July 13, 2008

Unrealistic Weight Goals Make Us Fat

I first posted the following entry on the Low Carb Friends bbs. Quite a lot of people wrote that they found it helpful, so I thought I'd reprint it here:

Looking at everyone's weight loss stats--starting/current/goal--my own included--has been making me think deeply about a phenomenon that I've observed happen a lot over my decade of hanging out on low carb diet discussion groups.

Almost everyone who sticks with the diet loses a significant amount of weight.

Almost no one gets to their stated goal.

Most of us stall out at a weight considerably higher than our goal and when we do, over time, we end up feeling frustrated, lose the motivation to stick with our diets, and all too often end up getting into eating habits that put the weight back on us.

This isn't because anything is wrong with us. It is exactly what every major study of every diet ever tested shows happens to most dieters.

But our strong, negative psychological reaction to not getting to goal undermines the good of what we can achieve with weight loss.

I think we need to realize how dangerous this frustration is. When someone posts about a stall, give suggestions, of course, but also remind people of what they have already achieved. Celebrate that 20, 30, 40 or 50 pounds they have lost. Because if the focus stays on the stall too long, those pounds will be coming back.

Think of it this way: Maintenance starts the day you lose 3 pounds of fat (i.e. not the water we all lose when we go into ketosis.) Maintenance is the most important part of dieting. Start celebrating not pounds to goal but DAYS IN MAINTENANCE--maintenance of the weight loss you have already achieved.

I've managed to lose a whopping 2 real lbs over 6 weeks of ridiculously stringent, book perfect low carb dieting. Frustrating? YES. But I also am in YEAR SIX of maintaining my original weight loss. And I weigh 26 lbs less than I did ten years ago.

Will I get to my new weight goal? (Which mostly means getting the flab off my tummy that got put on during my two months of using Lantus). Maybe. Maybe not.

Will I maintain my current weight? THAT is nonnegotiable.

A couple other thoughts that sprang from reactions others posted to this thread:

1. Most of us seem to stall out very seriously when we've lost about 20% of our starting weight. Some of us permanently. But 20% is far more than all the studies show most people ever lose. If you can lose 20% of your starting weight, no matter what that weight might have been, you will experience health benefits. Concentrate on percentage of starting weight rather than absolute numbers and treat anything over 20% as gravy!

2. If you have been very heavy for any period of time, your body will have built a lot of bone and put on additional muscle just to help you carry that weight around. That bone and muscle does not go away when you lose weight and it can be surprisingly heavy. So no matter what you might have once weighed, if you have ever been obese, expect your final, healthy weight to be 20 or more pounds heavier than what might have been a good weight for you before the weight gain.

3. When you are dealing with both diabetes and weight issues, blood sugar control comes first. Despite all the constant repetition in the media of how dangerous obesity is, the truth is that it is not obesity per se that damages health but the high blood pressure and high blood sugar that so often accompany obesity.

In fact, what the media don't tell you is that there is something called "The obesity paradox." What that means is this: Though obese people are more likely to have heart attacks, they are also more likely to survive them!

Finally, it's worth noting that Dr. Nir Barzilai, who has been conducting a long-term study of people who live to be 100 years old reported to the media that fully one third of the centenarians he studies had been obese in their 50s!

Bottom line: Take care of your blood sugar and blood pressure first. Work on getting that 20% of starting weight off that realistically is what most people can accomplish. Celebrate your success every day. Maintenance starts the day you lose 3 lbs!


Anonymous said...

Jenny - this was a really good post. I wonder if all that extra bone mass us former fat people developed has any effect on the obesity paradox, fractures are a life threat as we get older. Another factor, those of us who went into the intense exercise mode at the same time also make significant muscle and possibly bone mass increases

Anonymous said...

Jenny, thanks for the insight on weight loss and ideal weight. I would like to not be in a stall right now but the bigger problem is how bad I feel 2 hours after my low carb breakfast. I'm not diabetic, have been low carbing since reading Taubes' book last October and I'm having the same l, 2 hours later low blood sugar/high insulin that Jimmy Moore is having and blogging about. I've tried lots of ideas and the one that works best is your suggestion of the "2 Gram Cure". It clears my head and stops the shakes and I feel just about normal in 15 minutes. Would you give me you opinion, is it OK to do this cure once or twice each day? Do you have any other ideas?
Many thanks for your great blog.

Jenny said...

I'm not sure why you would get an insulin surge 2 hours after eating a truly low carb breakfast.

But if that really is what is happening you might try adding a 6 gram whole wheat cracker to your breakfast and eat less protein so that you don't have protein digesting into glucose if that is in fact what is happening.

Other than that, two grams of glucose every morning should not be a problem, but if it were me, I'd want to eliminate hypos--assuming they really were hypos.

I'd also want to be sure it wasn't a reaction to caffeine. I had to cut back on my coffee intake when I dropped my carbs another notch because I was getting serious jitters a few hours after my second cup. No lows and the only insulin I get in the morning is what I inject.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, it might be the coffee. I just don't want to give it up. My husband roasts a new batch each few days and it is heavenly. I'll give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reassurance that where my weight is now is OK. I've been at the same five-pound range for a year now, which is 35-40 pounds lighter than my highest four years ago, but 15-20 pounds higher than when I finished college (and the great weight gain began).

I don't think my body looks THAT different than it did ten years ago when I finished college (and neither does my husband - ha!), other than stretch marks. The 20-lb bone mass theory makes sense.