In recent months, the New York Times put out an article that chronicled the lives of those on Season 8 of NBC's the Biggest Loser. The jist: losing weight is challenging; keeping it off is nearly impossible. For the community of those trying to improve their bodies, that didn't land well. And what it failed to focus on is that it's not about the weight loss, but also about getting healthy: physically, emotionally and psychologically.
One of the best refutes we've read is this blog post from team at SF-based natural foods delivery company, Methodology.
In a recent New York Times article, a new study was profiled that tracked the contestants from Season 8 of “The Biggest Loser” for six years after leaving the show. The point of the study was to find out what happens to the body after extreme weight loss. What they found was that many of the contestants gained large amounts of weight back and some regained all or more of the weight within the study’s six-year timeframe.
The bomb they dropped: the body will fight to get back to its starting weight using a combination of metabolic slowing, as well as a smattering of hormones and brain chemicals that impact satiety and hunger signals. The results of which, leave the individual constantly ravenous and having to take in considerably fewer calories than expected for their size to compensate for the slower metabolism.
Well, #methodfam, we can see how this news can feel disheartening because contestants on “The Biggest Loser” had all the specialists, tools and time to focus on their weight loss; however, they also endured seven hours a day of insane workouts coupled with low calorie dieting. This study, though highly publicized, is just one of many that's continued to surface and suggest that extreme dieting may cause weight gain in the long run.
But!!! This doesn't mean that all hope is lost for the overweight and obese. Rather, it suggests that we may have been thinking about dieting and wellness all wrong.
While scientists are currently researching new medical interventions to combat these bodily responses to weight loss, this study shows us just how little is broadly understood about one of America’s biggest problems. We're a nation struggling with weight and obesity issues, and it affects everyone of all income levels. Maintaining a reasonable weight is really hard in this country because we're surrounded by a food supply littered with processed ingredients on nearly every shelf of every store and on nearly every menu of every restaurant. Even here in San Francisco, lauded as one of the healthiest cities in the country, we have to go out of our way to hunt down clean food. We live in a world where whole foods are the exception, rather than the norm.
If we truly want to help the 68 percent of our population who are currently overweight or obese, we need to demand more from everyone. More education, technology, and resources for doctors so that they can promote wellness more effectively. More resources available via insurance companies for those struggling with their weight. More investment into consumer products that help us understand and alleviate struggles with food. More responsibility from the food industry to create products that promote wellness. And more from Americans themselves to get educated on what's best for their unique body and to apply that information as part of a feasible, long-term lifestyle change.
The obesity epidemic won't be overcome by telling people to go on diets or exercise more. We've been doing that, and it hasn't been working. And, if nothing else, this study shows that it isn't that effective.
Obesity is a serious and complex issue that needs be addressed holistically and individually by everyone involved in feeding and treating Americans. And in doing so, we need to consider all the factors at play. Some of these include:
- What and how we eat
- How hard it is to lose weight and keep it off
- Mental Health
- Gut health
The Problem with Weight Loss as a Goal
We understand how “The Biggest Loser” is entertaining and inspiring for many. But when you break down the elements, the show also encapsulates the problematic way we address weight loss in this country:
- One former contestant in the Times piece described his pre-show self by using words like monster, subhuman and horrible
- The compulsive calories in, calories out narrative and a low fat, low calorie, boring approach to eating that ignores food quality, flavor and purity
- The trainers who use the contestants’ self-hatred to push them to continue exercising after they’ve just puked in a bucket on national television
While there's still a lot we don't understand about why the body gains and loses fat, we do know that the conventional approach of low calorie and extreme exercise isn't working. When we view food as an inconvenient necessity, view our bodies as an opponent and view ourselves as unlovable, it’s impossible to make any real changes.
In order to reach a place where long-term weight loss is possible, we as a society need to change the dialogue and the approach and shift our priorities to focus on wellness over weight. Embracing wellness will allow more people to realize long-term weight loss and in the process, be exposed to a healthier way of viewing food, their bodies, and themselves.
Here are three ways you can begin embracing wellness today.
1) Enjoy foods you love, that love you back
Food that's raised lovingly, naturally and is served in a pure, unprocessed state in reasonable portions.
A beautiful, nourishing meal that feeds the body and soul and tastes delicious isn't incompatible with weight loss. And it's something every American deserves to enjoy every meal, every day.
Our bodies are a reflection of our lifestyles, and we can't do anything long-term unless we enjoy it. With these principles in mind, we need to accept that we can't just diet to get to a goal weight then go back to eating cookies again. And that we can't lie to ourselves and say that we'll live on salads from now on. We need to take the time to discover foods that we can't wait to eat AND that also help us feel our absolute best.
Because once we regularly eat foods we love and that love us back, miraculous changes unfold and guide us to our ideal weight. Ideal weight meaning what you, at your healthiest, happen to weigh. This isn't a 6-week or even 6-month journey. This is forever. This is life.
The long and short of it is, to live the full and vibrant lives that we each deserve, we need food that nourishes our soul and our cells.
That means eating reasonable portions of food that's unprocessed, scrumptious, and nourishing and that leaves you feeling both satiated and happy.
2) Treat your body like it's your best friend
Your body performs a bazillion (real, scientific fact) functions a day. It's the ultimate multi-tasker and it does this for you 24/7 until the end of your life.
We should celebrate and respect our bodies for the beautiful, functional and complex entities that they are. Unique to you, your body comes with its own set of needs and challenges. Your body is your friend and partner in this life and should be treated that way.
When we hate our bodies, and then incidentally, hate ourselves as a consequence, we're out of sync with our bodies.
The "Biggest Loser" study, if nothing else, shows us how powerful our bodies are and how much respect they should be given. Knowing that after extreme weight loss and all the work it entails, your body can flip you the bird and do everything in its power to make you regain the weight, tells you a couple of things:
Treating your body as defective and evaluating its utility on appearance alone gets you bupkis. If the objective is health and well being, the weight loss will come. It may not be the body you see plastered all over the media, but it will be a more vibrant version of the body you have today.
Your body doesn’t like to be judged and punished. If you do it anyway, it will let you know its sentiments for a really long time.
So #methodfam, celebrate your bodies for what they do for you, nourish them with what they need, and then love them accordingly. Because if you don’t, it will slash your tires, TP your house and buy a bunch of really expensive shit on Amazon with your credit card.
3) Prioritize and practice self-love every day
PSA: We don’t do body shaming and you shouldn’t either. We hear it’s a gateway drug to self loathing and bad choices. The more you know.
Some of the contestants featured in the Times piece admit that despite all the work they put in on the show, their attitudes and unhealthy food relationships still linger. Our stance is that the root of a lot of health problems stem from a lack of self-love.
Self-love is all about treating yourself the way you’d treat your best friend, partner in life or your family members. It means giving yourself the gift of patience, accepting yourself as already whole, and extolling your virtues.
Self-love should be practiced across all facets of your life both consistently and consciously. When we love ourselves, we feel complete, whole and deserving of attentive self-care. Self-care is how we can ensure that we are loving ourselves daily and with intention. Removing processed foods, making adequate sleep a priority, and being diligent in managing stress are just a few ways you can practice self-care in your daily life. By making even small changes to your lifestyle, you can realize a dramatically improved sense of wellness.
When it comes to food, the most loving thing you can do for yourself is to get your mind right. By making the effort to establish a healthy, loving relationship with food, you set yourself up for long-term weight loss success. Loving yourself also means having standards. So, getting and staying informed on where your food comes from, how it was raised, how fresh it is and how specific foods affect your unique body, will help you determine the requirements that need to be met before that food goes down the hatch. You may not get your "dream body" but you may experience many other amazing benefits, such as peace of mind, clearer skin, better sleep, more energy, better sex, and more happiness. Any one of those sound pretty good to me.
Remember, hope is not lost. We may not have a magic bullet to weight loss, but your body is incredibly resilient and can perform miracles when you love yourself, nourish yourself, and be patient with yourself.
References / Further Reading
Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer.American Psychologist, 62(3), 220-233. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.62.3.220
Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H. R., Colditz, G. A. (2003). Relation Between Dieting and Weight Change Among Preadolescents and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 112(4), 900-906. doi:10.1542/peds.112.4.900
Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999–2010. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2012; 307(5):491–97.
Ebbeling, C. B., Swain, J. F., Feldman, H. A., Wong, W. W., Hachey, D. L., Garcia-Lago, E., & Ludwig, D. S. (2012). Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance. Jama, 307(24). doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607