Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weight Loss Secret

disclaimer: I am not a doctor, trainer, nutritionist or any sort of scientist. I'm just an overweight woman who reads and thinks a lot. I may misunderstand what I've read. I may draw the wrong conclusions. I am no expert. I'm not even an expert amateur. As long as we have that out of the way, you may continue--

I have, as they say, fallen off the proverbial weight-loss wagon.

So much depends upon a small red wagon

Only I never called it that. I called it the "Wellness Wagon," but I thought, I really did, that eating properly and exercising would result in a little weight loss. Some. I wasn't expecting too much: just some sort of reward for my effort.

But there was none--oh, except for that dramatic change in my measurements: but somehow, that wasn't enough for me.

Then, my shoes seemed wonky.

I seemed to be wanting to do two mile workouts instead of just one. That took more time.

And eating more vegetables lasted about a week and a half.

So, after only a month, I quit.

I quit exercising.
I quit trying to eat more veggies.
I stopped eating my oatmeal for breakfast.
I stopped drinking my three to four pints of water a day.
I started eating more goodies: cinnamon crunchies, brownies, cheese cake, saltines, ice-cream, anything, anything, anything I could get my hands on and eat in great quantities.


I was doing some reading. Specifically, Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. That book, as well as bits and pieces from the great tome by Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories (which prefaced his latest, Why We Get Fat) and the reading I did before Christmas from the book by Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth led me to feeling, well, honestly? Hopeless.

And then, like the nail in the proverbial coffin, Dr. Arya Sharma analysed a study where the good doctor concluded:

Thus, the laws of physics which would tell us that obese people gain weight because they simply eat more and move less don’t quite tell us why thin people can eat more and move less and still stay thin.

So if the obesity epidemic is not simply due to people becoming obese because they’re eating more and moving less (than thin people), then the solution is probably not in simply having them eat less and move more - which, incidentally, is probably why “eat-less-move-more” (ELMM) so seldom works.

But what else do we have?

And now I will tell you the well kept weight loss secret:

Nothing. We have nothing else. We know nothing else. And we don't know if we should even be advising weight loss.

Nonetheless, moving more and eating less--it is is what we have: and it does seem to work.
For a time.

See, even if you manage to lose more than 10% of your body weight, (or for some like me, where 10 per cent is a significant amount of weight all by itself) there doesn't seem to be any way to keep it off except struggling with your body and your appetite for a long, long time. How long? A year? Two years? Forever? When does the body say, ahhh, ok, I get it, this is the new weight now. We can stay here.

You see, it is NOT the case that after the effort to lose weight people simply return to their "old eating habits." (as the Wikipedia author of Yo-Yo dieting puts it. Something else may be going on--something not in your control at all.

Right now, my weight is stable. Remarkably so. I exercised nearly everyday for a whole month: and my weight didn't budge.

I didn't exercise and started eating like a maniac--and after four weeks I still weighed the same. (It only moved two weeks later: a gain of 3 pounds).

I was my own experiment in weight stability.

And I may be a fool to tinker with this stability. Destabilization could be worse than being fat.

It seems that it is not being fat which causes health problems, (for more on this, see The Obesity Myth as well as the movement called Health at Every Size) but being inactive and having bad eating habits. That's why I called what I was doing "wellness" (while, yes, filing it under weight loss.)

Destabilizing my weight, losing a bunch of pounds and then regaining them, known as yo-yo dieting, or weight loss cycling, could possibly the worst case scenario.* I could create health problems for myself.

This article lays out the problems succinctly, but let me summarize for you:
  1. with weight cycling, a person has a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, heart disease and high cholesterol.
  2. weight cycling has a profound effect on one's immunity. Gaining and losing and gaining (etc.) can permanently weaken one's immune system. Not good.
  3. weight cycling is attributed to a higher rate of weight gain, psychological stress, improper body fat distribution, low metabolic rate and the highest BMI.
Whereas, if I stay fat?
Likely bad knees, a bad back and bad fashion.

So, all in all, it seems it is better to remain fat--while eating better and moving more.
And I feel like weeping.

*There is a distinction to be made between yo-yo dieting and weight cycling but the risks listed above are not differentiated.

Yo yo dieting is defined as an extreme condition which has two phases. The first, the diet phase, consists of a period of time in which calories are restricted at a level well below that needed to sustain one's weight and energy level. Often, people become irritable, obsessed with thoughts of food, depressed and fatigued. The second phase occurs once "normal" level of calories are re-introduced--"normal" being the amount of calories calculated to sustain a given person at a given weight at a given activity level. There are charts for such things--and they may be wildly inaccurate for any given individual. (It's just not as scientific as we could wish it to be. Studies have shown that this range of calories can be quite wide--up to a few hundred calories for women and several hundred for men.)

However, once the calorie restriction phase ends and the "re-feeding" stage begins individuals gain weight. They do not remain at the new weight. Their bodies pack on the pounds, as it were, sometimes at lightening speed. Many of these studies seem to suggest that it is the level to which calories were restricted, that is the rate of pounds lost which determines how successful one may be at maintaining the new weight: in other words, the slower the better. But how slow? And is that assumption even correct?

Another interesting thing to note is that exercise seems to be irrelevant to this process. That is, the metabolic damage occurs contingent upon the level of the calorie restriction involved and not the level of physical activity. Thus figure competitors training for a show or competition can experience the same metabolic damage evidenced by the rebound experience and subsequent health risks as the over-weight. That's because the weight gain and health difficulties are the consequence of starvation, and not weight loss per se.

Weight cycling is a more encompassing term. It includes the above and also any weight loss over any period of time and the gaining back of that weight (or more) at a later date over some other period of time (usually shorter than the amount of time taken to lose it, though not always.) See all the unknowns here? Yeesh.

One of many things I'd like to know: does the rate at which one loses weight have any bearing on one's ability to maintain it? If so, what will work? How can we figure out what will work for any given individual (because you can bet the farm it will be highly individual.) I remember reading once upon a time that losing a pound a week was a "safe" rate of weight loss. I never questioned the implication behind it--that losing more than one pound a week was unsafe. Unsafe in what way? Yet another unknown.

But I know this for sure: never, ever let those pounds creep up. And next time, lose weight before you quit smoking.

1 comment :

onshore said...

Hi Alana. Did you read this ?
Just wondering if you picked too many goals? Or maybe you could have slightly different motives? So your motivation would not come from loosing weight, but perhaps from finding a sport that you enjoy and want to do. The weight loss could come as an extra then...

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