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You want to lose weight? Eat less, move more! As simple as that?
Unfortunately, if it would be as simple as that, the infatuation for weight-loss diets would not be as great, and the prevalence of obesity in society would not be either.
But then, why is it so difficult to lose weight and why are we constantly fighting with our body?
Indeed, it has been shown that less than 20% of individuals that have attempted to lose weight are able to achieve and maintain a 10% reduction over a year. Also, over one-third of lost weight tends to return within the first year, and the majority is gained back within 3 to 5 years. (Maclean, 2011)
To understand this phenomenon, it’s important to know that weight is regulated by a wide and interactive range of biological, behavioural, and societal factors. Some of them are alterable, such as physical activity and eating habits, but most of them are not or very hardly editable. If we take a closer look at those factors, we can think of age, genetic, cultural background, medical condition, medication, environment, hormones, history of dieting, stress, sleeping habits and more.
It might be shocking to read, but as unfortunate as it is, some people have a very low weight loss potential and there is nothing they can do about it. Don’t be mistaken, just because someone’s weight is considered too high doesn’t mean they are cowardly and willless. A recent study showed that genetic (non-modifiable factor) could be responsible for up to 50-75% of human body weight. (Gagnon et al., 2023)
Does this mean we should give up, eat whatever we want and stop exercising? Absolutely not! What we should give up though, is our weight bias and all those restrictive diets that make the population fatter, sicker, and poorer.
Another thing that is worth mentioning before diving into the heart of the subject, is that someone can be fat and healthy (Despres, 2012), and someone can be thin and unhealthy. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, weight is not directly linked to health. What is actually related to a healthier life (physical, mental and social), is the improvement of lifestyle habits. In fact, it’s been proven to decrease mortality independently of a weight loss. (Matheson, 2012).
So, the answer would be to focus on improving your general lifestyle habits instead of putting all the energy on lowering the number on the scale. It has been shown that the methods usually used for fast and intense weight loss are most of the time damaging to health instead of being beneficial. On the other hand, a weight-inclusive approach to achieve some changes in some spheres of life (physical activity, eating and sleeping habits, stress management and more), can improve quality of life and overall health (Tylka, 2014). By doing all those things, you might lose weight if you have a weight loss potential, but you might not either, or just a few pounds. A weight loss of only 5-10% of initial weight can improve glycemic control, lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, improve breathing capacity, improve sleep quality, reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, and improve mental health. It should be noted that those benefits are only effective if the weight is maintained, hence the importance of making changes that are gradual, realistic, and sustainable.
In short, be aware that not everybody can lose weight and maintain it, be self-indulgent, focus on modifiable factors and stop spending your time, precious mental energy, and money on so called miracle diets. Acknowledge that changing behaviors is not easy, and you might need help from a professional.
Keep in mind, you are not responsible for the problem, but you are responsible for the solution!
Marie Lamarche Mc Clure, R.D.
July 11th, 2023
Després JP. Body fat distribution and risk of cardiovascular disease: an update. Circulation. 2012 Sep 4;126(10): 1301-13.
Gagnon et al., iScience 26, 106376, April 21, 2023 ª 2023 The Author(s)Genetic control of body weight by the human brain proteome
Maclean PS, Bergouignan A, Cornier MA, Jackman MR. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Sep;301(3):R581-600
Matheson EM, King DE, Everett CJ. Healthy lifestyle habits and mortality in overweight and obese individuals. J Am. Board Fam Med. 2012 Jan-Feb;25(1):9-15
Tylka, T.L., R.A. Annunziato, D. Burgard, S. Danielsdóttir, E. Shuman, C. Davis et R.M. Calogero (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: evaluating the evidence for prioritizing wellbeing over weight loss, Journal of Obesity, doi.org/10.1155/2014/983495.