So after I spend months in self-denial, my reward is…more self-denial?

Interesting, if deeply depressing, story in The New York Times Magazine by the paper’s health reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, about how bloody hard it is to lose weight — and keep it off:

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity.

I’m writing this post the day the story appeared and it’s already listed on the Times’ website as the fifth most e-mailed and eighth most-viewed story of the day.

“You see! It’s not just me!”

I can hear the frustrated bellow echoing across the internet, as fatties tell their skinnier/self-righteous family to back the hell off on the single easiest way to nag someone and make them really miserable. By telling them how to lose weight. “All you have to do is…”

I know because I need to lose weight — at least 30 pounds — and my father never lets me forget it. When I went out to British Columbia last year to put my mother into a nursing home — she, a former model with wrists the diameter of twigs — said “You’re fat.” Nice.

Two years ago this month I went to a nutritionist who put me on a vicious diet. No sugar of any form for a month. No carbohydrates or fruit for the first two weeks. I measured everything I ate with measuring cups and spoons. I drank a lot of water.

Yes, it worked. I refuse to get on a scale but I know my body — and see how my clothes fit. I shed 15 to 20 pounds within four months. I looked and felt great. Worried neighbors stopped my husband to make sure my weight loss was benign.

And then….why, yes, the weight came back on.

No, it didn’t creep up on me in my sleep. It showed up in the ways it does for all of us who weigh more than we should: through my own choices, of dessert, beer, the occasional cocktail, gooey French cheese.


I have no tidy answers on the battle between sensual enjoyment of a wide variety of food and drink, to me one of life’s great gifts, and being lean, taut, ever-vigilant for every stray calorie, exercising every day for hours to make sure the flesh is vanquished. My fridge contains the Holy Grail of 0 percent fat Greek yogurt. I eat it every day — and am sick to death of cold, wet, sour — but healthy! — nutrition.

There is a terrible, sad irony that millions of people worldwide are dying of starvation as the rest of us freak out over calorie counts and portion sizes.

Have you gained weight — and lost it — and kept it off?

Do you find it difficult?

22 thoughts on “So after I spend months in self-denial, my reward is…more self-denial?

  1. My weight naturally fluctuates about 10 pounds over the course of a year. I’m pretty much like a bear. I gain and maintain a heavier weight every year during my hibernation months (November – February). It gets colder. I’m less active. I crave milky drinks and high calorie comfort food (bread, butter, sweets). When it starts to warm up, I get more active and I want to be outside doing things. I begin craving more seasonal foods (fruits and veggies) and the weight always comes off. I’ve come to recognize the cycle and I’m ok with it. I do practice yoga regularly and have for the past 19 years so that, along with genetics, likely keeps me in my target weight range despite the loss/gain. In 2011 I transitioned to a vegetarian diet to better align my actions with my values. My attitude towards it all is mindfulness, without stress.

    Hubby lost 12 pounds last year. All he did was reduce his beer intake by about 75%. 😀

    1. Interesting. I do see a difference within days when I reduce my alcohol intake. And I think it’s challenging when it’s cold and activity has to be (if we’re sticking with it) totally indoors for up to six months. I’m happy to walk, bike, play softball…work out outside. I really hate gyms and fluorescent lights and machines.

  2. Just over one year ago, my doctors told me I had a medical issue that needed to be solved, or I would die. The issue was solved. They told me that solving the issue would solve the weight gain I’d been experiencing over the past five years.

    It did not.

    I lost, instead of the promised 50 lbs a year, 9 lbs.

    This happened while I was on a budget of 1001 calories a day.

    Soooooo. Fuck that shit, as I am wont to say. Time to break a sweat and see what exercise can do for me.

  3. That is an almost ummanageble caloric intake. Good luck!!!

    Until my hip replacement, I am limited in how vigorously I can exercise; if I can burn off 200-250 calories/hr. right now, that’s good for me…a strong and healthy person can do 300-400+/hr. Which is one of the few things I look forward to after surgery: much more vigorous activity.

  4. It’s so difficult losing weight, my fiancee has to struggle with it and I just have to keep myself at my plateau. I lost weight months and months ago, around 15-20 pounds, and have seemed able to keep it off, but not get any more weight off. I’m kind of scared of the scale and I’m always afraid of that day it’ll magically appear on me again and then I’ll have to start the battle again.

  5. God help you when (if?) you reach menopause, where I am now….It reduces the amount of calories your body needs/can metabolize to a level I find unsustainable. So it’s an hour of exercise every single day (ugh) or (more) obesity…I can do 3 a week, sometimes 4. Then I really want to do something more interesting.

  6. reba

    OMG, Caitlin, that article hit me hard, too. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the years, and the same 30-40 over and over. Just thinking about it makes me miserable. I alternate between 2 thoughts– I am disgusted with myself for regaining what I lost, and I need to learn to love myself just the way I am. I’m healthy and can participate in all kinds of physical activity. My physical and blood work is good. I’m just too big. And all of this has gotten worse with age. Still vacillating between the 2 thoughts– Oy vey–

  7. I thought it might not be just me…:-)

    I find the whole thing BORING as hell, but I am also eager live as long and healthy a life as possible. The challenge for me is the endless and tedious battle between pleasure and low-calorie/minimal intake. I am fully aware of all the healthy choices and what they are. Unfortunately, most are foods I really don’t enjoy much. Which I suspect is a fairly common reaction…

  8. In early 2008, I had a vicious flu and lost 11 pounds, which never came back. That really motivated me to continue on the path and made me realize that my portion sizes were way too large. (After all, if I could go 2 weeks without eating and not die, surely I could eat a bit less at each meal. 😉 ) I started to eat a mostly Paleo diet (but not rigid–I love my food and I do indulge in desserts) and exercise regularly. I found I enjoyed running. It was as good for my mind as it was for my body. By the end of summer 2008 I had lost 28 pounds and have kept it off with mild seasonal fluctuations. As someone said above, I tend to be heavier in winter and lighter in summer due to the change in activity.

  9. One thing my nasty diet *did* make much clearer to me was the issue of portion sizes, so I agree with you — often it’s a matter of initial ignorance.

    Congrats on the loss of 28 pounds!! I am detemined, AFTER my surgery and rehab, to exercise more consistently. I’m better able to manage my intake of calories, but I know myself enough that I would rather exercise more than eat less or wildly differently.

    I love to dance, so plan to do more of that after my body will actually allow me to do so.

  10. Pingback: Me and Mo Made it! « Me and Mo

  11. I have been working on this for a year now. I found it is a combination (for me personally) of knowing WHY I eat vrs What I need. I learned Food is Fuel not Therapy. That has made the biggest difference for me. It’s hard. There is a difference of doing this because you want to and a difference of doing this because you need to. I am still going strong after 365 days of wanting to and my life is so much better. Here is to another 365 days of wanting to! I think i finally made the leap into life changes.

    1. This is the dichotomy I find bizarre. I know it works very well for many people. For me, it’s a difference of philosophy as irreconcilable as changing religions or countries…

      For me, food is pleasure. It doesn’t have to be sweet or huge. But it needs to be something that makes my day (more) enjoyable, not something I measure, weigh and calculate as “fuel” alone.

      Everyone has to find what works for them. Denying the pleasurable aspects of eating makes me miserable. Not “comfort”, pleasure. For me there is a big difference, and a sense of judgment.

  12. I never had to be careful of what I ate until I was about fifty – indeed, I was rather thin up to then. But at fifty, I had passed menopause and had developed hypothyroidism and a post viral fatigue syndrome – all of which caused me to gain weight.
    Like you, I am reluctant to give up the pleasure I obtain from food, so I just have to cut down the portions. I am pretty fit generally, but don’t really get enough exercise.
    I need to lose about 10kg. My husband, after a heart attack, and with other unresolved health issues, needs to lose at least twice as much.
    It is a constant struggle.

    1. Linda, my mom warned me for years to lose the weight before I hit 50…I also have a hip being replaced Feb. 6 so my mobility has been significantly impaired for two full years. Then the only way to shed lbs. in that instance is to eat less and differently.

      Exercise is so BORING…I live for sports, but until I have rehabbed fully, the only thing I can do is bike. I can’t even go for a walk, which I used to three times a week for an hour on the reservoir near my home. I really want my life back!

      The one thing I would recommend, if affordable, is to see a nutritionist. You can learn a lot about which foods are more troublesome — I never though corn, peas and carrots (!?), but they were forbidden to me for weeks. The one thing we all have to eat a lot of is 0% fat Greek yogurt. Luckily, I don’t mind it.

  13. I read that article and didn’t know how to feel after it. On one hand “yes! It’s not just me!” and on the other “bugger, I really am going to be fat for the rest of my life :(”

    Like a lot of people, my base weight has crept up over the years. I’m an emotional eater. I am secretly jealous of those for whom stress causes appetite loss. Certainly wish it was that way for me! Boredom and other stresses causes me to head straight for the fridge and whatever’s in it.

    Exercise does stop this to some extent – I have much less sugar cravings when I move vigorously on a regular basis, and my body just steers me towards better food. I’ve found that since I started running 3 months ago, my clothes have become looser, and random people have asked “have you lost weight?” The challenge now is to continue it. I find routines incredibly difficult (you’re talking to the person who can’t bear to get on the same bus 2 days in a row) and exercise needs to be constant for me, preferably an hour a day, to make any difference at all.

    I have had a long period of partial mobility though, recovering from a knee injury, and I’m thankful to have all of it back. I’m terrified of the idea of being overweight and immobile when I am older, especially since I already have existing knee problems, so I know I need to deal with it now, and not in 10 weeks, months or years.

    1. Your last sentence is also key…impaired mobility. It makes exercise painful, difficult, even risky. I was warned not to run (!) or even twist my damaged hip as it could shatter (!?) Yikes. For someone who is extremely active, two years of that has been horrible….my breaking point (to go to surgery) is how worn out my right foot and knee have become from altered gait. I measured my right calf and it is an inch larger than my left from overcompensating.

      You sound like me…easily bored!!! I know I need to exercise six times a week (ugh) if I am ever to seriously shed all the weight and keep it off. There are VERY few things I want to do six times a week. Sleep?! So that’s my biggest challenge. When I am strong and healthy, I usually did: softball (Saturdays); biking; walking and a jazz dance class with some time in the gym doing weights. But the only things I really love athletically to do are group activities or outdoors. I spend my worklife alone at home tethered to a going to a gym and doing that some more just feels like punishment.

      It IS nice though when people notice the weight coming off — I’ve had people asking me this recently as I am determined to shave 10+ lbs off before my operation. I have a month…

      1. “There are VERY few things I want to do six times a week. Sleep?!”

        Yep, that’d be me as well! Zero attention span, anything routine is boring, etc etc. I love games myself but anything high impact on the knees is out for me, so running it is. On the bright side, it’s cheap and convenient.

        I read above that you’re going in for your hip replacement on Feb 6, which is excellent news! Hope it all goes well, and wishing you a very speedy recovery 🙂

  14. I was recently reading a book about change and the author made this really pertinent statement. She pointed out that to make any significant change, we have to have a VERY high motivation rate. If we don’t have that, then it simply isn’t going to happen. I can imagine that the very experience of losing weight becomes de-motivational. You get near your goals, you know you can do it…. what’s left to prove? The desire for yummy things to eat becomes much stronger than the motivation to lose weight. I went on a diet designed to help chronic fatiguers six years ago now: no sugar, no alcohol, no yeast, no caffeine. I deny anyone not to lose a lot of weight on a diet like that. Plus, it did make me feel better, which was a double edged sword as I really like cake. But I hated the feeling of chronic fatigue so much that I stuck with it and now, even though my mind thinks I want sweet things, the taste of them in my mouth is actually quite unpleasant. I’m gutted, but thin.

    1. I would not be happy in a life without those four — even in moderation. But to have such improved health? Of course. Good for you, and glad you’re now feeling so much stronger.

      It’s not only motivation (which I find hard to sustain) dieting is just boring. Focusing endless attention on what you eat and when and how much is like cleaning baseboards with a Q-tip. Yes, it will do the job, but life has a lot more interesting ways to spend one’s time! That’s a challenge for me. Short-term (like most people, OK, I’ll put up with it for a while. For the rest of my life? Ugh.

      I just hope to be able to do a lot more exercise (which I am very motivated to do as I enjoy feeling strong and fit.) I just don’t attach a lot of importance (as I clearly should) to being thinner. I admit, there is some feminist rebellion in this as well….My brain and heart are what matters most to me, not my dress size.

  15. I am aiming to shed poundsfor a while now. I tried all things, all kind of exercising, the worse diets ever and practically nothing worked well. I merely lost a few pounds. You have a goodand useful article here and i am very optimistic at this time.

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