Episode 219: January 8, 2013
by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.
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It’s January and that means everyone is on a diet. Losing weight is the most popular New Year’s Resolution. In fact, it’s so popular that many of you make it every year--because chances are good that last year’s resolution or diet eventually failed. How can we work so hard (and often) at weight loss and yet never succeed? The problem is that we go about losing weight all wrong. Here are three of the most common myths and misperceptions about weight loss.
Myth 1: Do Whatever it Takes
We’ve all heard about the many health risks associated with being overweight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, and a long list of other ailments. Accordingly, most people (including many doctors) believe that getting the weight off—by whatever means necessary--is the most important thing. But this is not necessarily the case.
In terms of disease risk, losing even 5% of your body weight yields enormous benefits, even if you’re still overweight. In fact, losing even a modest amount of weight and keeping it off for good is much more beneficial to you than losing a whole bunch of weight and then gaining some or all of it back. In terms of the long term impact on your health, the direction you’re heading is more important than where you are.
Myth 2: Faster is Better
If you want spend the rest of your life battling your weight, be sure to lose weight as quickly as possible.
Most people think that the best diet is the one that produces the fastest weight loss. They want to get the dieting part “over with” as quickly as possible. Why spend 6 months losing ten pounds if you could lose it in just two weeks? I’ll tell you why: Because losing weight that quickly virtually guarantees failure. Rapid weight loss creates long-term hormonal and metabolic changes in your body that make it extremely difficult for you to maintain that hard-won weight loss.
Let’s say, for example, that Mary and Sue both weigh 130 pounds. Mary has been about the same weight since college. Sue, on the other hand, has just lost 50 pounds on a crash diet. Both women are now maintaining their current weight—but, in order to do that, Sue has to exercise twice as much and eat 15% less than Mary for the rest of her life. It’s horridly unfair but true.
If you want spend the rest of your life battling your weight, be sure to lose weight as quickly as possible. Otherwise, I suggest losing it as slowly as possible.
Myth 3: When you reach your goal, you’re done
Everyone talks about how to lose weight; no-one thinks about keeping it off. But we’ve got our priorities exactly backward. We’re actually great at losing weight—we lose millions of pounds a year. The problem is we’re really bad at maintaining our weight. So, we lose and gain the same pounds over and over again. That keeps the diet industry happy but how is that working for you?
Part of this problem is the phenomenon I just talked about: When we lose the weight too quickly, our bodies literally revolt and fight to put the weight back on. But another big part of it is that we don’t spend enough time cultivating the skills needed to maintain our weight over time. We’re always either in the process of gaining or losing.
In a recent experiment, researchers from Stanford University divided a group of over-weight women into two groups. Both groups were put on weight loss diets and both groups lost weight. But before they embarked on the weight loss program, one group spent two months practicing weight maintenance skills, learning how to monitor their weight and adjust their diet and activity in order to keep their weight within a narrow range. After losing weight, the group that had practiced weight maintenance was far more successful in keeping the weight off. I’m beginning to think that what you do after you lose the weight is reallythe only thing that matters.
How to Lose Weight Once and For All
People often visualize reaching their goal weight as a sort of finish line. But the idea isn’t to speed across the finish line and collapse, gasping, on the side of the track. The idea is to stroll across the finish line at a pace you can comfortably keep right on going with. For more on this strategy, see how to lose weight without dieting.
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