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.
I couldn’t agree more with your points regarding compassion for oneself and others, and about the vegan diet being “way bigger and better” than just weight loss. Your blogs about this subject are timely for me and give me some support for relaxing and simply enjoying the delicious and abundant food I now eat as a relatively new (and still aspiring) vegan. In our culture it’s hard enough to eschew all animal foods, much less to follow additional restrictions for the sake of losing weight (often unsuccessfully as so much evidence attests).
I only recently discovered your site and am appreciative of it. Good wishes. Happy New Year!
Thanks so much, Mary. And congrats on your new vegan journey! Please let me know if you have questions.
I just read that New York Times article yesterday! It is a little discouraging, but I noticed that most participants studied had been on extremely calorie restricted diets of 500 or 800 calories per day. I’d love to see the effect of a more moderate approach. I’ve been tracking my calories since New Year’s and aiming for 2200 calories per day, which using an online calculator, I figured out would be the maintenance calorie level for my goal weight. So far, I have lost weight at that level and have not felt deprived or hungry (other than normal hunger just before meals).
For me, tracking my calories is preferable to eliminating all oils, treats, etc. If I’m tracking my food, I can still enjoy some olive oil drizzled on my pasta or a chocolate chip cookie and still lose weight.
Time will tell whether this higher calorie range will work for me for the long-term though. I just don’t want to get to a point where I’m eating a very low number of calories for weight loss and then as soon as I raise it back up to normal, I start gaining.
Rebekah . Are you counting fiber grams? I have kept off 60 pounds I lost 4 1/2 years ago just by keeping up with fiber. I did have to restrict calories at first to take it off and I exercised a lot. Now though, I pretty much eat what I want, like healthy low fat versions of cookies etc, but I make sure I’m getting 40 grams of fiber everyday. That’s worked for me. I still do moderate exercise like 30 mins of step aerobics, pilates 2 times a week and weight training 3 times a week.
I agree, Rebekah, that for some it can be better to track calories since it allows you to eat everything you want and just make adjustments accordingly. I also agree with the higher calorie approach.
And of course, myvegancookbook is right–lots of fiber is good!
In 2001, I was 43 & weighed 330# (I’m 6′). My female physician’s assistant ( who weighed close to my weight_ recommended weight-loss surgery. Thinking there had to be a better way, I decided to become vegetarian overnight. After researching the health problems associated with dairy & eggs I went vegan after a week as a vegetarian. Without counting calories & peddling a $99 Target excercycle in front of the TV I was down to 165# in 11 months. One thing these researchers don’t mention is the attitude of the people you know. I can’t think of one person who supported my weight loss, especially when they found out I turned vegan. My weight loss was ignored & I was accused by several people of being one of those ‘PETA wackos’. My wife accused me of losing weight so I could date other women. I had no idea that my fatness meant so much to so many people! One guy at work decided to go the Atkins route to prove that You don’t have to go vegan to lose weight. He lost about 20# for a couple months & now weighs more than ever.
Since then I have re-gained 20# & am at the top of my acceptable BMI, which I’ve learned to accept. I don’t count calories or fat grams & cook & bake about 75% of what I eat, which include brown rice, beans & whole wheat bread. In the spring summer & fall I ride my cheap 1-speed bike to work 30 miles round-trip when it’s not raining (or snowing), with an hour of free-weight training in my basement every other day. In the winter I have my Target Exercycle. At 54, I’m the healthiest person my age I know. My blood pressure & bloodwork are normal. I take NO prescription or OTC drugs & take a B12 & vitamin D supplement with my carrot juice every morning. I haven’t had a cold or the flu in 4+ years despite constant exposure to contagious people.
It should come as no surprise that I have influenced no one. The fat people I knew when I was fat are even fatter today. I’m alarmed to know that I have been doing it all wrong & should be counting every calorie & fat gram & should be constantly worrying about my weight all the time. When I see those nutrisystem, jenny craig commercials, the meals look like the same crap I used to eat.
Kim, that’s great that you’ve had success with managing your weight. And I’m sorry that some people have been so hostile to your efforts, but I also know that this isn’t necessarily unusual.
But, no one is suggesting that you should be counting calories or grams of fat or that your approach is “wrong.” Those quotes are in reference to what the research shows on how most people manage to keep significant amounts of weight off. People have different experiences and different outcomes, and that’s what we need to be sensitive to.
Reply to Kim story.
This is a very inspiring story. I am a vegetarian trying to become a vegan. Though, being a vegatarian saved me from many health problems that all my family has. At 45, I have no health problems, whereas all my family and even younger have cholesterol, diabeties, etc. I do about 5 hours or cardio per week. I come from a meat eater family and I am so glad I decided to stop eating meat. Now, I am trying to go vegan but do not want to cook so much. I am from Montreal Qc and we do not have much choice here for vegan products.
I can also rely on your story because in my family and family in law, they are all either very overweight or obese. I find it so cruel that they feed even little kids with all kinds of junk. It is like they want to repeat there obesity. They try to make everyone obese maybe so they do not have to look at themselves.
Anyways good luck to all and to me at becoming vegan.
Very interesting post! I lost 33 pounds and dropped 5 pants sizes in 2010 through a combination of starting to eat a vegan diet (though I did that for ethical reasons), focusing on strength training instead of just cardio, and WeightWatchers. (Though WeightWatchers was more about learning how to not eat for emotional reasons rather than simply tracking.) I continue to maintain my weight loss since reaching my goal weight September 2010. I still mostly track on WeightWatchers, but I credit my success mainly to: 1.) focusing on all the foods I should be eating instead of what I shouldn’t. As a vegan, I’m vigilant about getting the nutrients I need, and I find that if I eat everything I should (lots of fruits and veggies, dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and soy, and whole grains), I’m full and satisfied and don’t go into panicked-stress-starvation mode and let my eating get out of control. 2.) Allowing myself treats when I want them. I’m surprised that the article you mentioned said that successful maintainers never splurge. I’m the opposite! I bake my own treats so that I know exactly what’s in them and how many WeightWatchers points they are, but I don’t hesitate to have a cookie or cupcake or even white bread (my downfall) when I’m really craving it. Life without those things isn’t worth it to me! But I just make sure that I eat them only occasionally (usually once or twice a week), and that I’m in control when I eat them. 3.) I love to exercise, to the point that when I worked with a personal trainer to learn how to maintain my weight, he said I was over-exercising and advised me to cut back. For me, it’s difficult NOT to exercise as much as I’d like to because it’s such a passion for me. So I’m careful about not over-training and keep a balanced program of strength training, yoga, and running, plus lots of rest and recovery periods. For me, my routine is more about personal achievement than just a way to maintain my loss. For all these reasons, my maintenance hasn’t been as challenging as the articles you reference indicate, though it’s only been 1 year and four months, and I have the rest of my life to go…wish me luck!
It’s interesting to hear about your experience, Jennifer. But, I’ll bet that most of the successful weight-maintainers actually do “splurge” but in the same way that you do–by working treats into your overall plan. I think that the “never splurging” idea refers more to the fact that they never thoughtlessly add some big treat that isn’t in their plan.
I’m glad to know that you’ve found a way to include treats in yours!
Well done, and good luck, to all those who have had success in maintaining weight loss.
The only thing I would say is that the personal experience of most overweight people, the clinical experience and, now, the studies, show that most people do not maintain weight loss when that weight loss is achieved through diet. This is the reality that has to be accepted, and against which everything else is anecdotal and the luck of a minority.
Treatment for obesity can only move forward when the reality is accepted.
The part a vegan diet might play in weight loss and perhaps maintenance is that it is a restricted diet. Add to that the wish to avoid nutritional deficiencies, which means making certain food choices rather than others, and what you end up with is a reduced calorie diet. Also, for maintenance purposes, the commitment a person has to being vegan (vegan for ethical reasons) adds psychological impetus to continue that reduced calorie eating.
The problem is that Western culture does not want to accept the reality about weight loss maintenance because the hatred and fear of fat is very deeply ingrained and totally pervasive. It will take a long time before the science really seeps into how people think.
“The problem is that Western culture does not want to accept the reality about weight loss maintenance because the hatred and fear of fat is very deeply ingrained and totally pervasive.”
How are we are afraid of fat people when 38 percent of the country are obese, not overewight, OBESE? Pretty soon half the country will be obese and they will out number the slim people, scratch that, slim is gettin’ pretty rare in this country. It doesn’t take a study or studies to figure out why. It’s the quality of our (I hate to call it food) food , vegan and nonvegan, that most people are eating. It has nothing to do with “acceptance”, omg. And yes, please, let’s accept reality and stop pretending it’s not the crap food we are eating. Let’s stop pretending we need a new study so we can figure out what’s going on. Stop pretending it’s not because we need to move m ore.
“which means making certain food choices rather than others, and what you end up with is a reduced calorie diet.”
It’s called making smart choices. Why have the full fat peanut butter cookie when you can have the whole wheat low fat version? It’s not making sacrafices and its not being restrictive, it’s adjusting your taste buds, so that we stop craving all of this food that’s pumped full of unnatural colors and additives and unneeded fat and calories. It’s about eating a whole apple instead of drinking the overly sweetened apple juice. Feeding the body. Not drinking 500 or 800 calorie shakes and then falling apart because you are unable to lose the weight. And then saying that science needs to figure out why these women didn’t have the clear thinking to stick to their diet and the mental willpower to starve themselves. What kind of clown show were those studies? Omg, don’t even get me started again.
Goodness, myvegancookbook. Judgmental a little? When it comes to giant metaphorical farts like you just made, I follow a simple rule – she/he who smelt it probably dealt it.
Its entirely possible that you are the clown here.
I make smart choices for myself that include a lot of good whole foods and some processed foods that feel comfortable to me. I follow my body’s signals and create a life for myself that is good and in balance. I am OBESE, although I rarely bother to put that in all caps. A few years ago, I lost about 20% of my body mass cleaning up my lifestyle and I’ve kept it off. I don’t hate and I don’t listen to people who would focus anger at my body for being fat. I love my body as it is and treat it well. That includes never following the advise of people who think OMG OBESITY WILL KILL THE COUNTY AND HAND OVER OUR CHILDREN TO ZOMBIES! I listen to people who love themselves and have an open mind towards people of all sizes.
How can misogyny be so pervasive when half of the population is female?
@Barefeet Aha, there it is, fat shaming. If you try to have an honest discussion about the obesity epidemic it’s bound to happen. You forgot to add that everyone who tries to dig their way out of modern day food addiction is orthorexic.
@ Anna If you want a very good example of misogyny, check out those studies where they starved those women. If a man wasn’t behind that I’ll eat my hat. Why doesn’t that enrage you?
Anna- I think its because women buy into it. We’ve been fed misogyny since we were too young to analyze it, so we don’t see all of the ways that it permiates our thinking. We don’t understand that when we judge other womens’ bodies, we are reafferming the idea that its OK to judge any woman on her body. We also reafferm that its OK to make blanket statements about a being’s worth, based on their appearance or abilities. That’s why speciesism and sexism are interconnected. Any time you deside that one way of being makes any group superior, you demean us all.
Not sure if you allow posting video links, I’ve tried before but they have been deleted but this video is very relevant to the discussion here. It will only be up for a limited time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAdqLB6bTuQ
I have struggled with my weight forever. Turning vegetarian (and about 85% vegan) has not totally eliminated the struggle, but has helped contain it – I now struggle with about 10-20 extra pounds, rather than 85!
I did have a question, though – are nut butter sandwiches healthy for weight loss or not (I eat organic almond butter and peanut butter sandwiches? I need something that I can pack for work every day, that gives me energy, and somehow I have a hard time being satisfied without a sandwich (conditioning, I guess, lol).
myvegancookbook – “How are we are afraid of fat people when 38 percent of the country are obese, not overewight, OBESE?” The fact that 38% of the population are obese does not mean that there can’t exist very strong negatve attitudes towards fat people.
“And yes, please, let’s accept reality and stop pretending it’s not the crap food we are eating.” Crap food is probably a significant part of the problem with people becoming obese. However, does that mean we should ignore other factors? Weren’t you fascinated by that twins studies referred to in the New York Times article, which suggested that weight gain, distribution of weight, and weight loss have genetic factors?
” it’s adjusting your taste buds, so that we stop craving all of this food that’s pumped full of unnatural colors and additives and unneeded fat and calories” – this assumes that we have/can have control over appetite. Can we? Is the research that suggests evolutionary, genetic and hormonal bearings on appetite so have candyfloss? Didn’t the New York Times article show that people maintaining weight loss don’t change their appetite, they just spend their lives monitoring everything they put in their mouths?
This topic is mostly about maintenance of weight loss. As things stand diet and exercise does not have much success in the overall population in terms of maintaining weight loss. Bariatric surgery has much better success. I am no advocate of bariatric surgery. If we want a treatment for obesity other than bariatric surgery we have to move on from the diet and exercise failure-mantra. That doesn’t mean that diet and exercise may not be part of an overall plan but it does seem that something else is needed aswell. Until then, it is an atypical minority who will maintain weight loss through diet and exercise.
“What kind of clown show were those studies?” Are you saying that these studies were methodologically unsound and should have been spurned by peers in the field? Couldn’t the studies have been sound (in terms of what they set out to do), but just be stages on the path to understanding obesity, and therefore require more studies to validate, critique, enlarge, clarify?
The real point I want to make is that obesity is complicated, and it needs science.
Thank, Britgan. This is indeed the whole point–that obesity and weight control are complicated, so we need research to determine best approaches–not anecdotes. I think you’ve summed up the issues/questions very well.
Although some of the studies used questionable approaches–like those extremely low calorie ones–that doesn’t rule out the results of the many good studies, or the opinions of the obesity experts.
“The real point I want to make is that obesity is complicated, and it needs science.”
I think that’s the problem, this desire to want to believe it’s more complicated. Because it couldn’t possibly be as simple as making minor adjustments to your diet. But if you watched the video link I posted you see that it is that simple. Emotional baggage, stress, availability of food, all of that doesn’t matter. Yes, genetics do play some part, but it still doesn’t explain away why we as Americans are getting so obese. And the real good news as mentioned in that video is that it’s not our faults we are obese. It’s not because we have failed as human beings or have no will power. Some of us are going to be rounder, lankier, shorter, that’s where genetics plays a part. That’s where acceptance comes in. Who wants to accept that they are 250 pounds overweight and can’t tie their own shoes?
“Bariatric surgery has much better success.”
Don’t even get me started on what a massive load Bariatric surgery is. Those that have Bariatric surgery still have to do what everyone else has to do to loose weight. Look at Carnie Wilson now. She’s fat once again and claiming she’s learned to accept it. Those that are successful with Bariatric make lifestyle changes just like everyone else that loses and keeps the weight off.
Again, watch that video and all of your questions are given answers. Why isn’t the NYT reporting about this? Why haven’t the clowns or “experts” feeding women 500 calories a day figuring this out? You have to ask yourself.
I haven’t watched the video (and you’re right that I don’t especially like to link out to videos and other questionable sources of information) but I read some of the information on Dr. Lisle’s site, and I don’t see anything there that considers the actual research on obesity. It all sounds like the usual “eat a whole foods vegan diet that restricts certain foods and you’ll lose weight” approach. Again, where is the actual research to back this up?
“eat a whole foods vegan diet that restricts certain foods and you’ll lose weight”
That’s not what he says in the video exactly. He gives an example of a woman who was eating SAD and all he did was have her eat oatmeal for breakfast and gave her permission to put anything in it and eat it with anything else. She did and she lost 78 pounds. His suggestion is closer to mine, worry about your fiber intake, make small adjustments that over time have big effects. Please do watch the video. I promise you won’t be disappointed. He discusses things like law of satiety (nutrients, fat and stretch receptors), some really interesting stuff. As far as research what has the research on obesity taught us so far? Not much, everyone is more and more confused. lol You watch the video and you just automatically get it, it cuts through the hoopla. This guy knows what he’s talking about. That’s my opinion anyways.
myvegancookbook -“As far as research what has the research on obesity taught us so far? Not much, everyone is more and more confused.” Yeah, that’s called science. Or rather that is the process science has to go through – an accumulation of studies – which may at times contradict each other – until something clear emerges that allows consensus to form. As far as I can see one thing that has emerged CLEARLY from obesity studies is that it is complicated. This complexity is not a reason to throw up one’s hands, say this is obviously getting nowhere, and look for a simple answer – it is a reason to keep going with the studies.
I also get the impression that there is one idea in obesity studies that has retained some credibility, and it’s an idea that seems to have been around for quite some time. It used to called the set-point theory – the idea that the body sets its adjustment for weight to whatever weight it has got used to. If that is 280 pounds, then that is 280 pounds. It is encouraging that the body allows the loss of 10% before it goes into salvage mode. I think you are quite right to focus on the very low calorie diets used in the studies referred to in the New York Times article. But I imagine one of the reasons they were used was because it was necessary to achieve sufficient weight loss in the subjects in very controlled circumstances, and such circumstances, understandably, required quick weight loss to keep the time of control manageable. New studies that look into slow weight loss will have to work out a way to maintain controlled circumstances – if they don’t that could be seen as a flaw in the experiment.
Three more points. First, “Those that are successful with Bariatric make lifestyle changes just like everyone else that loses and keeps the weight off.” Yes, people who have bariatric surgery do have to follow a strict regime – bariatric surgery is a serious procedure requiring life-long follow-up. However, the real point is that those who have had bariatric surgery have a significantly better result in maintaining weight loss than those who just go the diet and exercise path – the surgery makes a difference. It doesn’t work for everyone, ofcourse not, but it has greater success.
Secondly, Dr Lisle – can you point us to the methodologically sound scientific studies he has been a part of? The oatmeal for breakfast thing – has he carried out an experiment with a suitable sample of subjects, eliminating variables as much as possible, etc, etc, and had this work published somewhere where it can be peer-reviewed. Has such work be confirmed by other sound studies, so that we can see his results are not mere anomaly? And, is Gina right that he doesn’t obviously take on board the research in obesity there is so far? “This guy knows what he’s talking about.” The thing is he has to prove that what he is saying really stands up.
And lastly, what appears to be a negative view of the maintenance of weight loss, is not in any way decrying or undermining those who have achieved it through the diet and exercise mode. It is just saying that that mode, decade after decade, has a low rate of success in the general population. It is inevitable that some people will try to tweak it and announce that they have found the answer. But it all reminds me of diabetes before the discovery of insulin. Doctors knew that food was crucial in diabetes, and they tried to treat it with special diets, but those diets repeatedly failed. It wasn’t that diet wasn’t a part of the answer but something else was needed – and that was insulin.
“It is just saying that that mode, decade after decade, has a low rate of success in the general population.”
Is this because the addiction to modern day foods is so difficult to break they go back to eating overly processed foods or because the diet just stops working no matter what they eat?
The fact that there are how many species on the planet and only 3 have problems with obesity, cats, dogs and humans. And when you think about what those 3 species have in common, overly processed foods. That is so clear, no research is needed. I mean, sure we could probably come up with a 100 studies to do before we took that information and acted appropriately and started to clean up our diets. We could research every minute reason why our body reacts to the overly processed food. Wait 50 years before all the researchers came to an agreement… It’s like T. Colin Campbell says about some cancer research, they can’t see the forest for the trees.
Dr. Oz today will be about food addiction, debating if it exists, should be interesting. Dr. Neal Barnard will be arguing that it does.
By the way, have you watched that video link yet and if so what did you think?
myvegancookbook – “By the way, have you watched that video link yet and if so what did you think?” Sorry not to reply sooner, but I haven’t viewed this site for a few days.
Yes, I have watched the link. I found it interesting. However, Lisle spends most of the time laying the foundations for his hypothesis, and not enough time in proving it. But the talk was probably tailored for the audience. What is necessary is the controlled, scientific studies that will test the hypothesis. Results with his clients do not constitute scientific proof – they are observations. Observing correlations and extrapolating from them is not proving a causal link.
Also there is a need for long-term studies to show how well people following this diet maintain weight loss. There is no mystery to weight loss, and no mystery in what Lisle proposes for weight loss – it is basically calorie reduction or restriction. The issue that desperately needs understanding is the maintenance of weight loss.
However, if people find his ideas useful, good luck to them, they could certainly do a lot worse.
I disagree with this statement, as it relates to me anyway:
“There is no such thing as an “eat all you want and lose weight” diet unless your food choices are pretty limited.”
I lost over lbs in 8 months just by switching to a 100% vegan diet. I went from 275 to 172, got off about $1000 in meds per month to zero meds, no longer suffer from type 2 diabetes, and eat all I want of a full spectrum vegan diet.
The difference before is I my dinner used to be something like a large pizza, a quart of icecream, and a box of pop tarts. Now I still eat large quantities of food, probably two times normal servings, but only eat a diet consisting of organic whole plant based foods with zero animal proteins. I’m at my high school weight and in the best shape of my life.
Also now I exercise, where I didn’t before. I’m the farthest thing from a medical professional, but after all the failures and misinformation I’ve experienced and continue to see with the medical profession, I also believe I’m my own best doctor. So while the greatest benefits come with proper nutrition and a complete plant based diet, moderate aerobic exercise for an hour 4 or 5 times a week are necessary to make my metabolism work properly. But with that combination, I feel like I’ve discovered the secret to life.
God bless you on your journey.