24 June 2014 Oh really? Long Term Weight Loss is Impossible?

Many years ago, an acquaintance, who was very obese, went to Africa for 3 months for work. She came back 40 lbs thinner. Her usual obesity-enabling lifestyle was impossible in Africa. She walked everywhere and there was little palatable food. Result: weight loss. But soon after she returned, she regained the weight. She went back to her previous inactive lifestyle, and her previous high calorie food choices. If she’d stayed in Africa, she would very likely have remained thin.

Some researchers claim it's impossible to successfully lose weight. According to one of the scientists: “Long term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people.” The conclusion: weight loss is a myth. They cite data showing that most people regain any weight they lose. Our biology dictates that we regain weight, and only 5% of dieters successfully keep weight off long-term. Just about makes you want to give up on weight control.

The key word here is “happens”. The attitude seems to be that weight loss success falls from the sky and a few lucky people - that 5% - hit the jackpot, while everyone else regains the weight they lost, helpless victims of biology. More like victims of environment, such as my acquaintance. Her mistake, and the mistake of most dieters, is thinking once the weight is lost, you are “cured” of being overweight.

FACT OF LIFE FOR WEIGHT MANAGEMENT: No one, not one person on the planet, is EVER cured of the tendency to gain weight. We all, every one of us, will gain weight in an obesity-promoting environment.

So to be successful at keeping weight off you have two choices:

1. Move to a non-obesity promoting environment. That's not a great solution. It's impractical for most people. Where would you even move to? Third World countries where food is scarce and walking is the main mode of transportation? Or the few places where the norm is small portions, daily activity, and the absence of high calorie convenience foods.

2. Learn to be disciplined and vigilant about your diet and exercise. This is not at all impossible. After all, the 5% of people who are successful at weight loss do this every day. In fact, it's the reason they're successful.

Once you lose weight, you cannot ever go back to the lifestyle that made you obese if you want to keep the weight off. That can be very difficult if you live in a place that discourages physical activity and encourages overeating. Unfortunately, unless you have friends or family members for moral support, it can be a lonely enterprise.

  • You'll have to learn to monitor your food intake every day.
  • You may need to deliberately stay away from certain tempting trigger foods.
  • You may need to schedule exercise and arrange your life around that schedule.
  • You'll need to have a system for monitoring your weight and a plan to deal with occasional lapses and weight gain, such as holidays.

Here's another take on the 'weight loss as myth' belief system. Obesity doctor and blogger Yoni Freedhoff observes that people who lose large amounts of weight admit they'd rather be deaf or lose a limb that regain the weight. So obviously weight loss success is really important to people. His opinion: failure results when dieters use bad strategies to lose weight: extreme fad diets, unrealistic weight loss goals, denial of all pleasure from food. No one can keep that up for long. Inevitably they drift right back to the old obesity-promoting habits. Another major barrier to success: thinking of the whole process as negative; it's all about denial and hunger and dreary exercise sessions.

Dr. Freedhoff cites a study of those successful weight losers. What was their secret? Paying constant attention to food intake and exercise. If my newly svelte acquaintance had understood that fact, she may have made better choices on her return from Africa and maintained her impressive weight loss.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Tags:

Weight Loss/Behavior Weight Loss/Food Environment

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