CBC: Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible

The CBC has an article on what obesity research shows.

After years of study, it’s becoming apparent that it’s nearly impossible to permanently lose weight.

I’m not sure that’s news, but go on.

 For psychologist Traci Mann, who has spent 20 years running an eating lab at the University of Minnesota, the evidence is clear. … “Long-term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people.”

We all think we know someone in that rare group. They become the legends — the friend of a friend, the brother-in-law, the neighbour — the ones who really did it.

But if we check back after five or 10 years, there’s a good chance they will have put the weight back on. Only about five per cent of people who try to lose weight ultimately succeed, according to the research. Those people are the outliers, but we cling to their stories as proof that losing weight is possible.

“Those kinds of stories really keep the myth alive,” says University of Alberta professor Tim Caulfield, who researches and writes about health misconceptions. “You have this confirmation bias going on where people point to these very specific examples as if it’s proof. But in fact those are really exceptions.”

Our biology taunts us, by making short-term weight loss fairly easy. But the weight creeps back, usually after about a year, and it keeps coming back until the original weight is regained or worse.

This has been tested in randomized controlled trials where people have been separated into groups and given intense exercise and nutrition counselling.

Even in those highly controlled experimental settings, the results show only minor sustained weight loss.

When Traci Mann analyzed all of the randomized control trials on long-term weight loss, she discovered that after two years the average amount lost was only one kilogram, or about two pounds, from the original weight.

FYI, a PDF of Traci Mann’s study is here.  Most people — up to two thirds — regained all the weight they had lost, PLUS more.  Oh, and several studies indicated that dieting was actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.

(File under: Things they don’t tell 8-yr-olds when putting them on their first diet.)

I was a bit puzzled at:

But eating right to improve health alone isn’t a strong motivator. The research shows that most people are willing to exercise and limit caloric intake if it means they will look better. But if they find out their weight probably won’t change much, they tend to lose motivation.

Is this a reference to (please choose one):

  1. People who improved their nutrition in an effort to lose weight and who stopped when weight loss slowed or stopped?
  2. That people are only willing to improve their nutrition if the carrot is “weight loss” and not “health”?

Because (let’s face it) option 1 is a classic bait-and-switch, and I know how demotivating that is to experience.

Mom/Teacher/Doctor:   “You should do this! You’ll lose weight!”
Me: *Does it*
Mom/Teacher/Doctor: “Why aren’t you losing [more] weight?  Oh dear. You’re probably healthier now!  So keep it up — maybe you’ll lose more!”
Me: *Sudden intense desire to commit matricide.*

I do love that the CBC quoted Traci Mann on what to do about this:

 Traci Mann says the emphasis should be on measuring health, not weight. “You should still eat right, you should still exercise, doing healthy stuff is still healthy,” she said. “It just doesn’t make you thin.”

And yes, that sounds like Health At Every Size®.

3 thoughts on “CBC: Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible

  1. Don’t read the comments on the original article, it will make you want to curl up in a ball and cry.

    The more attention this gets, the better. Eventually it’ll have to sink in to the public consciousness that medical technology for controlling body fat levels long term while improving health is still at the caveman level.

    And I admit that as an adult, I’ve played the reverse bait’n’switch with myself. “I’ll live HAES, eat less ice cream, drink less soda, eat more vegetables, eat more fruit, drink more water, and if I don’t get slimmer it doesn’t matter because I’ll be healthier!” Three weeks later: “I don’t feel any different and I weigh the same, so why do I bother? Forget it, I’m going to go get a milkshake.”

  2. I just wanted to roll my eyes clean out of my head when all the researchers were “perplexed” by the idea that people will not want to keep up with healthy interventions if they don’t lose weight. As if they had NO IDEA AT ALL where people would get the idea that healthy interventions only “count” if said interventions make you thin enough to be magically healthy by virtue of BMI. Gee Whiz! I can’t imagine where anyone got that idea, can you? Couldn’t possibly be that these exact researchers, the diet industry and our medical providers have been feeding us that line of nonsense for decades. Nah, I am sure that’s not it.

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