Monthly Archives: June 2017

Shonda Rhimes Wrote the Realest Essay About Her 150-Pound Weight Loss

According to Shonda Rhimes, the only thing worse than shedding a lot of weight is getting the wrong kind of attention for it afterward. In a newsletter sent to Shondaland subscribers last week, Rhimes, 47, reveals that it wasn’t until she lost nearly 150 pounds that people seemed to find her “valuable.”

Though the Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator dropped the weight about two years ago, she’s still stunned and disturbed by the way people, even strangers, reacted to her transformation.

“I did not do it because I thought I would become beautiful like in the movies,” Rhimes explains. “I did it because I could not walk up a short flight up stairs without stopping to take a break and wiping sweat from my brow. I did it because my body was physically rebelling against the brain that had been ignoring it for so long.”

RELATED: 4 Annoying Comments to Expect When You're Losing Weight

And don’t get her wrong, Rhimes still isn’t taken with #cleanliving. In fact, she loathed what it took to lose so many pounds.

“Losing weight is not a topic I like discussing,” she writes. “Why? Because there is nothing fun or interesting or great about it. I hated losing weight. I hated every single second of it. And I hate every single second of maintaining my weight, too.”

What Rhimes hated even more was how slimming down changed the way people reacted to her. "But you know what was worse than losing weight? What was SO MUCH MORE HORRIFYING? How people treated me after I lost weight," she explains.

"I mean, things got weird," writes Rhimes. Especially when women she hardly knew gushed over her new look. "Like I was holding-a-new-baby-gushed. Only there was no new baby. It was just me. In a dress. With makeup on and my hair all did, yes. But…still the same me."

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Men began to take notice of Rhimes too, she recalls. “THEY SPOKE TO ME. Like stood still and had long conversations with me about things. It was disconcerting.”

The newfound attention wasn’t the only thing that made this high-powered TV producer uncomfortable. She was also appalled by how breezily people commented on her appearance, calling her “hot” or telling her they were were “proud of her.”

"After I lost weight, I discovered that people found me valuable. Worthy of conversation. A person one could look at. A person one could compliment. A person one could admire," she continues. 

To Rhimes, it felt like others only considered her worthy of conversation once she looked a certain way. After that realization, she began to wonder. “What the hell did they see me as before? How invisible was I to them? How hard did they work to avoid me?” she writes.

WATCH THE VIDEO: What 5 Olympic Athletes Can Teach You About Body Confidence 

Of course Rhimes also infuses her newsletter with humor. While lamenting how hard it was to drop the 150 pounds, she says she misses eating “all the fried chicken,” and not just when it was on her plate. “No. I miss eating ALL THE FRIED CHICKEN,” she writes. “All of it. Every piece, everywhere.”

Jokes aside, Rhimes makes a powerful point in a world where unrealistic body ideals are everywhere and a person's size is often linked to their value. “Being thinner doesn’t make you a different person," she says. "It just makes you thinner.”


Weight Loss – Health.com

Woman Who Lost 70 Lbs. Says Having a Partner with Parkinson’s Inspired Her to Be Her Best Self

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Marie Byrne used to deal with her unhappiness by eating.

“I was an emotional eater — happy, sad or angry, I ate,” the Gloucester, U.K.-based nursery manager, 42, tells PEOPLE. “Plus, my husband at the time was very overweight so he didn’t mind what I looked like. When you live with someone who doesn’t support you and encourages you to eat takeaway multiple times a week, the weight is bound to go on. I made excuses, as that was easier than facing up to the fact that I was overweight.”

Before she knew it, Byrne — a mom of two — weighed 223 lbs. at 5’3″. But it wasn’t until an alarming doctor visit that she started to seriously consider the health implications of carrying so much weight.

“My blood pressure was through the roof,” she says. “The doctor even said that I was a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen. My mum had a stroke very young, and it scared us as a family. I didn’t want to put my family through the same thing, so knew I had to do something.”

Byrne started doing Jillian Michaels’ workouts (available on her app and FitFusion) and says they played a crucial part in her weight loss.

“It was not easy — there were days when I swore at the TV, but the feeling I felt after the workout and still do, there are no words for,” she says. “I had energy, stamina and inner-strength that I did not know that I had.”

In addition to starting a workout regimen, Byrne worked to overhaul her diet.

“The same day I started to exercise was the day I started to really look at what went into my body,” she says. “I decided to split my meals into calories per meal, and tried not to go over that. I also made sure that I ate three meals a day, something that I never did before. I never had breakfast, and my lunch was always huge with extra helpings of junk. My biggest change was portion size. The first time I looked at my plate I wondered how that was going to satisfy me, but it did.”

Byrne has dropped 70 lbs., and continues to do Michaels’ workouts at 5 a.m. before work every day.

“Sometimes I’m so tired, but once I get into my own head, I push on regardless of how my body feels,” she says. “I truly believe she changed my life, and that’s a strong statement to make. The changes with my body encouraged me to push on.”

Another motivation for her weight loss journey has been dating someone with Parkinson’s disease, who inspires her to be her healthiest self.

“He was with me at my heaviest and still wanted me for me,” says Byrne. “He doesn’t moan about his condition. When we first got together he was going to Pilates and would walk his dog three times a day. He was way more active than me. What excuse did I have not to exercise when he didn’t make any excuses?”

“I know I’m going to be with this man for the rest of my life, and we don’t know how Parkinson’s will affect him in the future, so I need to be strong for him because one day he may need me to be,” she continues. “I know he’s proud of me, and that inspires me to continue, because I’m so proud of him for not being defeated by something he has no control over.”

Byrne says her partner not only inspired her to be more active, but to be her best self inside and out.

“If I wasn’t happy with me, how could I expect anyone else to be?” she says. “My smile is a genuine one now, not masked. I’m happy.”


Weight Loss – Health.com

Almost 30% of People In the World Are Obese or Overweight

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

The global obesity epidemic continues, and a new report shows that about two billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. That’s about 30% of the world’s population.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that about a third of the global population—including adults and children—exceed a healthy weight. About 10% of people in the world are obese, according to the findings. Studies have linked overweight and obesity to a higher risk for health complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, respiratory problems, major cancers and more.

MORE: 9 Science-Backed Weight Loss Tips

The study authors looked at data from people in 195 countries and territories from 1980 through 2015. They found that in 2015, there were 107 million children and 603 million adults with obesity. Having a high body mass index accounted for 4 million deaths in 2015, and more than two thirds of these deaths were from heart disease.

Since 1980, obesity rates in 70 countries have doubled, the study found, and the rate of childhood obesity has increased faster in many countries than the adult obesity rate.

As TIME recently reported, several factors have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic, including greater access to fast food, larger portion sizes and ubiquitous processed food. Emerging science also suggests that chemicals from food and household products may have an effect.


Weight Loss – Health.com

Mom Who Weighed Over 300 Lbs. Was Determined to Lose Weight Without Surgery: How She Lost 145 Lbs.

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Tara Kavanagh has several obese family members, so she always believed she was “destined to be fat.”

The 5’7″ self-employed mom-of-three from Rapid City, South Dakota, 35, was already over 200 lbs. when she started having children, but her pregnancy weight brought her up to 304 lbs. After having her second child, she knew she wanted to make a change.

“I was a young mother of two little girls and in my early 20s when I decided I didn’t want to live the rest of my life obese and unhealthy anymore,” she tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to be an active mother and be able to play with my kids. I also wanted to live my life, not just exist. I wanted to experience new things and felt my size was holding me back.”

Some of Kavanagh’s family members had opted to undergo weight loss surgery, but had all ended up gaining their weight back. So she became determined to go a different route.

“For a long time I felt surgery was my only option for how big I was — there was no way I could lose so much weight on my own — but after seeing my relatives gain their weight back, I knew it wasn’t about the surgery,” she says. “It had to be about lifestyle, and I was determined to figure it out to prevent myself from spending all that money and going through all the pain of surgery for something that I never saw work long-term for anyone I knew who had it done.”

Kavanagh admits she had never stuck to workout routines in the past because she would get bored before seeing any results. When she started doing Jillian Michaels’ workouts (available on her app and FitFusion), she finally found a fitness program that she could stick to.

“Jillian’s workouts are always fun and I look forward to doing them,” she says. “Right when I would be getting the hang of one workout, another would come out, so I never got bored. Over the years I have also appreciated that there are a variety of intensity levels to most moves, so no matter what weight I was at I could get a good workout. I still do the same workouts as a fit person that I did as a 300-lb. person, I just up the intensity level now to get my killer workout!”

She also began paying more attention to what she ate.

“I used to eat because I was bored,” says Kavanagh. “I never thought about what I was eating, how many calories were in it, the quality of it, etc. I ate because it made me feel good.”

Initially, Kavanagh ate the same foods she always had, but started decreasing her portions.

“I knew if I changed too much too fast I would get overwhelmed and quit,” she says. “After the weight started to come off, it was addictive for me to learn healthier ways of eating. I turned my focus on calories after that, living by what I learned from Jillian: my calories in needed to be less than my calories out. I used her app along with a fitness tracker, and the weight came off so easily!”

Now Kavanagh focuses on eating unprocessed, non-GMO and organic as much as possible, and follows the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating.

“I still need my treats once in a while!” she says.

Losing 145 lbs. has given Kavanagh a whole new lease on life.

“The best part of losing the weight has been gaining the confidence to really live my life and try new things,” she says. “I don’t let my body hold me back anymore.”


Weight Loss – Health.com

Plus-Size Models Not Only Look Good, They Make Women Feel Better About Their Bodies

Women pay more attention to—and feel better after looking at—models who are average and plus-size compared to models who are thin. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Florida State University researchers, published last week in the journal Communication Monographs.

Women in the study also remembered more details about fashion models who were not super skinny, and they were less likely to compare themselves to women of more realistic proportions.

RELATED: The Best Body Positive Moments of 2016

The study involved 49 college-age women, all of whom considered themselves “average” weight but aspired to be thinner. The women were shown various images of fashion models—taken from the Macy’s and Target websites—who’d been classified by the researchers as either thin, average, or plus-size. (The plus-size models all appeared to be overweight or obese, but none were morbidly obese.)

After the women observed each image, they were asked to categorize the model based on her body type, rate how attractive and pleasant they perceived her, and indicate how much they compared themselves to her. They were also asked about their own levels of body satisfaction, and—as a “distractor question” meant to mask the true intent of the study—whether they planned to buy the clothing depicted in the image. The women were then shown an unrelated short video, and afterward were asked some questions to evaluate their memory about the models.

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Their responses revealed very different opinions toward models of different sizes. When thin women were on the screen, the participants made more comparisons to their own bodies, paid less attention, and remembered less about the models. They also reported less body satisfaction, which the researchers say can be bad for mental and physical health.

When viewing average and plus-size women, on the other hand, the participants paid better attention, remembered more, made fewer self-comparisons, and reported higher body satisfaction—despite the fact that they all admitted they wanted to be thinner.

RELATED: 15 Inspiring Things Celebrities Have Said About Dealing With Anxiety

“We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage of depicting the non-ideal body type in media campaigns,” the authors wrote in their paper. “These findings suggest that incorporating more realistically sized fashion models in the media might have its benefits in terms of improved health outcomes,” they add, including less dejection and more body satisfaction for a female audience.

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The study’s sample size was small and only included college-age women who wanted to lose weight, and the authors say their findings should be replicated with people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, and body images. But lead researcher Russell Clayton, PhD, director of the Cognition and Emotion Lab at FSU, tells Health that the findings “tell an interesting story about the current trend of depicting plus-size models in media campaigns.”

Clayton also says the study results can be eye-opening for women who do want to be thinner, in terms of how viewing images of realistic versus “ideal” body types might affect their self-confidence and personal body satisfaction. (That’s especially important in a world where media is inundated with unrealistic body goals—which, by the way, are often altered or strategically photographed.) The bottom line? Pay attention to how images of other women truly make you feel, not just whether they match your idea of the perfect figure.


Weight Loss – Health.com

5 Weight Loss Tips From People Who Have Actually Done It

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This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Most Americans want to lose weight, but it’s no simple feat. Just ask someone who’s done it.

That’s exactly what TIME did in a recent cover story looking at new weight loss science. After speaking to people who had successfully lost weight (after failing many times), it became clear that there’s no best way to go about it. Instead, evidence—both scientific and anecdotal—show that it’s possible for anyone to reach a healthy weight through a strategy that works best for them.

Here’s what worked for five people who lost weight and kept it off.

Go slow and steady

“I’ve been overweight my entire life. I’d try different diets, lose a few pounds and then gain it back. When I turned 25, I was 485 lb. and I knew I was fighting for my life. I want to have kids one day and be more active with my husband. I wanted to stop sitting on the sidelines of my own life. At the beginning of 2016, I started tracking my calories, working out and making healthier versions of the foods I loved. Ultimately, I fell in love with taking care of myself. My advice is to focus on each day, not how far you have to go. Weight loss is a journey, not a sprint.”

Lexi Reed, age 26, lost 278 lb. in 16 months

MORE: 9 Science-Backed Weight Loss Tips

Keep a journal

“Don’t just write down everything you eat. Write down how you feel that day, what is going on in your life and how you feel after eating. After a while, look through your journal for patterns. Chances are you’ll find some. I’m a recovering food addict, and nothing was more freeing than realizing what behaviors or events were triggering my addiction. It wasn’t that I had no willpower; my brain was reacting to certain habits that made it hard for my willpower to do its job. Once I removed those patterns—like keeping cookies around the house—my willpower muscle could finally flex.”

Erika Nicole Kendall, 33, lost 170 lb. over two years

Give yourself a break

“You don’t have to eat salad all the time to lose weight. There are so many ways to tweak ingredients and make food you actually love to eat—even pancakes. (Try almond flour.) That being said, the type of food you eat also defines your lifestyle. You can eat junk food and lose weight, but you will probably be hungry all the time. So give yourself an occasional cheat day or reward for sticking to your plan. In the end, you want to lose weight in a healthy way, without feeling like you’re hurting yourself.”

Nivedith Renga, age 26, lost 65 lb. in nine months

Find something that sticks

“When I graduated college in 2012, I was at my highest weight ever. I was embarrassed about my weight and what I looked like, and I was terrified of being the person in the gym who didn’t know what they were doing. I sat in my doctor’s office and remember deciding that I was going to do whatever it took, however long it took, to change my life. I tried a variety of different diets that worked, but I felt like I was losing my mind not being able to eat certain foods, and I hated that even though I was ‘losing weight’, I still had a really disordered relationship with food. Food is supposed to bring joy and happiness.

I decided to give ‘macro counting’ a whirl. It’s similar to calorie counting, but rather than keeping track of your calories, you keep track of the number of grams of protein, fat, and carbs you eat per day. Following this is what ended up giving me the biggest change overall. I felt like I wasn’t starving myself or depriving myself to lose weight. You have to find something you can stick to. What works for one person may not work for another. Whatever you choose, it has to be for life.”

Kelly Rojek, 27, lost 50 lb. in 18 months

Manage expectations

“You have to make slow and steady adjustments, that worked for me. I measured and weighed food to become more aware of portion size. I wrote down what I ate and ate more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day. I try to include protein in each meal to control hunger. I don’t deprive myself, and I’ve gotten rid of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. People could still look at me and consider me overweight. You have to accept you’re never going to be a willowy model, but I am at a very good weight that I can manage.”

Jody Jeans, 52, lost 75 lb. over five years.


Weight Loss – Health.com

9 Science-Backed Weight Loss Tips

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This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Losing weight is tough, both mentally and physically. New science shows that when the body starts to lose substantial amounts of weight, it fights viciously to gain it back. But despite the biological roadblocks, plenty of people are successful at losing weight and keeping it off over the long term.

But how? As part of its recent exploration of the new science of weight loss, TIME asked 9 weight loss and obesity experts their best advice for people who are trying to lose weight. Here are their top tips for what works when it comes to slimming down.

Cut out soda

“Avoid all sugary drinks, as they provide ’empty calories’ that don’t fill you up. The sugar may uniquely act on the liver to produce belly fat.”

—Dr. Dean Schillinger, chief of the University of California, San Francisco Division of General Internal Medicine

Don’t focus on calories

“The ‘calorie in, calorie out’ approach fails, because it disregards how food affects our hormones and metabolism. Pay attention to food quality.”

—Dr. David S. Ludwig, professor of nutrition at Harvard Medical School

MORE: You Asked: What’s the Best Way to Lose Weight?

Keep it basic

“The simple message is to eat a healthful diet and to engage in more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The challenge is how to actually accomplish that in an environment that seems to push us constantly in the wrong direction.”

—Dr. Stephen R. Daniels, pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital Colorado

TIME Health NewsletterGet the latest health and science news, plus: burning questions and expert tips. View Sample

Adjust your goal weight

“Aim to achieve and improve health and reach a psychologically ‘happy weight,’ not an unrealistic ‘ideal’ weight that may be impossible to reach for most.”

—Dr. Jaideep Behari, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Commit to change

“People need to have the mindset of someone who is ready and willing to make some permanent changes in the way they live. A number of treatments can create short-term weight loss without a great deal of effort from the person, but they don’t allow for long-term weight loss.”

—Dr. Michael Jensen, obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic

MORE: ‘I Swallowed a Balloon For Weight Loss and Lost 40 Lbs.’

Eat delicious food

“You need a program that satisfies hunger and has good food so it doesn’t feel like a diet. Hunger erodes willpower, and that’s the reason most diets fail.”

—Susan B. Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and founder of iDiet

Recruit support

“Make small changes that stick, make changes as a family and keep it positive.”

—Dr. Stephen Pont, medical director of the childhood obesity center at Dell Children’s Medical Center

Get educated

“The culprit is not bad choices by individuals. It is the toxic food environment in which calories are ubiquitous. Until the food environment changes, everyone must become aware of the calories they consume, especially those from beverages, sweets, and other calorie-dense foods.”

—Dr. Lawrence J. Appel, director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins University

MORE: If You Want to Lose Weight, Don’t Eat Out

Make friends with moderation

“A person can eat almost anything they want, but the portion size has to be appropriate. For example, eat dinner on a salad plate rather than a dinner plate to cut the portion size in half.”

—Melinda L. Irwin, professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health


Weight Loss – Health.com

The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working

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This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Like most people, Kevin Hall used to think the reason people get fat is simple.

“Why don’t they just eat less and exercise more?” he remembers thinking. Trained as a physicist, the calories-in-vs.-calories-burned equation for weight loss always made sense to him. But then his own research–and the contestants on a smash reality-TV show–proved him wrong.

Hall, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), started watching The Biggest Loser a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend. “I saw these folks stepping on scales, and they lost 20 lb. in a week,” he says. On the one hand, it tracked with widespread beliefs about weight loss: the workouts were punishing and the diets restrictive, so it stood to reason the men and women on the show would slim down. Still, 20 lb. in a week was a lot. To understand how they were doing it, he decided to study 14 of the contestants for a scientific paper.

RELATED: 8 Metabolism Secrets That Help You Blast Calories

Hall quickly learned that in reality-TV-land, a week doesn’t always translate into a precise seven days, but no matter: the weight being lost was real, speedy and huge. Over the course of the season, the contestants lost an average of 127 lb. each and about 64% of their body fat. If his study could uncover what was happening in their bodies on a physiological level, he thought, maybe he’d be able to help the staggering 71% of American adults who are overweight.

What he didn’t expect to learn was that even when the conditions for weight loss are TV-perfect–with a tough but motivating trainer, telegenic doctors, strict meal plans and killer workouts–the body will, in the long run, fight like hell to get that fat back. Over time, 13 of the 14 contestants Hall studied gained, on average, 66% of the weight they’d lost on the show, and four were heavier than they were before the competition.

That may be depressing enough to make even the most motivated dieter give up. “There’s this notion of why bother trying,” says Hall. But finding answers to the weight-loss puzzle has never been more critical. The vast majority of American adults are overweight; nearly 40% are clinically obese. And doctors now know that excess body fat dramatically increases the risk of serious health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, respiratory problems, major cancers and even fertility problems. A 2017 study found that obesity now drives more early preventable deaths in the U.S. than smoking. This has fueled a weight-loss industry worth $ 66.3 billion, selling everything from diet pills to meal plans to fancy gym memberships.

RELATED: How I Swam, Biked, and Ran My Way to a 70 Lb. Weight Loss

It’s also fueled a rise in research. Last year the NIH provided an estimated $ 931 million in funding for obesity research, including Hall’s, and that research is giving scientists a new understanding of why dieting is so hard, why keeping the weight off over time is even harder and why the prevailing wisdom about weight loss seems to work only sometimes–for some people.

What scientists are uncovering should bring fresh hope to the 155 million Americans who are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading researchers finally agree, for instance, that exercise, while critical to good health, is not an especially reliable way to keep off body fat over the long term. And the overly simplistic arithmetic of calories in vs. calories out has given way to the more nuanced understanding that it’s the composition of a person’s diet–rather than how much of it they can burn off working out–that sustains weight loss.

They also know that the best diet for you is very likely not the best diet for your next-door neighbor. Individual responses to different diets–from low fat and vegan to low carb and paleo–vary enormously. “Some people on a diet program lose 60 lb. and keep it off for two years, and other people follow the same program religiously, and they gain 5 lb.,” says Frank Sacks, a leading weight-loss researcher and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If we can figure out why, the potential to help people will be huge.”

 

Hall, Sacks and other scientists are showing that the key to weight loss appears to be highly personalized rather than trendy diets. And while weight loss will never be easy for anyone, the evidence is mounting that it’s possible for anyone to reach a healthy weight–people just need to find their best way there.

Dieting has been an American preoccupation since long before the obesity epidemic took off in the 1980s. In the 1830s, Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham touted a vegetarian diet that excluded spices, condiments and alcohol. At the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable to chew food until liquefied, sometimes up to 722 times before swallowing, thanks to the advice of a popular nutrition expert named Horace Fletcher. Lore has it that at about the same time, President William Howard Taft adopted a fairly contemporary plan–low fat, low calorie, with a daily food log–after he got stuck in a White House bathtub.

The concept of the calorie as a unit of energy had been studied and shared in scientific circles throughout Europe for some time, but it wasn’t until World War I that calorie counting became de rigueur in the U.S. Amid global food shortages, the American government needed a way to encourage people to cut back on their food intake, so it issued its first ever “scientific diet” for Americans, which had calorie counting at its core.

RELATED: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

In the following decades, when being rail-thin became ever more desirable, nearly all dieting advice stressed meals that were low calorie. There was the grapefruit diet of the 1930s (in which people ate half a grapefruit with every meal out of a belief that the fruit contained fat-burning enzymes) and the cabbage-soup diet of the 1950s (a flatulence-inducing plan in which people ate cabbage soup every day for a week alongside low-calorie meals).

The 1960s saw the beginning of the massive commercialization of dieting in the U.S. That’s when a New York housewife named Jean Nidetch began hosting friends at her home to talk about their issues with weight and dieting. Nidetch was a self-proclaimed cookie lover who had struggled for years to slim down. Her weekly meetings helped her so much–she lost 72 lb. in about a year–that she ultimately turned those living-room gatherings into a company called Weight Watchers. When it went public in 1968, she and her co-founders became millionaires overnight. Nearly half a century later, Weight Watchers remains one of the most commercially successful diet companies in the world, with 3.6 million active users and $ 1.2 billion in revenue in 2016.

What most of these diets had in common was an idea that is still popular today: eat fewer calories and you will lose weight. Even the low-fat craze that kicked off in the late 1970s–which was based on the intuitively appealing but incorrect notion that eating fat will make you fat–depended on the calorie-counting model of weight loss. (Since fatty foods are more calorie-dense than, say, plants, logic suggests that if you eat less of them, you will consume fewer calories overall, and then you’ll lose weight.)

That’s not what happened when people went low fat, though. The diet trend coincided with weight gain. In 1990, adults with obesity made up less than 15% of the U.S. population. By 2010, most states were reporting obesity in 25% or more of their populations. Today that has swelled to 40% of the adult population. For kids and teens, it’s 17%.

Research like Hall’s is beginning to explain why. As demoralizing as his initial findings were, they weren’t altogether surprising: more than 80% of people with obesity who lose weight gain it back. That’s because when you lose weight, your resting metabolism (how much energy your body uses when at rest) slows down–possibly an evolutionary holdover from the days when food scarcity was common.

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What Hall discovered, however–and what frankly startled him–was that even when the Biggest Loser contestants gained back some of their weight, their resting metabolism didn’t speed up along with it. Instead, in a cruel twist, it remained low, burning about 700 fewer calories per day than it did before they started losing weight in the first place. “When people see the slowing metabolism numbers,” says Hall, “their eyes bulge like, How is that even possible?”

The contestants lose a massive amount of weight in a relatively short period of time–admittedly not how most doctors recommend you lose weight–but research shows that the same slowing metabolism Hall observed tends to happen to regular Joes too. Most people who lose weight gain back the pounds they lost at a rate of 2 to 4 lb. per year.

For the 2.2 billion people around the world who are overweight, Hall’s findings can seem like a formula for failure–and, at the same time, scientific vindication. They show that it’s indeed biology, not simply a lack of willpower, that makes it so hard to lose weight. The findings also make it seem as if the body itself will sabotage any effort to keep weight off in the long term.

But a slower metabolism is not the full story. Despite the biological odds, there are many people who succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. Hall has seen it happen more times than he can count. The catch is that some people appear to succeed with almost every diet approach–it just varies from person to person.

“You take a bunch of people and randomly assign them to follow a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet,” Hall says. “You follow them for a couple of years, and what you tend to see is that average weight loss is almost no different between the two groups as a whole. But within each group, there are people who are very successful, people who don’t lose any weight and people who gain weight.”

Understanding what it is about a given diet that works for a given person remains the holy grail of weight-loss science. But experts are getting closer.

For the past 23 years, Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, has run the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as a way to track people who successfully lose weight and keep it off. “When we started it, the perspective was that almost no one succeeded at losing weight and keeping it off,” says James O. Hill, Wing’s collaborator and an obesity researcher at the University of Colorado. “We didn’t believe that was the case, but we didn’t know for sure because we didn’t have the data.”

To qualify for initial inclusion in the registry, a person must have lost at least 30 lb. and maintained that weight loss for a year or longer. Today the registry includes more than 10,000 people from across the 50 states with an average weight loss of 66 lb. per person. On average, people on the current list have kept off their weight for more than five years.

The most revealing detail about the registry: everyone on the list has lost significant amounts of weight–but in different ways. About 45% of them say they lost weight following various diets on their own, for instance, and 55% say they used a structured weight-loss program. And most of them had to try more than one diet before the weight loss stuck.

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The researchers have identified some similarities among them: 98% of the people in the study say they modified their diet in some way, with most cutting back on how much they ate in a given day. Another through line: 94% increased their physical activity, and the most popular form of exercise was walking.

“There’s nothing magical about what they do,” says Wing. “Some people emphasize exercise more than others, some follow low-carb diets, and some follow low-fat diets. The one commonality is that they had to make changes in their everyday behaviors.”

When asked how they’ve been able to keep the weight off, the vast majority of people in the study say they eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves at least once a week, watch fewer than 10 hours of television per week and exercise about an hour a day, on average.

The researchers have also looked at their attitudes and behavior. They found that most of them do not consider themselves Type A, dispelling the idea that only obsessive superplanners can stick to a diet. They learned that many successful dieters were self-described morning people. (Other research supports the anecdotal: for some reason, night owls tend to weigh more than larks.) The researchers also noticed that people with long-term weight loss tended to be motivated by something other than a slimmer waist–like a health scare or the desire to live a longer life, to be able to spend more time with loved ones.

The researchers at the NWCR say it’s unlikely that the people they study are somehow genetically endowed or blessed with a personality that makes weight loss easy for them. After all, most people in the study say they had failed several times before when they had tried to lose weight. Instead they were highly motivated, and they kept trying different things until they found something that worked for them.

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“Losing weight and keeping it off is hard, and if anyone tells you it’s easy, run the other way,” says Hill. “But it is absolutely possible, and when people do it, their lives are changed for the better.” (Hill came under fire in 2015 for his role as president of an obesity think tank funded by Coca-Cola. During his tenure there, the NWCR published one paper with partial funding from Coca-Cola, but the researchers say their study, which Hill was involved in, was not influenced by the soda giant’s financial support.)

Hill, Wing and their colleagues agree that perhaps the most encouraging lesson to be gleaned from their registry is the simplest: in a group of 10,000 real-life biggest losers, no two people lost the weight in quite the same way.

The Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa is founded on that thinking. When people enroll in its weight-loss program, they all start on the same six-month diet and exercise plan–but they are encouraged to diverge from the program, with the help of a physician, whenever they want, in order to figure out what works best for them. The program takes a whole-person approach to weight loss, which means that behavior, psychology and budget–not just biology–inform each person’s plan.

“We have a plan that involves getting enough calories and protein and so forth, but we are not married to it,” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert and the medical director of the clinic. “We try to understand where people are struggling, and then we adjust. Everyone here is doing things slightly differently.”

In most cases, people try a few different plans before they get it right. Jody Jeans, 52, an IT project manager in Ottawa, had been overweight since she was a child. When she came to the clinic in 2007, she was 5 ft. 4 in. tall and weighed 240 lb. Though she had lost weight in her 20s doing Weight Watchers, she gained it back after she lost a job and the stress led her to overeat. Jeans would wake up on a Monday and decide she was starting a diet, or never eating dessert again, only to scrap the plan a couple of days, if not hours, later. “Unless you’ve had a lot of weight to lose, you don’t understand what it’s like,” she says. “It’s overwhelming, and people look at you like it’s your fault.”

A March 2017 study found that people who internalize weight stigma have a harder time maintaining weight loss. That’s why most experts argue that pushing people toward health goals rather than a number on the scale can yield better results. “When you solely focus on weight, you may give up on changes in your life that would have positive benefits,” says the NIH’s Hall.

It took Jeans five years to lose 75 lb. while on a program at Freedhoff’s institute, but by paying attention to portion sizes, writing down all her meals and eating more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, she’s kept the weight off for an additional five years. She credits the slow, steady pace for her success. Though she’s never been especially motivated to exercise, she found it helpful to track her food each day, as well as make sure she ate enough filling protein and fiber–without having to rely on bland diet staples like grilled chicken over greens (hold the dressing). “I’m a foodie,” Jeans says. “If you told me I had to eat the same things every day, it would be torture.”

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Natalie Casagrande, 31, was on the same program that Jeans was on, but Freedhoff and his colleagues used a different approach with her. Casagrande’s weight had fluctuated throughout her life, and she had attempted dangerous diets like starving herself and exercising constantly for quick weight loss. One time, she even dropped from a size 14 to a size 0 in just a few months. When she signed up for the program, Casagrande weighed 173 lb. At 4 ft. 11 in., that meant she was clinically obese, which means having a body mass index of 30 or more.

Once she started working with the team at the Bariatric Medical Institute, Casagrande also tracked her food, but unlike Jeans, she never enjoyed the process. What she did love was exercise. She found her workouts easy to fit into her schedule, and she found them motivating. By meeting with the clinic’s psychologist, she also learned that she had generalized anxiety, which helped explain her bouts of emotional eating.

It took Casagrande three tries over three years before she finally lost substantial weight. During one of her relapse periods, she gained 10 lb. She tweaked her plan to focus more on cooking and managing her mental health and then tried again. Today she weighs 116 lb. and has maintained that weight for about a year. “It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what works,” she says. “Not every day is going to be perfect, but I’m here because I pushed through the bad days.”

Freedhoff says learning what variables are most important for each person–be they psychological, logistical, food-based–matters more to him than identifying one diet that works for everyone. “So long as we continue to pigeonhole people into certain diets without considering the individuals, the more likely we are to run into problems,” he says. That’s why a significant portion of his meetings with patients is spent talking about the person’s daily responsibilities, their socioeconomic status, their mental health, their comfort in the kitchen.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “that’s not the norm. The amount of effort needed to understand your patients is more than many doctors put in.”

In an August op-ed published in the journal the Lancet, Freedhoff and Hall jointly called on the scientific community to spend more time figuring out how doctors can help people sustain healthy lifestyles and less on what diet is best for weight loss. “Crowning a diet king because it delivers a clinically meaningless difference in body weight fuels diet hype, not diet help,” they write. “It’s high time we start helping.”

Exactly why weight loss can vary so much for people on the same diet plan still eludes scientists. “It’s the biggest open question in the field,” says the NIH’s Hall. “I wish I knew the answer.”

Some speculate it’s people’s genetics. Over the past several years, researchers have identified nearly 100 genetic markers that appear to be linked to being obese or being overweight, and there’s no doubt genes play an important role in how some people break down calories and store fat. But experts estimate that obesity-related genes account for just 3% of the differences between people’s sizes–and those same genes that predispose people to weight gain existed 30 years ago, and 100 years ago, suggesting that genes alone cannot explain the rapid rise in obesity.

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What’s more, a recent study of 9,000 people found that whether a person carried a gene variation associated with weight gain had no influence on his or her ability to lose weight. “We think this is good news,” says study author John Mathers, a professor of human nutrition at Newcastle University. “Carrying the high-risk form of the gene makes you more likely to be a bit heavier, but it shouldn’t prevent you from losing weight.”

Another area that has some scientists excited is the question of how weight gain is linked to chemicals we are exposed to every day–things like the bisphenol A (BPA) found in linings of canned-food containers and cash-register receipts, the flame retardants in sofas and mattresses, the pesticide residues on our food and the phthalates found in plastics and cosmetics. What these chemicals have in common is their ability to mimic human hormones, and some scientists worry they may be wreaking havoc on the delicate endocrine system, driving fat storage.

“The old paradigm was that poor diet and lack of exercise are underpinning obesity, but now we understand that chemical exposures are an important third factor in the origin of the obesity epidemic,” says Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at New York University’s School of Medicine. “Chemicals can disrupt hormones and metabolism, which can contribute to disease and disability.”

Another frontier scientists are exploring is how the microbiome–the trillions of bacteria that live inside and on the surface of the human body–may be influencing how the body metabolizes certain foods. Dr. Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, researchers for the Personalized Nutrition Project at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, believe the variation in diet success may lie in the way people’s microbiomes react to different foods.

In a 2015 study, Segal and Elinav gave 800 men and women devices that measured their blood-sugar levels every five minutes for a one-week period. They filled out questionnaires about their health, provided blood and stool samples and had their microbiomes sequenced. They also used a mobile app to record their food intake, sleep and exercise.

They found that blood-sugar levels varied widely among people after they ate, even when they ate the exact same meal. This suggests that umbrella recommendations for how to eat could be meaningless. “It was a major surprise to us,” says Segal.

The researchers developed an algorithm for each person in the trial using the data they gathered and found that they could accurately predict a person’s blood-sugar response to a given food on the basis of their microbiome. That’s why Elinav and Segal believe the next frontier in weight-loss science lies in the gut; they believe their algorithm could ultimately help doctors prescribe highly specific diets for people according to how they respond to different foods.

Unsurprisingly, there are enterprising businesses trying to cash in on this idea. Online supplement companies already hawk personalized probiotic pills, with testimonials from customers claiming they lost weight taking them.

So far, research to support the probiotic-pill approach to weight loss is scant. Ditto the genetic tests that claim to be able to tell you whether you’re better off on a low-carb diet or a vegan one.

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But as science continues to point toward personalization, there’s potential for new weight-loss products to flood the zone, some with more evidence than others.

When people are asked to envision their perfect size, many cite a dream weight loss up to three times as great as what a doctor might recommend. Given how difficult that can be to pull off, it’s no surprise so many people give up trying to lose weight altogether. It’s telling, if a bit of a downer, that in 2017, when Americans have never been heavier, fewer people than ever say they’re trying to lose weight.

But most people do not need to lose quite so much weight to improve their health. Research shows that with just a 10% loss of weight, people will experience noticeable changes in their blood pressure and blood sugar control, lowering their risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes–two of the costliest diseases in terms of health care dollars and human life.

For Ottawa’s Jody Jeans, recalibrating her expectations is what helped her finally lose weight in a healthy–and sustainable–way. People may look at her and see someone who could still afford to lose a few pounds, she says, but she’s proud of her current weight, and she is well within the range of what a good doctor would call healthy.

“You have to accept that you’re never going to be a willowy model,” she says. “But I am at a very good weight that I can manage.”


Weight Loss – Health.com