating macronutrient, and has much higher Thermal Effect of Food, meaning your body has to spend more energy to digest it. Fiber, again, is pretty good for 'feeling full' (and supposedly has a load of other 'microbiome' benefits I am less sold on). A lot of protein is kind of icky, but protein shakes, and particularly chicken breasts, can be quite filling. Have around 30-50g of Protein, with 10-20g of fiber in each meal and you'll probably start feeling less hungry pretty quickly.
3. Steady state 'zone 2' cardio. This is partially anecdata, but with some mechanistic underpinnings. Most endurance athletes do long periods of 'zone 2' cardio to improve their mitochondrial efficiency, i.e the maximal effort they can output before their body stops using just fat and starts using glucose for energy. This is significant for people who are prediabetic (like I was) or diabetic, as what happens to them is their mitochondria become dysfunctional, which makes their bodies a) struggle to use all the fat they have stored, and b) their bodies switch to using glucose with almost minimal effort, thus contributing the hypoglycaemia/low-blood sugar that characterises the diseases. Improving your mitochondrial efficiency through long periods of long-duration cardio through whatever modality will work for you will probably help... though it is f***ing boring unless you have something to watch, read, or listen to while you're doing it.
4. Exclusion. Like with most things, there's probably an 80:20 to diet. I would bet that across a population 20% of food explains around 80% of the variation in calories consumed per day. Given that assumption, I simply stopped eating all of the highly calorific things I could give up relatively easily. No more alcohol, no full-sugar sodas, no deserts (apart from the Classic Magnum), and no more fatty meats. Find out what these things are for you.
5. Count your calories. Hear me out here. This is not a sustainable habit, but it is useful for giving you an intuitive sense of how much you're eating. Honestly, there are so many more calories in food than you think, and if you count your calories for just a week you'll probably be shocked at how many calories you are actually consuming on a daily basis. This is even worse when you know that the FDA allows food calorie labels to be inaccurate by up to 20% (same in the UK), so you're probably consuming somewhat more than what the labels suggest.
If you can't be bothered reading all that, or just want much more evidence-backed advice I would recommend Peter Attia. He has a lot of really good content on weight loss, and he really talks about things in quantitative and mechanistic terms which might appeal a lot to those with an engineering or quantitative background.
Something not mentioned here that’s curious to me is spice level in food. I haven’t done enough research to say that there’s a direct correlation between diets heavier in spicy food and BMI/staying slim, but it may be promising.
Anecdotally (and granted, I have a high spice tolerance) I find that making spicy food for myself often helps to regulate how much I eat, and it’s also a lot more fun than the bland-food route. Again, I’m not sure how well this will work for people with lesser spice tolerances but it seems to get overlooked in these discussions.
You’ve probably already seen it but the Slime Mould Time Mould Potato Diet seems to work.
You get to put flavouring on your potatoes but I can confirm they’re still pretty bland. That said, I’m thinking of doing the diet again as part of my preparation for a cycling race I’m going to do in a few months.
Really recommend this podcast if you’re looking to lose weight.
Firstly, exercise doesn’t work. It’s all about diet.