I want to offer a bit of follow-up to my last post on weight control, and address some of the comments and emails that the post generated by looking at three important questions.

Is it possible to maintain a weight loss? Absolutely. By no means do I want anyone to think that they are completely doomed to gain back weight that they’ve lost. But for many, long term maintenance of weight loss is difficult, and it’s good to understand that there are real reasons for this. In the meta-analysis that I referred to in my last post, the authors summarized some of this difficulty:

Health care professionals and participants often express frustrations, believing that if a reduced energy intake is maintained (or decreased even further as was done in some studies) weight loss should continue. This appears not to happen, even when weight loss interventions are continued. However, if weight-loss interventions are discontinued entirely, weight regain is likely to occur.

Although we’d love to say that the “new way of eating” that supports weight management eventually becomes second nature, the truth is that it’s a full-time job for some people. In the New York Times article referenced in my last post, Dr. Kelly Brownell of Yale University—who has been at the forefront of obesity research for decades—said this about people who successfully maintain a weight loss: “You find these people are incredibly vigilant about maintaining their weight. Years later they are paying attention to every calorie, spending an hour a day on exercise. They never don’t think about their weight.”

An article in last Thursday’s Chicago Tribune summarized the strategies that have been successful for people registered with the National Weight Control Registry. This is a database of people who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for a year or longer. Among their common habits: They practice “consistency — relatively little food variety and the same pattern daily; no splurging.” And they monitor themselves with weekly weigh-ins, and calorie or fat gram tracking.”

The Chicago Tribune touted this as “Good news on the weight loss front.” Seriously? It’s “good news” that some people maintain their weight loss only because they never have a treat, and they obsessively monitor every bite of food?

Certainly this is not true for every single individual who loses weight. Some people maintain their weight loss with relative ease. And I share these quotes from experts not to be depressing or discouraging, but so that you can have compassion for yourself if you haven’t been successful with weight loss. As well as compassion for others who struggle to lose weight. An inability to maintain a permanent weight loss is not a personal failure. And it does not mean that a person doesn’t care about his or her health.

So…should you try to lose weight?

I’m certainly not-anti weight loss, and I’ve given suggestions for how to maximize success with weight control. But whether or not you should be counting calories is a personal decision based on your own experience and goals. For those who have struggled unsuccessfully with weight management all of their lives, a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t focus on weight loss—exactly the same recommendation we would make to anyone, no matter what their body size—may be the better choice. (Take a look at the stories on the Stop Chasing Skinny blog for some inspiration.)

What’s the vegan issue? Whether or not someone will automatically lose weight on a vegan diet depends on what their diet was like before and their current vegan choices. But generally, veganism becomes a weight loss diet only when it incorporates enough food restrictions to guarantee reduced calorie intake. There is no such thing as an “eat all you want and lose weight” diet unless your food choices are pretty limited. This turns veganism into just another “diet.” And veganism—which is for everyone, whether or not they want to lose weight—is way bigger and better than that.