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.

Pleasure.

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?

Why Diets Fail — Boredom! NYT Writer Test-Drives Pre-Made Meals

Here’s one male writer’s frank assessment of what he was buying when he signed up for pre-made meals to help him lose 30 of his 230 pounds:

After online searches and conversations with friends, I decided to compare the offerings of four companies: Zone Manhattan, Chefs Diet, Nu-Kitchen and eDiets. All four would deliver the meals to my door in Brooklyn. Three deliver daily, while the fourth, eDiets, sends a large package once a week. None of the companies knew I was a reporter.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts being made at the Krisp...
Image via Wikipedia

There were dozens of companies I could have chosen, though it is hard to say how many are in the business at any one time. Research from Mintel International, which studies consumer behavior, suggests that the recession has made all-in-one diet programs less appealing.

“Consumers are trading down to do-it-yourself diets with foods or supplements from the supermarket,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, a global food and drink analyst for Mintel, a Chicago company.

Nu-Kitchen bills itself as the “ultimate personal chef and meal delivery company.” I ordered the five-day plan ($230.53) and was told that I would be sent 1,800 calories a day.

$230! That’s a really good pair of shoes, maybe three on sale.That’s what two of us spend on two weeks‘ groceries, and I eat 2-3 meals at home every day out of that.

What he’s getting for all that cash are three things, all of them helpful although each of them is actually a crutch. He will have to learn to walk differently. And alone. That’s the hardest part:

1) Portion control. My, that’s no food! Look at all that….empty plate. Eating out will never, ever look the same to you again.

2) They build in their idea of variety. Not what you like.

3) They free you from the tedious torture of grocery shopping for only healthy foods, let alone the endless measuring spoons/weigh scale/measuring cup drama that makes you start to feel like every meal should simply be served in an IV tube or maybe a beaker with graduated white lines so you know exactly when to stop.

I’ve been on what I like to call my doctor-ordered LD — Loathed Diet — for almost a month. I can’t tell you how much weight I’ve lost because (yup) I don’t own a scale and don’t want to. I know my own body quite well, thanks, having inhabited it for a few decades and — having been an athlete and dancer for as long — know intimately how it looks and feels. Yes, I look in a full-length mirror every day in very bright light. My body is noticeably smaller, all over, mostly on top. (I’m OK with that).

Once I start cycling and swimming, I hope to shave off even more, faster.

But, you know, when even the doctor who sent me to the dietitian says: “Most people never lose the weight”, honey, where’s my motivation? A little back-patting goes a long, long way to keeping your shaking, quivering hand away from the chips/candies/Scotch/whatever filthy bad thing you love most.

I wish Fred lots of luck but he quickly learned what any miserable fatty learns — 1700 or even 1800 calories a day is nothing! No sweets, very, very few carbs. That does not include — hmmm — doughuts or cookies or cake or pancakes or a margarita. (I get 1 oz. of dark chocolate starting Friday [woo hoo] but only if I sacrifice one of my two daily servings of fruit (1 cup, 8 ounces) or starch (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) in its stead.

Welcome to the nursery!

The sheer boredom of eating the same damn legitimate foods over and over  and over and over — plain yogurt, a small handful of nuts, a small serving of popcorn (but you better make it because it’s drenched in oil) will kill you.

I am only able, I know, to hang in this far because I work about a 2-second walk away from my kitchen and a fridge filled with so much lettuce it now looks like a rabbit’s hutch. The issue with weight loss isn’t just self-control, it’s control in general — over what, where, when and how you put food and drink in your mouth.

Very few of us have $1,000+ a month to spare for someone else feeding us pre-made small portions.

And, yes I can hear all your potato chip bags rustling! Sigh.