The New York Times ran an article by Tara Parker Pope called The Fat Trap. In it she had some very interesting information that you don’t always hear in the mainstream about how unlikely permanent weight loss is, including new research It’s an eight page article, but here are some of the highlights:
While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state.
For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.
Amen sister, you hit the hammer on the nail with that one. Then she shares her own struggles with weight cycling and discusses several studies which have suggested that the tendency to gain weight is hereditary. She talks about how fat loss appears to change muscle fibers, causing them to burn less calories, about how after people lose 10% of their body weight they are metabolically different than those who started at that size, how weight loss changes the way that the brain responds to food. She discusses how difficult it is to maintain weight loss:
Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, says that while the 10,000 people tracked in the [Weight Loss] registry are a useful resource, they also represent a tiny percentage of the tens of millions of people who have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight. “All it means is that there are rare individuals who do manage to keep it off,” Brownell says. “You find these people are incredibly vigilant about maintaining their weight. Years later they are paying attention to every calorie, spending an hour a day on exercise. They never don’t think about their weight.”
While I was excited about the article, each time I turned the page I braced myself for it. The “even though it doesn’t make any sense” section. This is the section at the end of almost any article that shows fat people in a positive light, or dieting in a negative light, where they basically negate everything they’ve just said. It’s why a news interview with Darryl Roberts and I talking about healthy habits ends with a picture of someone stuffing their face with cake and a voice over that says “of course, common sense should tell you that this is a bad idea.” In this article, the transition to this section is stark:
Nobody wants to be fat. In most modern cultures, even if you are healthy — in my case, my cholesterol and blood pressure are low and I have an extraordinarily healthy heart — to be fat is to be perceived as weak-willed and lazy. It’s also just embarrassing. Once, at a party, I met a well-respected writer who knew my work as a health writer. “You’re not at all what I expected,” she said, eyes widening. The man I was dating, perhaps trying to help, finished the thought. “You thought she’d be thinner, right?” he said. I wanted to disappear, but the woman was gracious. “No,” she said, casting a glare at the man and reaching to warmly shake my hand. “I thought you’d be older.”
I wish fat people would stop being embarrassed by other people’s poor behavior. If it were me I would be embarrassed FOR my date, not by him. If this kind of thing happens to you, I suggest a phrase like: “I’m sure you’re embarrassed to have said something so stupid, don’t worry about it for now we’ll talk about it later.” Or you can say (in your head if necessary) “That’s not mine, you can keep it”, but you don’t need to be embarrassed because other people behave like idiots. The cure for social stigma is not weight loss – it’s curing social stigma. Next she says:
If anything, the emerging science of weight loss teaches us that perhaps we should rethink our biases about people who are overweight. It is true that people who are overweight, including myself, get that way because they eat too many calories relative to what their bodies need. But a number of biological and genetic factors can play a role in determining exactly how much food is too much for any given individual. Clearly, weight loss is an intense struggle, one in which we are not fighting simply hunger or cravings for sweets, but our own bodies.
This paragraph is a little from column A, a little from column shit. Hell yes we should rethink our biases about fat people. but not because of the science. It doesn’t matter why people are fat, or whether or not they could be thin. Every body of every size deserves respect. If you’re wondering why someone is fat you can feel free to file that away in the None of your Damn Business folder while treating them with basic human respect. And here’s the paragraph that made me swear at my computer:
But with a third of the U.S. adult population classified as obese, nobody is saying people who already are very overweight should give up on weight loss.
Oh what in fat hell?! You just spent 7 damn pages talking about how unlikely weight loss is – citing a variety of experts, how the weight loss registry shows that 10,000 out of tens of millions keep weight off and they do it by obsessing about their weight (and it stands to reason that there are some people who obsess about their weight and STILL can’t keep it off). And even if you’re not, lots of people are saying that we should give up on weight loss, they include medical doctors, Ph.d’s, and people who can do math. There are lots of reasons to choose Health at Every Size – here are 10 of them and here are 11 more.
She concludes by saying:
Even though all the evidence suggests that it’s going to be very, very difficult for me to reduce my weight permanently, I’m surprisingly optimistic. I may not be ready to fight this battle this month or even this year. But at least I know what I’m up against.
Let’s look at quotes from some of the people in Tara’s own article who “successfully” maintain weight loss:
- “It’s something that has to be focused on every minute. I’m not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food.”
- Since October 2006 she has weighed herself every morning and recorded the result in a weight diary. She even carries a scale with her when she travels. She also weighs everything in the kitchen. If she goes out to dinner, she conducts a Web search first to look at the menu and calculate calories to help her decide what to order. She avoids anything with sugar or white flour, which she calls her “gateway drugs” for cravings and overeating. She has also found that drinking copious amounts of water seems to help; she carries a 20-ounce water bottle and fills it five times a day. She writes down everything she eats. At night, she transfers all the information to an electronic record.
- Because she knows errors can creep in, either because a rainy day cuts exercise short or a mismeasured snack portion adds hidden calories, she allows herself only 1,800 daily calories of food. (The average estimate for a similarly active woman of her age and size is about 2,300 calories.)
- Today, she’s a member of the National Weight Control Registry and maintains about 140 pounds by devoting her life to weight maintenance. She became a vegetarian, writes down what she eats every day, exercises at least five days a week and blogs about the challenges of weight maintenance. She has also come to accept that she can never stop being “hypervigilant” about what she eats.
Tara is allowed to choose weight loss and be optimistic about it – just like I’m allowed to choose to focus on health and be optimistic. I’m just wondering how, as a society, we got to a place where living with a food obsession that shares many characteristics with an eating disorder seems like the best idea. Especially when we know that exercise mitigates the risks associated with being fat, without “dedicating your life” to maintaining a weight.
Also, it is too much to ask for more balanced reporting? If we have to have the “even though it doesn’t make any sense…” paragraph section at the end of any article that talks about the mountain of scientific evidence against weight loss, I would like to see a similar section at the end of any article that talks about weight loss in a positive light, maybe something like: “Even though we’ve talked around it here, the science overwhelmingly agrees that weight loss is impossible for most people, and that 95% of people end up as heavy or heavier than when they started, and subject to the health risks of weight cycling.”
Oh, I totally spaced it yesterday, but the winner of the Marilyn Wann Fat!So? Dayplanner from Ask Me Anything Day was Ealasaid! Thanks for your question and congratulations, you’re going to love the dayplanner – it is super awesome! If you didn’t win, you can still buy one of your very own, the proceeds to go Marilyn Wann to support her Weight Action Diversity Lounge which is going to be amazing!
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