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Are Weight-Loss Success Stories Inspirational?

Pick up almost any weekend newspaper and turn to the health pages, where you will find at least one story about someone who has lost an enormous amount of weight by making radical changes to their diet and/or taking up a vigorous and daunting exercise program – often literally going from “couch potatoe” to “body builder”. (click here for some bizarre success stories)

The articles will often include mention of the disastrous state before weight loss, the immense changes and efforts made, and the remarkable improvement in every aspect of life – truly inspirational it seems – or not?

There is no doubt that every year 1000s of people turn around their lifestyles by changing their diets and increasing their physical activity levels – not seldom in response to specific events or encounters (e.g. “When my doctor told me I have diabetes, I decided enough is enough!”).

We also know from the National Weight Control Registry and other sources that it is indeed possible for some people to make “permanent” lifestyle changes that will result in long-term weight-loss maintenance.

But how “inspirational” are these stories really? How many people actually read an article in the newspaper about the 35 year old former fast-food junkie, who lost 240 lbs after deciding to take on a 2 hr paper route before work everyday or about the formerly 350 lb 45 year old mother of four, who just participated in her first Iron (Wo)Man competition, and decide to simply emulate these “exemplary” individuals to conquer their own weight problems?

Not too many I would guess.

On the other hand, how many people struggling with excess weight read these stories and recognize, given their own personal situations, the sheer impossibility of making similar changes for themselves. How many readers simply throw up their hands in despair: “if that’s what it’s gonna take – I may as well give up!”

I also wonder just how many overweight people are sick and tired of having these “inspirational” articles rubbed under their noses by “well-meaning” friends and family? “After all if so-and-so decided to give up all white foods and become a marathon runner to solve their weight problem, why can’t you?”

I am sure that there is probably research data on these questions but I’d really like to hear from my own readers: who actually finds these weight-loss success stories inspirational?

I’d certainly love to hear from anyone who as a result of reading such a story was inspired enough to do the same. Let me include in this question anyone who after watching X-Weighted or The Biggest Loser decided to hire their own personal trainer and lose those pounds ‘forever’.

From those readers, who don’t find these stories helpful, I’d also definitely like to hear what you’d rather like to be reading.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. This is a great post, Dr. Sharma. No, these stories do NOT really inspire me. 🙂 I am an emotional eater/binge eater (in recovery), and what I like to read about are people like me who made specific, incremental changes and gained ground on their obesity. I know that diets do not work for me, nor do radical changes like these. They might work for a bit, but they don’t stick. So, I would like to see more stories of people like me who changed their thinking/habits and made a change in their health and weight.

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  2. I equate these kind of miracle stories with the tabloid newspapers I avoid at the grocery store checkout line. I much prefer stories about people challenging the ridiculous and damaging cultural thin ideal and learning to love and take care their bodies–regardless of their weight or size.

    Personally, chasing the thin ideal fantasy by restricting and berating myself did nothing but damage. I did not find peace and my natural weight until I stopped dieting and learned to focus on health, not weight.

    Thanks for asking,

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  3. Dr. Doctor:
    This method is working great as a marketing campaign for a medical tourism in bariatric surgery company called Weight Loss Forever (WLF) in Saskatoon. At least four people I know have travelled to Mexico for the Vertical Sleeve Gastroectomy (VSG) surgery facilitated by this medical tourism company. Their marketing campaigns are defined by the before and after pictures. See their Facebook page and web page at the links below.
    I wonder how ethical the business practices of this company are?
    Thanks for any information you can provide.

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  4. Dr Sharma
    I do find these stories in the papers, as well as shows like Biggest Loser & X Weighted inspirational. I see them as impossible to follow due to the fact that I have a disability & none of these shows target anyone who has physical disabilities and are not able to do the intense workouts that are required to lose the amount of weight necessary to be healthy.
    I have appreciated the programs I have been involved in that have shown me how to lose weight without following such intense training programs.

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  5. Since Apr 2007, at 253 lbs, BMI 43 I have read:

    A 2007 article in the Globe and Mail about “People Who Lose Weight and Keep It Off”, on the National Weight Control Registry.

    I read about teenagers who lost large amounts of weight at Academy of the Sierras.

    I read People magazine issues on those who “Lost 1/2 Their Weight”.

    I read Good Housekeeping stories about women who lost 100 or more lbs by means other than diet pills, which they had tried and didn’t work.

    I read articles and saw TV shows on people who lost large amounts of weight with Bariatric Surgery.

    (I don’t have cable TV so I’ve seen only a couple of Biggest Loser or X-weighted shows)

    I watched Dr Phil’s Weight Loss Challenge and read his books. Contestants lost tons of weight.


    2007 to 2009 – I lost 60 lbs.
    Then, I gained back 20 lbs. (Aha!! people will say. I told you so!! She can’t keep it off! However, I am trying again and I have lost 10 of those 20 lbs so far)

    I now weigh 50 lbs less than I did 3 years ago. I have lost 20% of my starting body weight, which is about 40% of the excess weight I carried over the “ideal” weight for my height. BMI went from 43 to 35

    I have a big file folder of all these magazine articles and “Before and After” pictures.
    I take out my pile of magazine success stories when everything feels futile.
    (I also have printouts from this blog and “Weighty Matters” blog for some scientific perspective)

    I try out ideas from these sources, and books, TV shows, etc.
    What works for me, I keep doing. What doesn’t work, I quit doing. Some ideas I don’t even try, like joining a prayer group – great for some, not for me. Also I don’t use drugs, commercial plans, medically run programs, or hard exercise (though maybe when I lose a bit more weight I’ll do better at exercise.)

    As you say, every year 1000s of people turn around their lifestyles. I didn’t have to do TV contest level changes. I did have to drop the bad habits that made me fat in the first place, and learn to eat right.

    Right now I’m following books by Judith Beck, a cognitive therapy approach.

    I could read a bunch of medical statistics that show I shouldn’t expect to lose weight.
    Instead I get out my worn pages and read again about all those real people who actually did accomplish what I want to do.

    Maybe this time next year I’ll weigh another 25 lbs less.
    That’s improbable according to statistics ?
    Well maybe.. but look – here is a lady in “Women’s World” who did it, and if she can have patience and succeed so can I ….

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  6. I found X-weighted very inspirational. I was at home in-between jobs for couple of months and watched it almost every other day on re-runs. It motivated me enough to join a gym and I have lost 5 inches /3 lbs in 2 months. I take it as better than nothing.
    (btw, my BMI = 40, waist went from 50″ to 46″)

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  7. Well for me I always found these kind of articles to be a slap in the face!! They can do it why can’t you???? I would rather read articles about men and women who are fighting the good fight against the bulge! They have not reach there goals but have reach some mile stones on there journey. The first 10% down, 30% and so on. How after losing 104lbs they where brave enough to join an exercise class for the first time in there overweight life. How hard it was on the first day, how they had no idea how they made it threw the class and how will they every convince them selves to do it all over again the next week?? How there Dietitian listen to her and how he never gave her a list of you must or must not. These are what you do wrong list. He Listened to her a gave her what she needed. He worked with her so that she can and will succeed. I am proud to say that I get the pleasure of being in the Weight Wise program. It is working I am down 104.73lbs and I know that with the help of all the staff I can and will achieve my goals. That this week after I finished an 11 week exercise class and 6 weeks of BOOT CAMP I will sign up for another weekly exercise class. Never could I have imagined that I could or would have before.
    I love the Weight Wise Program!!

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  8. To Joanne:
    104 lbs down and doing exercise classes. That is excellent.
    I’m going to add your story to my list of encouraging stories to read.
    You’re right, it takes bravery to do the exercise classes. I need to do that.
    Good for you.

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  9. I’ve never found these testimonials to be inspiring. They just make me feel guilty for not making those huge, impractical changes to lose weight.

    The only stories that have inspired me are ones where weight loss was not the major goal, but either a minor goal or a side effect. I like to hear stories about how people develop a healthier relationship to food, stop forbidding themselves things or starving themselves, finally love themselves no matter what the size, and then end up losing weight gradually only after learning to love themselves no matter what.

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  10. I cry my way through Biggest Loser every week – I want to be there but can’t and without that kind of support every single day, I will never be able to do it. I’m stuck on the statistic that of the very few people who manage to reach their goal weight, a full 95% will gain it all back (and often more). 2 year wait list for Weight Wise. Maybe I won’t live that long.

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  11. Dr. Sharma, while I do find these somewhat inspirational, your blog was timely as I sat down for a lunch with my best friend to discuss my thoughts on bariatric surgery. Her focus of conversation was that I should simply get it together, go work out and get off the couch to lose weight instead of the “easy” route of surgery. She waived the “inspiration” of these shows to say if they can why is it that her best friend is so lazy and not willing. No recognition whatsoever of the 9 months of hard work to develop habits of 10,000 steps, no soda and a focus on self care. So inspirational? Perhaps, I do enjoy watching, but I really would prefer realistic support, especially from a friend.

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  12. Having lost and regained “inspiring” amounts of weight, these stories and before and after pix do nothing but make increase my frustration and cynicism. They push on us an ideal that we are not likely to obtain.

    What inspires me: The Health at Every Size movement, which emphasizes healthy choices, not weight. Books and other media that shine a harsh light on cultural biases and discrimination based on weight, and that challenge people’s assumptions. Good science about the complexity of weight and weight loss. And blogs like this one!

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  13. It depends on the story.

    The ones that I see in varous gossip and lifestyle mags such as People I don’t care for that much. However the ones that appear in serious fitness publications and stories that I find here and there around the web including the National Weight Loss Registry I do find inspirational.

    I’m in that same boat – I’ve lost a lot of weight and I have a long way to go but I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made and seeing others who are or have done the same helps me feel good and, in some cases, we communicate and cheerlead each other.

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  15. Hi Dr. Sharma,

    The huge weight loss stories don’t inspire me nearly as much as reading blog posts and forum threads from people who have actually done it. Sensationalist stories make it seem like some superman or woman applied massive willpower and just raced to the weight loss finish line. When you actually interact with people who’ve done it, they tend to emphasize the time and patience it takes to set small goals and keep on meeting them. They share their strategies, they sympathise with your state of mind and help you understand that you can do it. Glossy news stories tend to emphasize the difficulty over the possibilities.

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  16. Amazing! Not long Ago I stumbled upon this tv show Where a dude lost tons of weight. The story was sporlighted on many tv programs. Look at this site and watch the videos, it’s very awe inspiring!

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  17. I find these stories to be inspirational especially since i did it myself, and if it only helps 1 person out of a thousand who read it, it makes writing your story worth while.

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  18. I find these stories inspirational, especially since i did it myself. If it only helps 1 person out of 1000 who read the story then it was well worth the writing of the story. Great job to all of you that managed to lose weight!

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  19. Soon the hotel and casino at River Cree will be buzzing with a Provincial Recognition weekend of TOPS members. You should attend this event Dr. Sharma. The whole focus is on weight loss success over the past year. The man and woman who lost the most weight and achieved their Goal are given Special honors as the “king” and the “queen” of the province……..Honors are also given to those who keep their weight off. Does it make the rest of the attendees inspired? Or does it make an already marginalized overweight person feel like less of a person than a thin “royal”?
    April 27 & 28 2011. Call you local TOpS for an invite.

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  20. I went to the doctors when I decided enough was enough. I was morbidly obese with a BMI of 44.

    Five and a half months in, and my BMI is 34.

    It annoys me that it took so long for me to take action, but my state of mind had to be in the right place I guess.

    No faddy diets (and actually very little exercise – I have to own up to that one!) – all I have done is make healthier choices. I have not calorie counted. I have not been hungry. I think I will be able to stick to this, because eating the right things doesnt feel like a chore.

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  21. I’m a member of TOPS (the organization Tessie mentioned) and Dr. Sharma spoke at our international conference last year. I was one of their “royalty” (Ontario 2010) going from 340 to 170. The organization often puts me front and centre as “inspiration”. And I have hoards of people come up to me and say that I inspire them.

    I was speaking to another provincial royalty and she asked me what to expect from being royalty and I said “Prepare to be disappointed; most people who tell you that you inspire them will not be willing or able to make the journey we have made. Don’t let that stop you from telling your story. When the one that comes up to you and says it in the past tense, will make it all worthwhile.”

    BTW – the picture that goes with the story is of Jarome Biggars, who was the TOPS international King a few years back. I’ve met Jarome and he is right along with the TOPS mantra, which is right along with what Dr Freedhoff preaches – small incremental changes and slow realistic goals.

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