New Study Sheds Light into Why Diets Don’t Work

posted: 11/24/15
by: Mara Betsch

Losing weight usually includes doing one, or both, of these two things: eating less and moving more. But recent research shows that there's a reason cookie-cutter diets and universal recommendations don't work. It turns out that our bodies process food very, very differently, and two people eating the exact same thing will have two very different responses.

In a recent study, researchers monitored glucose levels in 800 people over the course of more than 46,000 meals (having high blood sugar levels has been linked with weight gain). They found that even while eating identical meals, there was a lot of variability in how each patient's blood sugar was affected by their food choices. One participant's blood sugar spiked, unsurprisingly, after eating cookies, while another's spiked after eating a bananas.

"The first very big surprise and striking finding that we had was the very vast variability we saw in people's response to identical meals," said researcher Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Using this data, Segan and Eran Elinav designed an algorithm that uses body mass, dietary habits, physical activity, gut bacteria, and other factors (137 in all) to better predict how certain meals will affect a person's glycemic response.

They then used their algorithm to test tailored diets on 100 participants and found that they could predict blood sugar spikes with a surprising amount of accuracy -- even more so than simply counting calories or carbs. They then recruited 26 new volunteers, split them into two groups, and provided them with two diets, one that was designed to minimize glycemic responses and the other that was mean to trigger blood sugar spikes. One group had plans designed by experts while others had diets that used the new algorithm.

Even though these algorithm-based meal plans included some not-so-diet-friendly foods like chocolate and ice-cream, they seemed to work. Their blood sugar responses were more regulated on the "good" diet, and researchers even saw gut microbes change -- in a good way! They even performed slightly better than the expert-designed diets.

So what does this mean for you?

Though this is the first study of its kind, anyone who's struggled on conventional diets may be happy to find out that simply counting calories and eating so-called health foods isn't always the answer to weight loss. It's a much more complex process that should be tailored to an individual. Until this algorithm is available to the public though, you're still best off eating lots of fresh foods and getting as much exercise as possible.