Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Is weight predestined?

I wrote recently about my body holding on to a weight set point like grim death. My suspicion has always been that weight gain or loss is not directly related to calorie intake. I think calorie intake is one factor, but not 100% of the picture. This article in the NY Times is relevant, and a little bit of a downer to read. Here are some excerpts, although the whole article is definitely worth reading.

"Every time the result was the same. The weight, so painstakingly lost, came right back...There were a very few who did not get fat again, but they made staying thin their life’s work, becoming Weight Watchers lecturers, for example, and, always counting calories and maintaining themselves in a permanent state of starvation.

The implications were clear. There is a reason that fat people cannot stay thin after they diet and that thin people cannot stay fat when they force themselves to gain weight. The body’s metabolism speeds up or slows down to keep weight within a narrow range. Gain weight and the metabolism can as much as double; lose weight and it can slow to half its original speed."

I don't think any weight loss venture is hopeless, but I agree that weight lost will come back unless one is hyper-vigilant. I notice that I personally have been thinnest when I've had a more active lifestyle, such as walking a couple of miles each day and working out in addition to that. Genetically, I think I'm destined to be thin, but an extra 20-25 lbs has crept on due to my desk job and suburban life. I'm looking to increase my daily activity past the 5 hrs a week I spend working out, and hopefully the cubicle physique will fall by the wayside.

In terms of diet, I definitely don't want to stay in "a permanent state of starvation." I'm moving my diet towards lots of vegetables, small amounts of whole grains and nuts, and minimal sugar or white grains. A bowl of vegetable soup is very filling and has few calories, and it's that type of food that I want to have as my mainstay.


Theresa said...

That's an interesting article, but I don't know if I completely buy it. I was always super thin, but in my last year of uni I drank too much beer and ate too much crap, and gained 20 pounds or so. My metabolism didn't speed up. Even though I was moderately active and ate healthily after that, it didn't seem to drop very quickly. It took 2 months of diving in PNG to break the rut--6 hours a day of swimming, plus eating only really veggies and grains and beans (no tofu, soy milk, sweets, etc). But since getting back to Australia, my metabolism hasn't slowed down or anything.

I think your plan, to be quite active and to eat healthily, is the best way to do it.

RV Amy said...

Well, the diving in PNG diet doesn't sound too bad to me. And I do know people who have maintained weight loss (though I agree with the article that they're hyper-vigilant). I'm happy with the changes in my diet and attitude towards food that I've made in the past 9 months, when I started on my mostly vegan adventure. I hope to move back into the city next year and get that active lifestyle back, and drop some weight in the process.

Katyola said...

I have problems with the word "hyper-vigilant." Yes, you do have to pay attention to what you're eating and how much you're exercising to keep weight off, but like anything else, it's establishing a habit.

And once that habit is established, you don't have to think as much about what you're doing. To me, it's absolutely obvious why the obese people gained weight after leaving Rockefeller University. They went home and returned to their old bad habits. The only way weight loss works is if you make changes in your home environment. Of course if you are in a "fat camp" where people are watching you like a hawk you'll lose weight. That's not difficult.

It's being home, with the ice cream and sofa waiting for you — that's when it gets hard.

That said, not everyone is going to be skinny, no matter how little they eat. In that capacity, I think the scientists are right. Genetics do come into play, but I just don't believe anyone's predestined to be obese, unless you — for real — have a problem with your glands or some other condition.

RV Amy said...

Yes, the more I think about this article, the higher my bs meter goes. I don't think people are predestined to be fat, but I think our bodies are programmed to hold on to fat if they can (especially for women). I totally agree that you need to radically and permanently change your diet if you're going to lose a large amount of weight and keep it off.

The scientists might have something here, but I think it is more relevant to the concept of a weight set point and the difficulty (but not futility) in budging the body off of a certain weight range.

Fin De Fichier said...

Yes. About hyper-vigilant, for example, I used to eat fried food like everybody else. Then I stopped, after a couple years, fried foods came to seem disgusting. So you might have to be hyper-vigilance for a while, then eventually you won't miss whatever you missed. The latest thing I gave up is peanut butter. It took 2 years of thinking about giving it up...I wouldn't say I struggled w/it cause it wasn't worth a struggle...then I finally did.

I agree there is a set-point for some people, but I think there's still a range of possible weights w/in the set point. And I think the set point can be bent over time. I know too many people who have managed to change...look at Ebert for example. Be careful about anodyne advice from the NY Times. They might represent the opinion of the medical establishment, which would be happy for people to stay complacent about having an unhealthy weight. More business for them down the road, yous sees.

Fin De Fichier said...

Amy one more thing...advice from a non-vegan to a vegan. I realized I was too busy to eat greens recently - I do in restaurants but as you know I still make most of my food - so I went on a search for a green food bar to eat on days when I wasn't going to get any steamed brussel sprouts in.

These are really tasty:


At least the "berry" flavor that's only slightly berry like. Yes, it is sweetened with honey, but I don't think a few carbs will kill you.

Paige said...

I think nutrition plays a huge role in this as well. Not only did they return to their old habits, but for months they had only been eating 600 calories and those were NOT 600 calories of kale. I'm sure the drinks were supplemented with vitamins to suit the doctors' idea of what would be good nutrition but I don't think that's necessarily enough. When I was younger, I went about three months on 1000 calories per day. And not good food either. In those three months, I lost 40 pounds but ever since I have been a compulsive overeater. I think this is at least in part to my body screaming out for the nutrients it wants. But instead of screaming for vegetables and fruits, it screams for what it knows: cake, chips, pizza, etc. That is one of the problems with obesity, in my opinion: the body gets too many calories but too few nutrients so it continues to crave even more food.