America’s most predominate value is freedom. As news of the dramatic weight regain among contestants on “The Biggest Loser” reality show continues to spread, there are two ways we can express that freedom.
Diets lead to a weight regain 99 percent of the time. The average weight regained is 108 percent.
We can use our freedom to hide behind isolated research that suggests we’ll always fail and stuff our faces in defeat. Or — we can reject the tyranny of extreme dieting promoted by the diet industry and refuse to play into the hands of Big Medicine and Big Pharma.
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The research unleashing the recent furor, published in the medical journal Obesity, showed an astonishing level of weight regain among the 2008 “The Biggest Loser” contestants. Twelve of the 13 regained most of their lost weight, and four regained all of their lost pounds, plus more weight.
Social media erupted in cries of “Doomed to be fat!” and “Why bother eating right?”
Rather than take a serious look at the drawbacks of the “Biggest Loser” approach (and perhaps the ethics of what the show has done to participants and millions of viewers), The New York Times ran this incendiary headline: “The problem isn’t willpower. It’s neuroscience. You can’t — and shouldn’t — fight back.”
It’s not news that highly restrictive dieting and rapid weight loss lead the body to fight back and regain weight. We’ve known that for decades.
In 1996, I hit my highest weight of 242 pounds and decided to lose weight permanently. Exhausted by efforts that resulted in repetitive regain, I decided I was going to do it one last time.
My first trip to the medical school library taught me two pertinent facts: Diets lead to a regain 99 percent of the time, and the average regain is 108 percent. (See the University of Colorado/Brown Medical School joint venture, The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks real-life losers long-term.)
“The Biggest Loser” producers could find this info easily as well, but it might hinder profits.
Diets enforce temporary restrictions, which are hard to maintain long-term. The 1 percent of successful long-term losers made their own plans, changes, and decisions, slowly and incrementally, based on their likes, dislikes and lifestyles.
In short, they changed their entire approach to nourishing themselves and measured success by sustainable losses, not by the amount lost.
Many of the responses to the study and the situation claimed obesity has no impact on health.
“For every study showing weight may not make a difference in health outcomes, there are about a thousand saying it does,” Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi, chief medical officer of EverlyWell in Westfield, Massachusetts, said. “Having excess weight contributes to elevated cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation, all of which are known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and early mortality.”
The link between excess weight and many cancers was ignored, too, as well as diseases growing to crisis levels today: diabetes, liver and kidney disease, blood pressure, and stroke.
“The weight loss industry is focused on aesthetic outcomes rather than true health outcomes,” Dr. Megan R. Williams Khmelev said. Khmelev, who is board certified in obesity and family medicine, left a traditional hospital setting to found the Elemental Weight Loss Clinic in San Antonio, Texas.
The body burns less fat the more strenuously we diet. It’s a survival mechanism.
“We are not victims to our biology,” she said.
Although some programs recommend a weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week, far below “The Biggest Loser” rates, Khmelev is happy if her patients lose as little as 1-2 pounds per month, knowing that’s a reasonable fat-loss speed.
Here’s why: A large percentage of all fast weight loss is muscle, and muscle determines resting metabolism. It would be nice to direct the body to burn only excess body fat, but it cannot be done — and the body burns less body fat the more strenuously we diet. It’s a survival mechanism, hard-wired into the human body.
Burning only body fat, which occurs at a slow rate, doesn’t incite cravings or agitate hormone panels to induce cravings and extreme hunger.
Interestingly, in 2013, the American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a “disease requiring a range of medical interventions,” paving the way for insurance-funded liquid diets, pharmaceuticals, and bariatric surgery — all also rarely successful in the long term.
When rapid weight loss doesn’t work on “The Biggest Loser,” how will it work any better if driven by Big Pharma?
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“This study on ‘The Biggest Losers’ and subsequent articles push those that need to lose weight toward surgery and pharmaceutical methods, which causes a host of side effects and health problems,” Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician and licensed dietitian/nutritionist, of Newark, Delaware, said. “It speaks to those people looking for a quick fix. When it comes to your health, there is no quick fix.”
Steve Siebold, a psychological performance coach from Gainesville, Georgia, believes drug companies manipulate the masses into pharmaceutical intervention by telling people that being fat isn’t their fault. After his professional athletic career ended, Siebold gained 40 pounds. Losing the weight, and keeping it off, spurred him towards self-responsibility.
“This New York Times article is just another ‘out’ for people to not even try. If you can’t lose weight, you have a hard time accepting responsibility for your own behavior, so you look for any excuse possible.”
Siebold suggests that success is about mental toughness. Certainly, most health coaches recognize that weight loss is a mind game. If our minds can convince us broken cookies don’t have calories, that doesn’t indicate a problem with the cookies.
A powerful mental attitude can surpass biology and neuroscience with creativity and passion.
“If you want to lose weight, grow up emotionally and make the decision to do it once and for all,” Siebold said. “Stop treating your diet like a hobby and start treating it like a battle you must win.”
Pat Barone, CPCC, BCC, MCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating.