Inspiring Weight Loss Meets Stubborn Biology and Daily Life
Inspiration season has arrived. So for the next few weeks, health and lifestyle reporters will bury us with inspiring weight loss stories. These stories feature people who turn their lives and health around through force of will and strength of character. Of course, most of these people have been at it for less than a year.
First up, the New York Times tells the story of Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who has lost 30 pounds. He’s reversed a diagnosis of diabetes and stripped sugary drinks and junk food from the Brooklyn Borough Hall.
How did he do it? Well, in addition to taking all the junk food out of his workplace, he stocked a full-sized refrigerator in his office with fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, he installed a cooking space with a convection oven and hot plate for preparing fresh, healthful meals and snacks at work. Finally, he set up fitness equipment in an anteroom to his office. He has a stationary bike, weights, a fitness tower, and a mini-stepper with a stand for his computer. At this point, he is eight months into his new regimen.
New York Times readers were breathless with praise for his inspiring story. But a couple of problems are worth noting. First, not everyone can outfit their workspace as Adams has done. Second, and perhaps most important, eight months is just a little sprint when compared with the marathon effort required to maintain a healthy weight. Anyone who’s been down this road knows that it gets way harder after the first year.
Eventually, biology and the demands of everyday life hit hard. And then, all too often, that weight comes bounding back.
If you don’t believe it, just ask Oprah Winfrey, who’s been up and down this road many times before. She has told many inspiring stories of personal weight loss before. And she’s had to face the sense of failure that comes when the weight comes back. Though it’s not right, the feeling of despair is very real.
This year, Winfrey has more to offer than just the discouraging reality of weight regain. She is now more than a year into her commitment to a sustainable program of weight management with Weight Watchers. She is maintaining a weight loss of more than a 40-pounds.
The program she is following is hardly magic. It follows well-established principles for long-term weight management. A little more than a year ago, Weight Watchers shifted its focus. The company moved away from diets, deprivation, and weight loss. Instead, they focused on fitness, health, and positive energy. And so far it seems to be working.
Before the shift, Weight Watchers stock was in free fall. Since the re-launch, the stock price is maintaining a value that’s more than twice what it had been. Memberships started growing again.
The bottom line here is that inspiration is great, but it’s often not enough. Most people need an evidence-based plan that will be sustainable when biology starts to fight back. That might be Weight Watchers. Or it might be something at the YMCA. Plenty of other organizations offer solid, evidence-based programs.
And for many people, simple behavioral programs won’t be enough. Medical obesity management or bariatric surgery might be necessary for sustainable success. Every person is different and thus has different needs.
Inspiring short-term stories are one thing. Everybody needs a little inspiration. But it can’t match the satisfaction that comes from healthy long-term control over the disease of obesity.
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January 4, 2017