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Is it possible to keep off a lot of lost weight? No. Yes. Maybe.

Monday, September 10, 2007

For the Overweight, Bad Advice by the Spoonful - New York Times

New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata writes today about the fact that most people who lose a lot of weight can't keep it off through diet and exercise. Why not? "Many of the so-called facts about obesity, [scientists] say, amount to speculation or oversimplification of the medical evidence. Diet and exercise do matter, they now know, but these environmental influences alone do not determine an individual's weight. Body composition also is dictated by DNA and monitored by the brain. Bypassing these physical systems is not just a matter of willpower." And besides that, "exercise" usually means something not very intense.

Kolata's 2007 book Rethinking Thin goes into a lot more detail about how this pessimistic-sounding prognosis was arrived at. It also describes some of the barely-understood body systems and genes that make it so hard to keep off a significant amount of lost weight with willpower. (That is, more than 10 percent of starting weight, according to Rethinking Thin.)

But here's an idea for those of us who don't mind a really hard workout. Rather than believing that significant, permanent weight loss is impossible, let's resolve to stay "fitter than just about anybody we know" at whatever weight we can. The factor that Rethinking Thin and the studies it cites don't take into account (as far as I can tell) is intense, frequent, really hard exercise. My weight loss in 2000 amounted to 14 percent of my starting weight, so statistically I should have gained it back plus more by now, seven years later. What has allowed me to keep the weight off? After three years in a boxing gym and three years of CrossFitting, the answer seems obvious.

Wouldn't it be cool if someone studied this: Lose 15 percent of body weight; start CrossFitting; eat healthy whole foods 80 percent of the time and don't beat yourself up about the rest. Would those people have any better luck in keeping the extra weight off, as I have? Even a purely anecdotal study of CrossFitters who dieted to lose weight early in their CrossFitting life would be very interesting. And regardless of the results, these people would be fit and that's worthwhile even if a person carries some extra weight.

The Times story linked above points out some widely ignored facts about "calories in - calories out," calorie counting, and the "astonishing control" the brain exerts over body composition. Read it if you're interested in weight control. And if you like the article, I think you'd like the book too.