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.

Click here for the story from the New York Times and here for more on Winfrey’s juggernaut with Weight Watchers. For more on the full spectrum of options for weight management, click here.

Inspiration, photograph © Lisa Clarke / flickr

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January 4, 2017

5 Responses to “Inspiring Weight Loss Meets Stubborn Biology and Daily Life”

  1. January 04, 2017 at 8:58 am, Al Lewis said:

    This is also the time of year when companies start their crash-dieting “challenges.” Don’t fall for those. Or if there is enough money at stake that you can’t resist the temptation, don’t harm yourself by cheating too much. You can cheat without doing damage to your body.

    Here are some OK and not-so-good ways to cheat.

  2. January 04, 2017 at 9:30 am, Stephen Phillips / American Association of Bariatric Counselors said:

    You are spot-on Ted
    The prudent question is not how much weight you have lost but rather how long have you sustained it…

    The only animal on earth that intentionally tries to make itself smaller is the one that you looks back at you the mirror each morning.
    In fact when you see an animal in the wild losing weight and getting smaller the end is usually near
    We seem to be naturally wired to resist getting smaller and favor getting bigger.
    Consider restrictive weight loss dieting goes back 150 years and all we have to show for it is, there are now more overweight and obese people in the US then there are “healthy weight people”
    Seemingly our contemporary culture in tandem with the very powerful biological drives of our physical and psychological natures predisposes most of us to gaining weight
    It is not a ‘giant leap’ to consider that intentional weight-loss violates our very nature and is in fact unnatural.

    This explains obesity, not as a disease or disorder but a perfectly natural evolved human condition…and the very reason why it is so hard to lose weight and not find it again.

  3. January 04, 2017 at 12:21 pm, Lindsey Bashore said:

    What was left out of your article is what Mr. Adams is not eating. He stated that he is not eating any animal products; “nothing with a mother or a face”. Also he is following a whole foods plant based diet, rejecting refined, processed foods. People who follow this food lifestyle are very successful in the long run. Please check out books by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Furhman, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Michael Greger and Dr. Thomas Campbell, all who have a tremendous record for themselves (all thin) and for their patients. Like Eric Adams, I have resolved serious health issues by following this lifestyle over the past three years. AC1 level is back to normal; total cholesterol went from 210 to 135 without statins, blood pressure back to normal. It really does the job. If Oprah would only try following these doctors’ direction, she would cease to yo-yo.

  4. January 07, 2017 at 9:52 am, Paula Osternack Malucelli Nerone said:

    I’m recovering from obesity. And today I can consider that I won and I continue to overcome obesity. Thanks to my doctors, psychotherapists, and unconditional support of my family, I continue to struggle and win. From my childhood and adolescence I suffered from obesity, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and binge eating disorder (BED). Despite my parents’ concern for me and my health since childhood and they have always taken me to endocrinologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, I could not control obesity.

    I always followed several treatments with diets and physical exercises. I even lost 30 kg or more of weight. I was very well and happy. But I always earned everything again and always more than the initial weight. The famous “accordion effect.” After (14) fourteen years of treatment with chronic major depression, at the beginning of the year 2008 I made a resolution in my life: I WOULD NEVER BE OBESE AGAIN!!!
    I searched for Dr. João Batista Marchesini, in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. He evaluated me and told me that my case was for surgical treatment. I did all the exams and pre-operative follow-ups indicated. I went to my previous doctors, endocrinologist and psychiatrist, to hear their opinion. Both supported me and encouraged me. My family was also essential and always supported me.

    On May 31, 2008, with a BMI of 38.7 kg/m2, I underwent bariatric surgery. Over the next 2 years I reduced my initial weight by 48 kg and achieved a BMI of 22.4 kg/m2. Since then I have been maintaining my periodic medical treatments and follow-ups. I follow up with the doctor surgeon, endocrinologist, psychiatrist and psychotherapy. I continue to keep my weight within normal range. I totally recovered from the major depression. And today I consider myself an extremely happy and fulfilled person.

    • January 07, 2017 at 11:11 am, Ted said:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Paula.