It’s January when we can count on being bombarded with exhortations to start this diet NOW. It’s as predictable as sunrise. News stories on which diet is best. Features on how to make “healthy” versions of foods otherwise deemed “bad”. And this January everywhere you look, there is Oprah touting her most recent weight loss on Weight Watchers, a company in which she is a major investor. This time it is 42 pounds and she tells us in the ads about how she can eat the foods she loves. About being her own best self.
But anyone who has paid attention knows that Oprah, and indeed every chronic dieter, has been here before. Optifast in 2008 on which she lost over 60 pounds. Working with Bob Greene. So many weight loss stories featured on her show and in her magazine.
And like most of us who have trod that path, each diet results in weight loss followed by weight gain with the result that each time we end up heavier than when we started. And most, including Oprah, place the blame on failure to comply with the diet in the long haul. So along with added pounds comes added shame and guilt.
Anne Lamott recently posted this on her Facebook page:
We need to talk.
I know you are planning to start a diet next Wednesday. I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, " Oh, that's great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?"
I got rid of her sorry ass. No one talks to ME that way.
Well, okay, maybe it was ten years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, gentle Self-Talk, to a jungly glade that had always existed deep inside me, but that I'd avoided by achieving, dieting, people-pleasing, multi-talking, and so on
Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: "Great, honey. How much are you hoping to gain?"
This outcome is not due to a failure of will or lack of caring for oneself or laziness or junk food or bad karma. It is the bodies’ weight regulation system at work, doing what it is intended to do, regardless of what Oprah or any dieter wishes it would do.
The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200, as the “Biggest Loser” participants discovered.
This coordinated brain response is a major reason that dieters find weight loss so hard to achieve and maintain. For example, men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year; severely obese women have one chance in 677. A vast majority of those who beat the odds are likely to end up gaining the weight back over the next five years. In private, even the diet industry agrees that weight loss is rarely sustained. A report for members of the industry stated: “In 2002, 231 million Europeans attempted some form of diet. Of these only 1 percent will achieve permanent weight loss.” New York Times
Would that someone tell Oprah, and Dr. Phil, and Dr. Travis Stork, and all the rest of them flogging their supposed sure fire way to lose weight and find true love and happiness, that its time to focus on embracing the body you’re in rather than constantly hating it and being at war with it. Only around 5% of people succeed in maintaining a significant weight loss for more than 5 years. Must we believe that the other 95% are simply weak?