“There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. And while it is not known why that weight can change over the years … at any point, there is a weight that is easy to maintain, and that is the weight the body fights to defend.”
That’s a quote from an article Monday in the New York Times about a study which followed contestants from the popular television show “The Biggest Loser”—and discovered that over time nearly all of them gained back most, if not all, of the weight they lost.
This week marks an anniversary for me: One year of writing this column and working to make changes to move me from sedentary to an active lifestyle. Because of that anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I came from and where I’m going on this journey.
The story was titled, “After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight,” and was authored by Gina Kolata. It is based on a study published this week in a research journal called “Obesity.”
The study looked at contestants from the 2009 season of the show, in which people are sequestered together, with diets strictly controlled; they also exercise for seven hours a day, burning 8,000 to 9,000 calories a day, the story said.
One man, Danny Cahill, lost 239 pounds, ending the season as the winner by losing more than half his original weight of 430 pounds. Now, six years later, he has gained 100 of those pounds back, the story said.
The same was true for almost every contestant, with only one woman who has maintained her weight loss since the show.
The reason, according to the study, is the resting metabolic rate, which dropped significantly after the intensive regime, and stayed lower even six years later. Another factor is hormones that regulate hunger, like leptin.
The upshot is that with a slower metabolism, the contestants now have to work harder and consume fewer calories than other people, just to maintain their weight.
So what does all of that have to do with me, and my own journey? Well, for starters, it eased my mind this week. Fortunately for me, I have never been a dieter. And I’ve never lost great gobs of weight and then gained it back—for me it has been a slow increase over the past 25 years or so, with some spikes in weight gain around my pregnancies.
The story, and the study it’s based on, also confirmed what I knew instinctively, that rapid weight loss is not the way to go. It validated my own approach of slow and steady lifestyle changes, and a transition into an active existence.
One idea in the story was almost a throwaway line, but it stuck with me: “With weight loss, leptin levels fall and people become hungry.”
I’ve been working to follow advice from a terrific book called, “Women, Food and God,” in which author Geneen Roth advises that people eat whatever they want—but do so in a very mindful way, eating without distractions and paying close attention to when the body signals that it is full.
Eating without distractions has been the hard part for me.
I live alone, and I work a lot. My habit has been to eat while at my desk at work, for example, or while scrolling through Facebook or watching television when I’m at home. It’s tough to change, but I’m working on it.
Today hunger was on my mind, because I didn’t bring my lunch with me to work. I ate breakfast, but then worked all day without a meal or a snack or even any water. I know. And I know better, too.
Anyhoo, I spent the day hungry. And you know what? I did not die.
I’m not advocating that we should not eat. More planning on my part would have meant I had my lunch with me, and that would have been a better way to go. Not drinking water is just dumb, and if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go fill a glass right now while I’m thinking about it.
Ah, much better. Where was I?
There is a ton of information out there about health and fitness. Because of my interest, each day my email inbox is inundated with stories, pills, superfoods, “fat-torching” workouts and more, and much of it is contradictory.
What is a person to do? It’s so easy to feel discouraged, then from there it’s a slippery slope for me into apathy, and the return of old bad habits.
The thing that has made the most impact and the biggest changes for me is paying attention to my body. Noticing, for example, that exercise feels good. Really good. It feels good mentally to follow through and keep the commitment I made to myself. It eases stress. And it feels good to challenge my body, to move, and to do things I thought I couldn’t do before.
Paying attention to how I feel physically when I eat has also made the biggest impact on my portion size—and that has been one of the biggest challenges for me.
Here’s my takeaway from the week, and it ain’t take-out food: Stay the course. Stick to the plan. Celebrate the baby steps. The goal is lifelong change, which won’t be quick, or easy. So while I have not been the biggest loser this past year, I’m okay with that.
What are your biggest challenges in getting active and fit? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at 505-286-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or join the conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I’d love to hear from you.