Today’s guest post is a response to my recent post about Oprah and her weight-loss struggles. The post comes from Dr Vera Tarman, MD, FCFP, ABAM, and author of Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction and Mike MacKinnon a fitness trainer (Fit in 20).
Oprah’s experience of losing and regaining her weight on a regular basis, alongside Sarah, the Duchess of York and Kristie Allie – all spokespersons for weight loss programs ‐ certainly send us a dismal message. Sure, weight loss can occur but keeping it off is the challenge that trips up 90% of people who have tried these and other programs. So, isn’t it more compassionate to dissuade people from the inevitable yo‐ yo lifestyle and accept their current obese weight?
But … what if there are actually many success stores that we are not hearing about?
As an addictions physician I witnessed patients who have lost an average of 60 to 100 pounds and have kept that weight off for years. They are food addicts in recovery from their addiction. They have adopted a radical diversion from the traditional bariatric or eating disorder menu recommendations: Rather than ‘learning’ how to eat all foods in moderation, these people have identified and abstained from the trigger foods that spur their addictive eating. Sobriety, food serenity and long term weight loss result – on a consistent basis.
Look to the recovery circles and addiction treatment programs. Here you will unearth people who have succeeded where Oprah has not. We don’t hear about these victories because many have pledged anonymity in the church basements where they meet, strategize and buffer the messages that we are saturated with by our food‐obsessed culture. Because there is no money to be made with the simple abstinence of sugar, flour or processed foods, and no drugs, herbs or patented food packages to sell – no one is advertising or promoting this approach. Abstinence.
Here is the story of one clinician who has found long ‐ term weight loss. His is a case in point: Weight loss for 13 years and counting. He is not a “rare’” individual who has achieved the impossible. He and his clients have simply applied the solution to the underlying problem of their obesity – an undiagnosed food addiction.
I’m a strength and nutrition coach who specializes in helping people lose weight. My typical clients are female, age 35 and up, who have tried EVERYTHING under the sun, to no avail. Most have had some success, but usually they have lost their weight and gained back even more.
Often, by the time they get to me, they’re frustrated, angry and feel hopelessness.
Over the course of two years, I lost 95 lbs of body fat. I have maintained my weight loss for almost 13 years. I have also helped many others maintain similar weight loss. Last week I interviewed an ex‐client of mine ‐ a doctor ‐ who lost almost 50 lbs six years ago. How did we both do it?
How did we maintain our loss in the face of those who would tell us that it’s not possible, that most can’t?
We addressed the problem, not the symptom. The symptom is excess body fat. The problem however is multi‐factorial:
1) It is mental in that overweight people greatly misunderstand what healthy eating and healthy exercising looks like.
2) It is emotional. Overweight people tend to turn to food instead of healthier coping mechanisms when they experience stress or overwhelming emotions.
3) It is physical: they eat too much of the wrong stuff, and end up eating it compulsively.
I work with people to re‐program their thinking, so they learn to have a better relationship with food. I teach them reality‐based therapies (CBT, DBT, ACT, REBT) that help them deal with harmful thinking and negative emotions more constructively.
Mainly, I teach them what to eat, what foods are healthy versus which lead to addictive eating. Clients learn the tools they need to stay on track so that they don’t relapse back to compulsive eating. The truth is, for some, there are foods they must avoid permanently. This approach is not popular. But, I have found that some people treat certain foods the same way a drug addict treats their drug of choice. Once they start, they cannot stop.
Not everyone fits this category, but some do. When these people agree to give up the foods that are causing them trouble, they succeed.
So, when I hear someone say that most who are overweight are doomed to never lose their weight, my first thought is “nonsense”. What I suggest to my clients is a paradigm shift in thinking. We, who are led by the diet industry, misunderstand the nature of the problem. It is not a simple matter of eating less and excising more. People must accept that an equal portion of mental, emotional and physical work needs to be done AND they may also have to accept that there are certain foods they can never eat again.
Are you a food addict?
If you are, you may have to identify and abstain from your favorite foods in order to achieve long‐term weight loss. Those processed savory or sugary ‘drugs’ that comprise our daily snacks and fast food meals.
Is there good news? There are plenty of people out there who have sustained weight loss, but we have yet to capture them in our studies. They will tell you: You can, you can, you can.
There are no doubt long-term “success stories” out there – people who just by making (often radical) changes in their diet and activity behaviours have lost a substantial amount of weight AND are keeping it off.
However, there is also no doubt that these people are rare and far between – which is exactly what makes each one of them so exceptional.
I am not speaking of all the people we hear or read about who have lost tons of weight – we hear about their spectacular weight loss – cutting carbs, cutting gluten, going vegan, going paleo, alternate day fasting, running marathons, training for iron man competitions, going on the Biggest Loser or eating at Subway.
What we don’t hear about is the same people, when they put the weight back on – which, in real life is exactly what happens to the absolutely vast majority of “losers”. We hear of their “success” and then we never hear from them again – ever.
Oprah is different! Different because, we have had the opportunity to follow her ups and downs over decades.
When Oprah “succeeds” in losing weight, she does not disappear into the night – no – she puts the weight back right in front of our eyes, again and again and again and again.
Now, comedy writer Caissie St.Onge, in a comment posted on facebook, pretty much summarizes what it is we can all learn (and should probably have learnt a long time ago) from Oprah:
“Oprah is arguably the most accomplished, admired, able person in the world. She creates magic for other people and herself on the regular. So, if Oprah can’t do permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be done. Oprah is also crazy rich. If Oprah can’t buy permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be bought.”
“I’m not saying you should give up on your dreams of having the body you want. I’m just asking, if you never get that waist, will your life have been a waste? (I see what I did there.) Every day we are bombarded with media, content and products. Special foods and drinks. Programs and plans. None of this shit has ever worked for Oprah and it probably isn’t gonna work for me or you.”
“I know the reason isn’t because you’re weak. If you’re carrying around 10 or 20, or 50 or 150 pounds more than the tiny friend who always calls herself fat in front of you and you don’t kick her in the back of the knee, you’re the opposite of weak. You’re very, very strong in at least two different kind of ways.”
“I realize there are people who are DYING to tell you what they think about what you should do with your body. It always starts with, “No offense but…” or “Not to be mean, but…” And it’s always offensive and mean, but also, you probably say things to yourself every day that are way meaner than what any “well-intentioned” “friend” or internet troll could come up with. You’re gonna have to try harder if you want to beat us at our own game, internet trolls. I would pop someone in the chops if they spoke to me the way I speak to myself. And I would bet all of Oprah’s money that Oprah says mean shit to herself too. Oprah does.”
“You can do what you want. You knew that. But I’m gonna stop wishing that I didn’t have dimples on the backs of my hands or that my ankles were more flattered by strappy shoes. I’m gonna stop telling people that they look great and start telling them what I really mean, that’s it’s nice to see them. And I see you. And I like you so much just how you are right now, and not a year or five years from now when you may or may not be smaller….. Oprah. I’ll love you either way.”
Cassie’s entire post is available here
This is why the recent paper by Nia Mitchell and colleagues from the University of Colorado, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine is of considerable interest.
The study looks at long-term weight loss of participants who joined Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), a US nonprofit, low-cost, peer-led weight-loss program between 2005-2011 (207,469 individuals) and consecutively renewed their annual membership at least once 74,629 (35.9%).
Mean weight loss for those who renewed their membership at least once was 6% and 8% for the 2,289 participants with 7 years of consecutive annual renewal.
Three points are probably worth emphasizing: for one, as with most weight loss programs, only a small proportion of individuals stick with it even for just a year (in this case about 35% which is still probably better than for most programs that I am aware of). Long-term members (in this case about 10%, who manage to stick with the program for at least 7 years) are even a greater minority.
Secondly, those who stick with the program in the long-term are able to sustain their benefit – of course it is hard to prove that this long-term benefit is actually causally related to the program – after all, the kind of people who make long-term commitments to a weight management program may well differ from the general public in other ways that may be important for their success.
Thirdly, the study illustrates that the average weight loss even for those who stick with the program over 7 years manage to keep off only about half of what is generally seen in long-term studies with bariatric surgery (about 20% weight loss over 15-20 years).
None of this takes away from the success of the TOPS approach to long-term weight management – it does however illustrate that even one of the best and longest running “lifestyle” management approaches to weight management, faces the usual challenges of attrition and plateauing weight loss at a level that may be less than what many living with severe obesity would consider a satisfactory outcome.
Kudos to TOPS for allowing this public analysis of their data – few other weight loss programs would dare to do the same.
At the recent European Congress on Obesity, I had the occasion for a long chat with my friend and colleague Abdul Dulloo, from Friburg in Switzerland, who has worked extensively on the issue of weight regain.
I asked him how much evidence there is to support the common notion that losing weight makes you fatter – something many dieters claim to have experienced.
Indeed, both in animals and humans, weight loss, as a rule, is followed by a more rapid regain of body fat than lean body mass (i.e. preferential catch-up fat) than of lean body mass, as a result of which body composition post-weight regain results in a greater proportion of fat mass than before. But does this increased “fatness” persist over time?
This is where Dulloo made me aware of a recent paper he published in Obesity Reviews that examines this question.
What his analysis of prospective studies on this issue revealed is that paradoxically, people within a the normal weight range appear much more prone to weight gain over time with dieting than people who already have overweight or obesity.
Indeed as he points out,
“…it is dieting to lose weight in people who are in the healthy normal range of body weight, rather than in those who are overweight or obese, that most strongly and consistently predict future weight gain.”
The reasons for this rather unexpected finding are unclear and some have argued that repeated dieting to lose weight in normalweight people may represents unsuccessful attempts to counter genetic and familial predispositions to obesity – these people are genetically prone to weight gain, which is why they are dieting in the first place. Thus, rather than a causal relationship, the association between dieting and subsequent weight gain is just what would have happened to them anyway.
Others have argued that the metabolic effects resulting from the psychological “fear of fatness” (which prompts dieting) per se may increase the risk for weight gain hence a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.
However, as Dulloo and colleagues discuss at length, based on their reanalysis of a wide range of human studies of weight loss and refeeding on body composition data on fat mass and fat-free mass (FFM) losses and regains, there is increasing support for the biological plausibility that dieting predisposes lean individuals (rather than those with overweight or obesity) to regaining more body fat than what had been lost (i.e. fat overshooting).
Overall the findings suggest that perhaps the reason why lean people regain fat faster is because their feedback signals in response to the depletion of both fat mass (i.e. adipostats) and fat-free mass (i.e. proteinstats), through the modulation of energy intake and adaptive thermogenesis, are more effective than in individuals with overweight or obesity, thus resulting in a faster rate of fat recovery relative to recovery of lean tissue (i.e. preferential catch-up fat).
In fact, it appears that lean people overshoot in terms of weight gain because the state of hyperphagia (in response to weight loss) appears to persist well beyond complete recovery of fat mass and interestingly until fat free mass is fully recovered (which may take months during which time fat gain continues).
Thus, it appears that in lean individuals “fat overshooting” following a diet is a prerequisite to allow complete recovery of fat-free mass (in obese individuals this may be less of an issue as recovery of fat-free mass is stimulated simply by the need to carry around a greater body weight).
Thus, it is easy to understand why repeated dieting and weight cycling would increase the risks for trajectories from leanness to fatness particularly in people who have a normal weight to begin with.
These findings have important public health implications and for promoting a “fear of fat”.
As Dulloo notes,
“Given the increasing prevalence of dieting in normal-weight female and male among young adults, adolescents and even children who perceive themselves as too fat (due to media, family and societal pressures), together with the high prevalence of dieting for optimizing performance among athletes in weight-sensitive sports, the notion that dieting and weight cycling may be predisposing a substantial proportion of the population to weight gain and obesity deserves greater scientific scrutiny.”
Indeed, I wonder how much of the obesity epidemic is directly attributable to normal weight people trying to lose weight for no good reason other than to look better.
Dulloo AG, Jacquet J, Montani JP, & Schutz Y (2015). How dieting makes the lean fatter: from a perspective of body composition autoregulation through adipostats and proteinstats awaiting discovery. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 16 Suppl 1, 25-35 PMID: 25614201
If you are planning to attend the 4th Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto next week (and anyone else, who is interested), you can now download the program app on your mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, eReader, or anywhere else – the app works on all major platforms and operating systems, even works offline.
You can access and download the app here.
(To watch a brief video on how to install this app on your device click here)
You can then create an individual profile (including photo) and a personalised day-by-day schedule.
Obviously, you can also search by speakers, topics, categories, and other criteria.
Hoping to see you at the Summit next week – have a great weekend!