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The Fat Trap

Monday, January 02, 2012

DDOORN sent me a link to an amazing article in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine setting out current research into weight loss "recividism" . . . a topic dear to the hearts of many of us.

Well, I'm choosing to characterize it as "amazing" rather than overwhelming. And "dear" to our hearts rather than devastating!!

But you'll have to make up your own mind!! Here's the link:


The article also has a slide show illustrating the weight loss history of a couple who track everything they eat and exercise vigorously pretty much every day. And despite all of that, have not been able to keep their weight loss at the level they would prefer. Although they are maintaining at very substantially less than their prior obese weight levels.

So: what's the take away?

Yes, it's true. It may be hard to lose weight. But it really IS harder to maintain weight loss. So hard that most people don't do it.

And yeah: those of us who have lost substantial amounts of weight really do struggle with how very difficult it is to keep it off. We're not just imagining it. We're not just making excuses for ourselves. That's because there really is a measurable biological tendency -- both metabolic and hormonal -- to put it all back on again. The measurable biological tendency is the reason the article is called "The Fat Trap".

Even a year after weight loss, we produce measurably more ghrelin -- the hormone that makes you feel hungry -- and measurably less leptin-- the hormone that suppresses appetite -- than an "average" person who has never been obese.

It really is as if our bodies are trying desperately to return to their previous weight. Our post-dieting bodies morph into a biologically-altered state. And that tendency to regain weight is sustained for quite a long period of time . . . years, maybe six years or even longer.

Moreover, this new research indicates that those of us who have been obese will regain weight eating fewer calories than those who have never been obese. The change isn't just hormonal, it's metabolic too. That's why never-obese people may be able to eat 300 ++ more calories a day than formerly-obese people can eat, without gaining weight. In addition, a formerly-obese person probably burns fewer calories per minute of any given exercise than a person who has never been obese. DOUBLE WHAMMY!!

So my somewhat cranky perception that I'm hungrier than other people, that I have less will-power than other people, that I simply can't eat as much as other people eat AND that I have to exercise more than other people have to exercise so maintain the same "average weight: there's now some scientific support for all of those perceptions.

Which means it really does take eternal vigilance to maintain weight loss. I've gotta be prepared to treat hunger as something less than an emergency. I've gotta be prepared to re-arrange my environment to avoid temptation. I've gotta eat less than the 1800 calories a day an "average" woman of my height and weight could eat, and I've gotta move more.


It's not going to stop any time soon.

And perhaps means that the best strategy would be never to have permitted myself to have become obese in the first place.

Well, that train has left the station. I was obese. Haven't been obese for almost a decade, but I still want to eat too much. And not move enough. Every day.

Is all of this too discouraging? Should I give up right now?

No. That's my hormonal and metabolic reality. I'm stuck with it. I can't change it, perhaps. But I can manage it.

I used to smoke, too. No cigarettes for more than 30 years -- not one -- but I still feel like smoking most days. However, I know that smoking is a craving I can manage. Because I have managed it.

I can also manage the desire to eat more than I am able to eat without gaining weight. Even if that means eating less than "normal" weight people can eat. I can tolerate some hunger. Because: I would rather be hungry than fat.

There it is.

Don't like it particularly.

But: oh well.

And thank you DDORN -- Don -- for sharing this article with me!! It's comforting, anyhow, to know that I'm not crazy. This weight maintenance thing really does demand the kind of OCD energy and attention I have been devoting to it.

But given the alternative . . . uncomfortably excess weight, all the health consequences that go with excess weight: no question. For me it is worth it.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    AMEN sister!
    2326 days ago
    I see you blogged about that infamous article, too. I love your conclusions though. Very inspiring read!! Thanks for commenting on my blogs. :)
    2326 days ago
    You are such a great blogger!
    Think I'll go see what's up on the msg boards.
    The article certainly has caused a lot of discussion.
    I found it to be very comforting.
    P.S. OMG- hated that holier-than-thou toxic guy over there.
    I do not like judgmental people.
    2328 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/9/2012 8:00:09 PM
    Wow... so staying balanced on the pinnacle of the glass mountain is just as arduous as the long steep slippery climb to get there??? Shows why it needs to be a complete lifestyle choice and there are no quick fix solutions. Thanks for the heads-up. Helps to step back and look the enemy squarely in the face before leaping back into the battle.
    2328 days ago
    Thanks, Ellen. I knew it wasn't easy; now I know more about the why. If I had read this last year I would have been even angrier at my mother for raising me fat. In fairness, I should have been blaming my dad, too, as he was also a very poor role model when it comes to food. However, I now feel like a winner. I don't blame mom and dad. I can maintain my weight. And I don't care if it is harder for me than it is for someone who, unlike me, was not overweight for 5 decades. I can do it and it is worth it. I intend to keep doing it. Life is good. May not always be fair, but it is definitely good!! -Marsha
    2328 days ago
    How funny, I wrote a blog about that article too.
    I didn't much like the research findings it reported...
    but I also decided that I would not use it as an excuse to give up.

    It does make me appreciate Spark People that much more.
    The support here is what helps Sparkers to lose that weight AND to maintain the new lower weight -- in spite of all the body functions that are working against us.

    So if we grumble every once in a while - we can be bolstered by the new knowledge that it isn't ALL IN OUR HEADS!

    Losing - and then maintaining - is NOT EASY!

    2329 days ago
    It's worth it for all of us - here's to eternal vigilance!
    2330 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Usually I'm not a Negative Nancy.. but I do like Linda's thought about it sucking. what sucks worse.... for me it would be gaining the weight back and going back to smoking. Call it aversion therapy or call it I like where I am. Being comfortable with my body... less pain, more freedom of movement. If staying where I am is the choice that I make then the eternal vigilance is well worth the effort.
    2330 days ago
    Well, I read your blog as soon as you posted it but I couldn't respond right away -- I had to get over my urge to commit hari kari!

    This is very depressing news for someone who has trouble GETTING the weight off, but as you say, I'd rather know the reality so I can face it and deal with it.

    The bottom line is that this is my body, for good or ill. This is the only one I've got and will ever have. This is the hand I've been dealt, and now it is up to me to play it the very best I can.

    So I sally forth with even more determination!!
    2331 days ago
  • KLONG8
    So my friends who tell me "you don't really need to walk an hour, then bike an hour, then do some yoga and strength work the next day" are pretty much shown that they don't get my reality. Yes I do....unless I want to try to exist on a handful of greens and a nice big glass of water each day (by the way...I don't!)
    2332 days ago
    We've been discussing this over here, too:

    2332 days ago
    It's sort of like smoking (or quitting smoking)...it is better to have never gotten "fat" to begin with. I cringe when I see all those kids who are technically obese...their life will be filled with the endless battle of the bulge. Maybe these findings (from Australia) are only valid for people in the Southern Hemisphere...
    what do you think? emoticon

    Slow and steady makes a lot more sense to me now. I have managed to keep 10 pounds off from 2009 loss, but made no progress on the next 10 I need to lose. Just maintained, which of course is not a bad thing.

    Hunger, gives me a whole new perspective on "World Hunger". Thanks for sharing...I know you work hard maintaining and you are an inspiration!
    2332 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/3/2012 2:57:26 PM
    You've said it all - we have to eat less, exercise more, be ever vigilant, and, oh well, that's the reality. We can't do much else!

    And while I have more weight I'm working on losing, I consider every pound lost and maintained lost a victory!
    2332 days ago
    Grrrr. Grrr. Or maybe that should be Ghhhhrrrrrrrrr.

    Ghrelin. Get lost.

    We'll all just keep roaring together!! We can do this. We ARE doing this!!

    And yeah. It does help to know that I'm not being unnecessarily vigilant. That this is what it takes.


    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2332 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/3/2012 7:56:20 AM
    Thanks for sharing the article. I also think it's better to know why maintenance is so difficult rather than think, as I did before, that there was something particularly strange about myself. For me, it's about managing hunger - & now I know why I get so hungry. I have to eat regularly & also not exercise too vigorously to avoid feeling ravenous & out of control. Also training myself to know that 'hunger is not an emergency' from Beck's Diet Solution has been really helpful - as you know!
    2332 days ago
    Thank you Ellen and Don, what an interesting article. It explains so much and now I can understand why eternal vigilance is a must. Thank God for SP and SparkFriends who understand what we go through to be healthier, lighter and to feel better about ourselves. emoticon
    2333 days ago
  • _LINDA
    I was warned maintenance would be harder then the actual losing of the weight and it sure is -you have to exercise more to burn the same number of calories and eat less so as to not gain. Yep, it sure does suck to be maintaining. But it sucks worse to be obese, so I guess I am stuck with it..
    Here is to being successfully vigilant in the New Year!!
    We can do it!!
    2333 days ago
    Excellent article - thanks for sharing. Makes all of us compulsive fitness-minute and calorie trackers seem a little more sane, doesn't it?

    I'm glad to see they're doing more studies on slower weight loss. I can't believe that taking people down so fast doesn't fundamentally change how the body reacts. It just makes sense that the body of person who loses 30 pounds in 10 weeks reacts differently to the loss than the body of a person who loses 30 pounds over 10 months. Food for thought, as it were.
    2333 days ago
  • REDSHOES2011
    Experts do alot of talking- they never ask us people whom succeed at maintenance long haul what it "really takes". The huge changes have yet to come in society so we are not deemed as outcasts saying no to the traditions that are all wrong.
    As we get fitter we have to educate ourselfs to fine tune the food and exercise needs to our ever changing fitness level. Alot of people don't even know how to use their calories range correctly or know what components are absolutely necessary at each meal..
    2333 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/2/2012 10:48:42 PM
    Science is getting closer and closer to proving you OH-so-correct! :

    "This weight maintenance thing really does demand the kind of OCD energy and attention I have been devoting to it."

    This article sums up the latest in research which 4-A-HEALTHY-BMI has been following closely also.

    Better hard truths than to wander and wonder, eh...? Not that you've been doing much of THAT lately! :-)

    2333 days ago
    Maintenance sure is a whole different animal.

    I am so thankful for Spark friends and the "At Goal and Maintaining" team. It really does help to know the real answers to the less-often asked questions.
    2333 days ago
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