Outrunning the Old Overweight You

- POSTED ON: Oct 01, 2012

It's not a sprint to the new thin you.
It's outrunning the old overweight you for the rest of your days.

  Anyone who has spent much time here will know that weight-loss maintenance is an extremely issue to me, and this is my own personal basic focus. I find the following article worth sharing here at DietHobby...

Keeping up to keep weight off
                              -by James Fell, Chicago Tribune July 11, 2012

I've lost 50 pounds of fat and put on 20 pounds of muscle. It was quick and easy. Then I was abducted by aliens, and they told me the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot are the ones making all those crop circles.

The first sentence above is actually true, but when I went through my fitness transformation it was an endless process of behavior change that took so long it seemed almost criminally unfair. I've seen many books promising six packs abs in 12 weeks. For me, it took more than 12 years, and even then I only managed a four-pack.

And yet I've bucked the trend of yo-yo dieters, sustaining a substantial weight loss for almost two decades. I'll share my secret at the end, but first let's examine why all those magazine covers, internet ads and Jillian-Michaels-filled infomercials promising quick and easy weight loss are about as realistic as getting stock tips from tea leaves.

The reason is that if weight loss is your goal, your body is going to launch a multipronged assault against you to keep the fat right where it is. Failing that, if you lose weight, your physiology will launch a vicious counterattack to get it back. It becomes an endless war of your mind against the rest of your matter.

Motivated yet?

Weight loss is about creating caloric deficits. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, so if you cut 500 calories from your intake you'll burn off a pound of fat each week, right? Wrong, because your metabolism starts rapidly downshifting.

"The calorie deficit decreases after the first day because energy expenditure starts to slow down immediately in regards to this restriction," explains Eric Ravussin, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. La.. "What is a 500-calorie deficit on day one is less so on day two, and even less on day three, and so on."

Early on, a significant portion of this is simply due to a reduced thermic effect of food, Ravussin explained, which is the extra calories you burn via digestion. When you eat less, your body burns fewer calories because its digestive system has less work to do. Also, "When you lose weight this is going to lower your resting metabolism during the entire day," he told me.

And it just keeps compounding. "By the 30th day of calorie restriction," Ravussin says, "what started off as a 500 calorie per day deficit has dropped to 300 or 250 calories per day."

In the strictest sense, the math of there being 3,500 calories in a pound of fat still holds true, but in order to sustain that daily level of restricting 500 calories per day below maintenance level requires eating less and less each day to keep up with the drop in metabolism. This is because when you lose weight, "maintenance" keeps shifting downward. But continuing to cut calories more and more isn't a good idea either.

"If you are doing that," Ravussin says, "you are going to reach a level where you won't have all the essential nutrients for health."

And while this can be combated with exercise, it's far from a miracle cure. Claude Bouchard — an internationally renowned obesity researcher also at Pennington — led a series of studies in 1997 that provide interesting mathematical insight into caloric deficits.

In one study, seven pairs of male identical twins were kept on "no exercise" maintenance level calories. Then the researchers added in 1,000 calories worth of calorie burning via stationary bicycling nine out of every 10 days for a 93-day period (a lot of exercise, for certain). They estimated the participants created a 58,000 calorie deficit during the experiment, but the average weight loss — which was all from fat stores — represented the equivalent of only 46,000 calories.

The reverse happens too, as the team also experimented with 12 pairs of male twins adding 1,000 calories of food over maintenance level for 100 days, but only 60 percent of these extra calories turned into weight gain. This is because metabolism goes up, but so do, uh, trips to the bathroom.

In regard to the role of exercise, Ravussin sent me a study he co-wrote, published in June in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, which showed that even when vigorous exercise was included as part of a massive weight-loss regimen for the severely obese in order to preserve fat-free mass, this "did not prevent dramatic slowing of resting metabolism."

"It's much easier for obese people to cut 500 calories worth of food than burn it off from running," he says.

Last December, New York Times Well blog editor Tara Parker-Pope lamented the near impossibility of sustainable weight loss for her and the overweight population in general, reporting that the small percentage of people who are successful require constant vigilance regarding caloric intake and exercise. Canadian obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff responded to Parker-Pope's post on his own blog stating that a better word than "vigilance" was "thoughtfulness."

Freedhoff has an answer for why figures for sustainable weight loss are so low: We're doing it wrong. Many set outrageous weight-loss goals and choose crash diets and downright "all-or-nothing" suffering to get there. He then referenced a study published last year in Obesity showing that when people actually use their brains and, you know, pay some attention to reasonable and healthy food intake and exercise that 42.2 percent kept off almost 18 percent of their starting weight for the full four years of the study.

Once again, tortoise trumps hare.

Sustainable weight loss isn't about continual pain and deprivation, but changing who you are. You can't sustain something you hate long term. You can't view exercise and healthy eating as simply a means to an end. We're surrounded by 24-hour McDonald's restaurants and never have to walk anywhere, and to live lean in such an environment requires a massive mental shift.

If you hate exercise, it's a multiyear process to become someone who loves it instead. If you love fast food, you need to gradually shift your attitudes (and even your work schedule) toward being someone who loves cooking healthy meals. It's the process that creates the outcome. When you eschew quick fixes and become the process so that regular exercise and healthy eating defines you as a person, then weight eventually comes (and stays) off as a happy byproduct.

Earlier I used the words "war," "assault" and "attack" to describe physiology versus psychology, but to be successful it's essential to view fitness as more of a journey than a battle; one that never ends.

James Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

Leave me a comment.

Please Login to comment on this blog.

Existing Comments:

On Oct 01, 2012 kimberchick wrote:
lol i'm finding today's "essay" to be quite fitting as it's the 1st day of my journey towards maintaining at a healty wgt :-) such good (and absolutely true) advice about making the mental shift required to think and be healthy in order to be successful at maintaining a significant wgt loss ... and comforting to read it's a multiyear process so i don't have to feel bad about only doing 10 min of exercise to start lol thank you again for sharing such awesome tips and info <3

On Oct 02, 2012 kimberchick wrote:
Great tips here. Oh I lose the weight o.k......no problem there so far, and have done it numerous times. This time I'm not in a hurry and will consume a comfortable level of calories to be satisfied. No more quick fixs for this ol' boy. It's going to take awhile this time around.

On Oct 02, 2012 Dr. Collins wrote:
Thanks Kimberchick and JohnM. I look forward to watching your weight-loss progress. <3

On Oct 03, 2012 Karen925 wrote:
, pay some attention to reasonable and healthy food intake and exercise that 42.2 percent kept off almost 18 percent of their starting weight for the full four years of the study.***** I find this extremely encouraging, in fact one of the most encouraging comments on maintenance I have read so far. For me, paying some attention means daily recording of my weight & food choices with regular reading of health/weight/food related articles. So far this minimal amount of effort, has kept me within my maintenance weight range for 2 1/2 yrs. Thanks for sharing this article.

On Oct 03, 2012 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Hi Karen, I'm so pleased to see how well you are doing in maintenance, and I'm glad you found that statistic encouraging. I have mixed feelings about it. 42% is quite a large number, however personally, I find maintaining only 18% of a total weight-loss absolutely unacceptable. Using a mythical person with my height 5'0" at a starting weight of 200 lbs, with a weight loss down to normal weight at 120 lbs, would be an 80 pound loss...which very few people actually ever achieve; However, maintaining only 18% of that would be a total of 14.4 lbs, so within 4 years that mythical 5'0" person (one of the 42%) would regain back to 185.6 lbs...Since the obesity border for that height is around 154 lbs, that's 30 lbs back into obesity.

On Oct 03, 2012 Karen925 wrote:
I agree with your analysis, yet most studies I have seen report successful maintenance of 1 year around 3-5%. That is quite depressing. So 42% at 4 years is an order of magnitude better. Still poor, as you mentioned in your situation, but compared to other studies, it is better. I admire your success in maintenance as well.

On Oct 03, 2012 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks Karen. Yes, Those are the figures that I've seen as well, Only 3 to 5% of people keep their lost weight off for 1 year. I don't recall paying much attention to HOW MUCH OF THAT WEIGHT LOSS they've kept off, for some reason the assumption I recall is that those 3 to 5% keep almost all of their lost weight off. I don't think that most dieters would be very encouraged to understand that 58% of people gain back ALL of their lost weight within 4 years, but that 42% of people will only gain back 86% of their lost weight after 4 years. Of course, as with all studies, it is easy for percentages to be misleading. How did they get the number 14%? Were very obese people who lost weight to goal combined with people who only lost the first few pounds? Did they mix the 3 to 5% of people who kept it ALL off together with people who kept off half, together with people who kept off one percent? I know that you are aware that HOW all these groups were combined makes a big difference in the final numbers.

On Oct 09, 2012 Alma wrote:
http://www.iconsumerknowledge.org/coffeessonar.asp?o1=COFF2&source=light&c1=111&popup=&tri=0#.UHSVlo6f_zI Wouldn't it be wonderful to sip a few cups of coffee a day and easily maintain or lose weight! I found this while surfing today and would like your take on what is stated. I listen to Dr. Oz and was impressed to see him involved in the new claim.

On Oct 09, 2012 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks Alma, I'll take a look at it. =)

<< Previous Blog
Search Blogs
DietHobby is a Digital Scrapbook of my personal experience in weight-loss-and-maintenance. One-size-doesn't-fit-all. Every diet works for Someone, but no diet works for Everyone.
- View 2021
- View 2020
- View 2019
- View 2018
- View 2017
- View 2016
- View 2015
- View 2014
- View 2013
- View 2012
- View 2011

Mar 01, 2021
DietHobby: A Digital Scrapbook.
2000+ Blogs and 500+ Videos in DietHobby reflect my personal experience in weight-loss and maintenance. One-size-doesn't-fit-all, and I address many ways-of-eating whenever they become interesting or applicable to me.

Jun 01, 2020
DietHobby is my Personal Blog Website.
DietHobby sells nothing; posts no advertisements; accepts no contributions. It does not recommend or endorse any specific diets, ways-of-eating, lifestyles, supplements, foods, products, activities, or memberships.

May 01, 2017
DietHobby is Mobile-Friendly.
Technical changes! It is now easier to view DietHobby on iPhones and other mobile devices.