Researchers writing about mindful eating in Frontiers in Psychology interviewed a number of overweight people about their attitudes towards self-care and self-kindness. The results were fascinating.
The subjects were very uncomfortable talking about ways that they were kind to themselves. They seemed to equate self-kindness with self-indulgence, which they saw as a negative trait.
They were a bit more comfortable with the term “self-care” but here again, there was an interesting divide.
They talked about things like getting out in nature or taking a bath or setting aside time to read or visit with a friend. As long as it didn’t involve food, they were comfortable identifying these activities as self-care.
But they were unwilling to see choosing healthy foods or exercising as a way of exercising self-care. They saw these things as something they “should” be doing. Therefore, doing them didn’t count as self-care or something they were doing to be kind to themselves.
Isn’t that interesting?
If we can come to see making healthy food and movement choices as a way of showing ourselves kindness, instead of a duty that we may or may not be fulfilling, maybe the notion of self-kindness wouldn’t feel so self-indulgent and dangerous.
Losing weight and keeping it off is notoriously hard. Only 10-20% of those who try succeed. What is it that sets these winners (er, losers) apart?
A group of Dutch researchers recently analyzed 67 studies to see if they could identify the key characteristics, or determinants, of long term weight loss.
First, check out what doesn’t matter:
- Socioeconomic status
- Weight history
- How often you eat out
- Your stress level
That’s right. When it comes to your chances of achieving long-term weight loss, it doesn’t matter how old you are or what kind of neighborhood you live in. Women, you have just as good a shot at it as men. Your weight history does not predict your chances of success. Stress is not a determining factor, nor is how much willpower you have.
What a relief! Because most of those are things you can’t do much about.
So, what does predict success? Your habits and your mindset. Specifically:
Habits that fuel success
- Regularly monitoring your weight (because you can’t manage what you don’t measure)
- Eating more fruits and vegetables (yum)
- Exercising portion control (NOT restrictive dieting)
- Choosing an active lifestyle (NOT exercising your brains out!)
Mindsets that fuel success
- Confidence in your ability to make positive changes
- Clarity on your goals and strategies
- Feeling of self-worth (because you can’t hate yourself healthy)
Unlike your age or your health history, your habits and mindset are things that you have complete control over! And these are precisely the habits and mindsets that we create and reinforce in the Weighless Program.
One of the things that sets the Weighless approach apart from other weight loss programs is our emphasis on slow weight loss. Instead of coaching our members to lose a couple of pounds a week, we try to hold them to a couple of pounds a month.
Crazy, right? And yet there is a method to our madness.
Most people can only lose 2-3 pounds of body fat per month. If you’re losing weight faster than that, the rest is likely to be lean muscle. Believe me, that’s NOT what you’re trying to lose. Although our approach may seem like an insanely slow way to lose weight, we’re finding that it’s actually a much quicker (and less unpleasant) path to sustainable fat loss.
Interestingly, our members frequently report that after losing weight the “Weighless way,” they look and their clothes fit as if they have lost much more than they have.
Losing weight slowly not only preserves your metabolism and muscle mass. It also gives you more time to acquire the habits and practice the skills that will help you maintain a lower weight, heading off the dreaded–and seemingly inevitable–rebound weight gain.
It all makes sense, right? But occasionally, someone in the group will ask if there is published research to support the merits of the super slow pace of weight loss we endorse. Fair enough. I’ve built a reputation for being evidence-based, and most of the people who sign up for my programs cite this as one of the reasons they trust my advice.
Show Me the Research
A few studies have compared the effects of slow vs. fast weight loss. For example:
A 2016 study involving almost 60 subjects found that those who lost weight more slowly lost less muscle mass, which was associated with less weight regain. A similar (but longer) study dating back to 1994 compared the effects of “fast” vs. “slow” weight loss and found that the fast losers lost more weight initially but were much more likely to regain it.
The problem is that virtually all of the studies that compare fast and slow weight loss define “slow” as 1-2 pounds a week, which is still too fast by our standards.
There’s this 2008 study which found that small, cumulative changes in diet and activity (similar to the approach we use in Weighless) produced slow but sustainable weight loss–and was ultimately far more effective than giving people standard weight loss advice.
At the other end of the spectrum, the famous (and heartbreaking) “Biggest Loser” study demonstrates just how much damage fast weight can do to your metabolism. After six years, virtually all of the contestants had regained every pound (and more)–despite continuing to eat fewer calories.
Our approach is certainly informed by research–but it also draws heavily on our experience and common sense. And although we are not (yet) conducting a controlled trial, the results we are seeing and the feedback we are getting from our members are enormously validating. I think we’re onto something here…and maybe the researchers will take notice.
Personalized nutrition is getting a lot of attention these days. Companies will analyze your DNA and tell you what foods and supplements you should and shouldn’t eat based on your genetic profile. But a huge new study throws cold water on the idea of matching your diet to your genetics. Participants with a “low-carb genotype” (who would hypothetically do better on a low-carb diet) were no more successful on a low-carb diet than on a low-fat diet. The same was true for those with a “low-fat genotype.”
The study also found that, overall, low-carb diets are no better or worse than low-fat diets at producing weight loss. Those are the two headlines from this study. (Examine.com has produced an excellent detailed analysis of the study, if you want to take a deeper dive.)
But there is so much more here that warrants mentioning. Here’s what really got my attention:
None of the study participants were asked to count or limit their calories. Instead, both groups were told to limit their intake of added sugars, refined flour and junk food, and to eat lots of vegetables and whole foods. And that was enough to produce weight loss. In other words, when you pay attention to the quality of your food choices, the calories often take care of themselves. And when you’re eating a healthy, whole foods diet, low carb is no more effective than low fat.
[bctt tweet=”When you pay attention to the quality of your food choices, the calories often take care of themselves. ” username=”nutritiondiva”]
The other thing that’s notable about this study is that the participants received intensive coaching throughout the year. They were taught how to choose foods that kept them satisfied for fewer calories. They were encouraged to avoid distracted eating and eat more mindfully. Making sustainable changes was a bigger priority than achieving fast weight loss. (All of this will sound very familiar to participants of the Weigh*less program, our 12-month coaching program for sustainable weight loss.)
[bctt tweet=”Making sustainable changes matters more than achieving fast weight loss.” username=”nutritiondiva”]
At the end of the study, the most successful participants reported having changed their relationship to food. And that’s ultimately what’s required for permanent weight loss. Not calorie or fat or carb counting.
Americans are spending more on dieting than ever before–more than $60 billion a year. The percentage of obese adults is also at an all time high of 40%.
Do you think there might be a connection between these two trends? I do.
Clearly, dieting is not the solution to the obesity problem. In fact, I think it’s a big part of the problem.
Problem #1: Even the most “responsible” diets encourage you to lose weight far faster than your body can actually lose fat. As a result, you end up losing a little bit of fat and a lot of water and lean muscle tissue.
Problem #2: Diets teach you how to lose weight but they don’t teach you how to weigh less. (There’s a big difference.) As a result, most people will eventually regain all the weight they lose…or more.
Problem #3: When you regain the weight, you don’t gain back the lean muscle that you lost while dieting. You replace it with fat, which makes it even harder to lose weight the next time.
It’s time to try something different
Last summer, my colleague Brock Armstrong and I launched WeighlessTM, a program that shows people how to stop dieting and start weighing less. Weighless is not a diet or exercise program. It’s a structured lifestyle change program that combines nutrition science, behavior modification, professional guidance, and community support.
The results have exceeded even our high hopes. It’s been absolutely exhilarating to see people escape a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and find the path to sustainable weight loss. I’m more convinced than ever before that diets are not the answer to our obesity epidemic. (They’re a big part of the problem.)
If you think you might be ready to stop dieting and start weighing less, there are more details about the Weighless program here.
A new study finds that people who lost more than 15% of their body weight over a five year period were actually more likely to die than those who didn’t lose weight. What’s more, the biggest losers were more likely to die than people who gained 20% during the same period.
How can this be? We’re constantly bombarded with headlines about the obesity epidemic and how it’s shaving years off our life span. Are you really better off remaining overweight than losing weight?
[bctt tweet=”Poor health causes weight loss, not the other way around.” username=”nutritiondiva”]
This latest study does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss, nor did it take into account the cause of death. People who are terminally ill tend to lose weight. But there’s a world of difference between losing weight due to serious illness and intentionally losing weight.
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
One way to see this quite clearly is to distinguish between the loss of total body weight and the loss of body fat. The loss of total body weight may be associated with increased mortality. But the loss of body fat is associated with increased life span.
Another way to separate out the effect of wasting disease is to distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss. Previous studies have shown that while unintentional weight loss is associated with increased risk of death, intentional weight loss can reduce mortality by 15%
The Bottom Line(s)
Actually, I have three bottom lines for you
Bottom Line #1. Losing excess body fat will improve your health.
Bottom Line #2. Losing weight slowly will increase the percentage of body fat you lose.
Bottom Line #3. Losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off will do more to improve your health than repeatedly losing and gaining large amounts of weight.
Need help with sustainable weight loss? That’s what the Weighless program is all about. Learn more..
“Everyone refers to weight as being a risk factor for various diseases. But is it true that losing weight actually lowers one’s risk? Or could some other factor be responsible for both disease risk and a higher weight?”
If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight absolutely does reduce your risk of various complications and diseases. Because when you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes. Losing weight can reduce your blood pressure as well as your fasting blood sugar, for example, and that in turn lowers your risk for stroke and diabetes.
[bctt tweet=” When you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes. ” username=”nutritiondiva”]
And, by the way, losing even a small amount–as little as 5% of your current weight–can significantly reduce your risk of various conditions, even if you are still overweight. For this reason, you’d be better off losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off than losing a large amount of weight and gaining it back!
(And if you’ve had enough of yo-yo dieting, you may be interested in a new project I’m working on.) But keep in mind that having a risk factor for a disease does not mean that you are certain to develop the disease. If you are a smoker, you are much more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker. But some smokers don’t get lung cancer–and some non-smokers do.
Which Risk Factors Should We Focus On?
Some disease risk factors are things we can’t change–such as our age, race, gender, or genetic heritage. I’m at higher risk of developing osteoporosis than James is, simply because I’m female.
Other risk factors, such as our body weight, eating habits, exercise, and other lifestyle habits, are within our control. I can lower my risk of developing osteoporosis, for example, by not smoking and getting regular exercise.
No Guarantees So Enjoy the Ride!
Despite what some people will tell you, there is no way to completely disease-proof your body. All we can do is focus on our modifiable risk factors and hope for the best. And because there are no guarantees, I think it’s important to strike a balance between lowering risk and maintaining quality of life. Or, as my friend Yoni Freedhoff likes to say, “Live the healthiest life you can enjoy living.”
The number of overweight and obese Americans has climbed steadily in recent decades, from 53% of adults in 1988 to 65% in 2014. At the same time, fewer overweight Americans are trying to lose weight–just 47%, down from 55% back in 1988.
The authors of the study, which was published in JAMA this month, wondered whether we’ve simply made our peace with being fat.
“As more people around us are getting heavier, we simply believe we are fine, and no need to do anything with it,” lead author Liang Zhang told the AP News Service.
That may be part of it.
But I think another big reason that so many have given up is that they’re starting to doubt that permanent weight loss is really possible. And, really, who can blame them?
Who could blame you?
Most people with a substantial amount of weight to lose have tried repeatedly to lose it. Many have succeeded in dropping large amounts of weight only to gain it all back. Multiple times.
Not only is dieting an unpleasant way to spend your life, but research shows that losing weight alters your body chemistry in ways that stack the cards against maintaining a lower weight. Why bother?
Let’s try something different
I have been thinking hard about this problem. I think I know what we’re doing wrong and how to change the equation. It’s not about a special diet or distribution of nutrients or combination of foods, but something else entirely. A few months ago, my colleague Brock Armstrong and I launched a program designed to help people lose weight in a way that both their bodies and their brains can sustain for life. The results have been life-changing for those in the program.
We’re going to be opening enrollment for a new group soon. Click here to learn more about the Weighless Program.