Escape Is Futile

Resistance to Obesity Is Not Futile

It’s easy and quite natural to respond to a chronic condition like obesity with a sense of doom. However, difficulty and impossibility are two different things. This is precisely why the myth of yo-yo dieting is so frustrating. The popular notion that springs from that myth is that losing weight is futile. Anyone who does will simply gain it back, plus more, and wreck their metabolism. This is a seductive mix of fact and fiction. But science tells us that resistance to obesity is not futile.

Recent research from NIH reminds us of this.

A Prospective Cohort Study

Erik Willis and colleagues conducted a prospective study of 161,738 middle-aged adults in six states and two big cities. They were all part of the AARP diet and health study between 2004 and 2006. Willis et al followed them for an average of seven years, observing 21,194 deaths. They kept track of demographic, lifestyle, and behavioral risk factors. In addition, they looked at efforts to lose weight and the number of times that subjects lost five pounds or more.

What they found is a significant association between more episodes of losing at least five pounds and fewer deaths. This finding was very consistent. It held true for men and women alike, for people with body weight in different ranges – healthy, overweight, or obesity. The association also held true for cardiovascular deaths and deaths due to cancer. It was even true for people who gained weight over time – as many people do – despite occasionally losing weight.

So in this careful study, we have evidence that repeated occasions of losing some weight is not harmful. In fact, it may provide a modest benefit for longevity.

Of course, this is an observational study. So residual confounding is possible – other, unmeasured factors might account for the mortality benefit.

The Weight Cycling Myth

However, this is not the first time a study has refuted the myth of weight cycling. The evidence is, at best, scant for an adverse effect on morbidity and mortality. Likewise, it does not seem to increase the risk of obesity, adversely affect body composition, or increase the risk of obesity.

Thus, there is a technical term for the common assertion that losing weight and regaining it will harm your health. It’s bunk.

Dealing with Obesity

We often say that a person’s genes set the table for obesity and the environment serves it up. However, everyone who faces this condition has choices to make for dealing with it. From time to time, that might include losing weight.

Resistance to obesity is neither easy nor futile. But as a matter fact, it can be quite doable with the help of healthcare professionals who understand obesity care.

Click here for the Willis study and here for more resources on managing obesity. Special thanks to Emily Dhurandhar for a heads up on the Willis study.

Escape Is Futile, photograph © Sandcastle Matt / flickr

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February 16, 2021