Thursday, February 23, 2012

Perspective Part I

I have been paying a lot of attention to health news since I started losing weight. I think it is important to keep up with the latest news and research related to weight loss and to be as informed as I can be about how to stay healthy and keep my weight down. That said, I always read information I find on the internet and stories about "new research" or "new studies" with a bit of skepticism. The internet is a wonderful thing because it is a great source of information, but it is so incredibly saturated with information, particularly about weight loss, that it becomes difficult to filter the good information from the bad and it would be very easy to become discouraged in the face of some of it. So, skepticism is a healthy thing.  First of all, I pay attention to my gut reaction to information I find - if it sounds wild, it's probably either completely wrong or wildly inaccurate; if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Even information and studies that are from reputable sources and are probably accurate need a little perspective at times to keep me sane and on track.

Two studies in particular have caught my attention over the past few months. One came out at the beginning of the year, and the other was released recently.

The first study, featured in a New York Times article called "The Fat Trap," examined a very common problem among people who lose weight, the tendency to gain it all back again. The New York Times article highlighted the study's findings which were basically that people who lose weight are biologically predisposed to regain that weight even a year after they have lost it. Okay, so this freaked me out a little when I read it. At first glance, what I took from this was that despite all of my efforts and hard work, my body will work against me and I will be right back where I started, or worse, within a couple of years - great. There are two things that helped me peel myself down off the wall: first, I looked more closely and with more skepticism at the article, and second, I realized that it really is up to me and if my body wants to gain weight - that's too bad because I do have the ability to control it.

When I looked more closely at the particulars of the study featured in the Times article, I realized that the study was done on a very small sample size which started at 50 people and was ultimately 34. Okay, I was feeling better. Then, the people who took part in this study were on Optifast shakes and a very low calorie diet for eight weeks, ten weeks in - the participants stopped dieting. This is very different from what I am doing. I started on a medically supervised diet that did include shakes, entrees, and a very low calorie diet for the first 12 weeks. However, I also made some substantial lifestyle changes and have stuck with them now for about 8 months and I have gradually phased in "normal" food and figured out how to work that into a reasonable diet (meaning what I will eat forever, not what I am doing temporarily to lose weight). So, okay, that made me feel even better yet. 

The article went on to talk about how most people who lose weight gain it all back and many gain it all back and some, and that there is not a difference between slow weight loss and rapid weight loss (d'oh!). People who keep off the weight, the article quotes an expert as saying, tend to be incredibly vigilant and track every calorie. Okay. I will admit that the prospect of gaining my weight back terrifies me - but I have had to be vigilant to take it off, and I have always expected that I will have to be vigilant to keep it off. This brings me to my second point of perspective about this article - ultimately, neither the article nor the studies change my ability to  keep my weight off - realizing that, I think, was the most useful thing that I could do. Sure this article points to some daunting statistics and studies, but there are plenty of people who do this every day. What I am doing is working very well for me, and the statistics do not change what I am doing, the only one who can do that is me.  Anyone who knows me well will tell you that the best way to get me to succeed at something is to tell me that I can't. So, I would like to thank the expert from Yale who is quoted in the article as saying, in response to the registry of 10,000 people who have kept weight off, that "All it means is that there are rare individuals who do manage to keep it off," and all of the other experts who say similarly that I can't keep the weight off (or that the odds are against it)...because now I'll do it just purely out of spite. Okay, well not out of spite, there are a million reasons why I'll do it - but I'll add spite to the list. 

Since this entry is turning into a dissertation - I'll talk about the second study in my post tomorrow. 

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