A big news story this week tells of contestants on The Biggest Loser regaining the weight they lost. That totally sucks, and I feel for anyone struggling with their weight for the first time or the 20th time. It’s never easy.
While I’m happy that smart people are studying this scientifically, I’m confused by the conclusions people are drawing from the study. I’m going to sum up the media view as “those folks never had a chance, because their metabolism slowed down after losing the weight.”
This makes no sense to me. Yes, the metabolism of those people appeared to slow down significantly. Let’s stipulate that. But what does that actually mean? In a society where we have so much wonderful food that NOT eating is a huge challenge, then yes, a slower metabolism is a bit of a disadvantage. But our bodies are adaptation machines … if the same people lived in a world suffering from famine, their particular adaptation (having a slow metabolism) would be a superpower. If they want to stay fit, they need to cherish and work within the limits of that superpower.
One of the doctors came to the conclusion that “… the only way to maintain weight loss is to be hungry all the time.” Um … yup. it sucks, but if your body adapted to storing fat (because of that famine thing), then it’s going to take a long, long time to work against that same adaptation and teach it that it doesn’t need to store so much fat. You’re going to be working against hunger. Hunger is your Kryptonite. You have to recognize its unique power and come to grips with it.
If doctors can come up with a safe drug to suppress hunger, they’ll make a jillion bucks, and it will probably do a lot of people a lot of good. In the meantime, anyone who has lost weight (or wants to lose weight) needs to take a spiritual journey with hunger and find out how to coexist with it.
I strongly agree that the people on the TV show weren’t set up to succeed after the contest. It’s unbelievably hard to go from an all-day, every-day experience supervised by professional nutritionists and trainers back to the real world with normal responsibilities and little support. I hope the show does more to set up future contestants with better self-help skills.
In my opinion, there are three key “self-help skills” to succeeding with weight loss long-term on your own:
- Separate your weight from your worthiness. You’re lovable right now, and you’re lovable no matter how much you weigh. Love yourself TODAY. Think of your extra weight as a couple of bowling balls you’re carrying around with you: work hard to get rid of them, but always remember, they are not you. Getting rid of those extra fat balls is just an interesting, long-running experiment on yourself that you’re observing.
- Count calories and come to grips with a little bit of hunger – not a lot, a little. When you count calories, the goal is literally to run out of energy by the end of each day so you dip into your fat stores. Running out of calories sucks a little bit each and every day. If you let it suck too much by trying to lose too much too fast, you’ll binge and feel bad. When you do, just get back up and try again the next day. The amount of calories determines whether you gain or lose weight (very, very slowly). The quality of those calories determines how you feel. Unfortunately, in my experience, foods like vegetables and high-quality protein tend to make me feel better than similar caloric amounts of chocolate, beer, and many other awesome-tasting foods. Oh well – that’s all part of the spiritual journey of losing weight.
- Lift weights (or do similar resistance training). Any exercise is better than no exercise, but weight training is the most time efficient exercise you can do when you’re trying to get or stay fit. With weight training, your body keeps burning calories as it recovers from the training, and it triggers other positive adaptations as well. If you weight train regularly and happen to consume more calories than you need, your body will adapt and use some of those calories to build muscle (though some will still go to fat). For more info, read A Workout Routine. That site has been incredibly useful for me.
Bottom line: if you find something that works for you, do it and stick with it. This is what worked (and works) for me.