Chasing a different body weight: what are you trying to compensate for?

Arnold-Schwarzenegger

It seems that whenever we feel that we are lacking something, we usually try very hard to compensate for that lack. The kind of lack that we want to compensate the most is any type of inner lack, for example a lack of self-esteem, self-compassion or feeling inadequate in some way, for example by not conforming to current body shape ideals.

And when we have this much focus on bodies and appearance, it is more or less impossible to feel totally fulfilled in the way we look, because we are constantly bombarded with messages of how the “perfect” body should look, i.e. how you should look. This is all a cynical sham of course. Most if not all of those pictures of slim, toned and tanned bodies we see in advertising have been photoshopped beyond belief.

Companies are very good at making us feel a particular type of lack that their service or product can compensate for, maybe a new car (the old one is not good enough), plastic surgery (your body is not pretty enough) or weight loss (you don’t want to look fat while on the beach this summer), etc. Buying something for ourselves can obviously perk us up a bit but we also know that this effect is very short-lived, a mere rush, unless there is a genuine internal change (which usually takes time and effort).

Since body weight is very much influenced by our internal beliefs, thoughts, feelings and emotions, we can help ourselves improve on those internal factors by understanding more about what we are trying to compensate. For example, if we feel that our current weight is not appropriate, then we have negative thoughts, feelings and emotions about our body that we need to be aware of. Perhaps you were told as a child that you needed to lose weight by a parent, a teacher, a coach, i.e. you were told that there was something wrong with the way you looked. Maybe you then internalized those beliefs, which then started to influence your thoughts, feelings and emotions regarding your appearance and body weight.

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If you are running around from one diet to the next, perhaps it is time to look at those negative beliefs, thoughts, feelings and emotions, to see where they come from, and start practicing greater body acceptance instead to gradually reduce those negative internals factors. You will certainly feel better about yourself, and you will be much less vulnerable in the future to negative outside influences, e.g. advertising that promotes unrealistic body shape ideals.

How can we possibly prevent obesity when there is so much inequality?

Make no mistake about it: wealth inequality is one of the main drivers of health and disease generally. Inequality is strongly associated with outcomes such as obesity, depression, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, etc. The list is very long.

Given that inequality is reaching new heights every day it seems, we have to ask ourselves how we can possibly hope to prevent obesity, and other major diseases, in the face of this massive inequality? Please watch this short and very informative video of how skew the distribution of wealth really is.

http://consciouslifenews.com/viral-video-us-wealth-inequality/#

If you have the time, you can also listen to self-confessed plutocrat Nick Hanauer talk about how the pitchforks will come out soon if this situation is not remedied.

Indeed, the situation in the US, the UK and elsewhere is not unlike the pre-revolution situation in France some 225-230 years ago. The good thing is that a financial crisis like we have today can act as a very powerful catalyst for replacing the current dysfunctional economy, that only works for the wealthy few, with something that allows everyone to thrive.

Because obesity mostly affects the poor, it is not surprising that the epidemic is doing so well, since more and more people are crossing the poverty line and the middle class is being squeezed. How would you react if you were below that poverty line, and you were being told to buy more vegetables and exercise more, when you are working 2-3 jobs just to stay alive and put food on the table, and not knowing if you are going to have any job next month or even next week?

If governments were really serious about preventing disease, they should first do their utmost to reduce wealth inequality. Only then will it be realistic to expect our prevention programs to have any kind of positive effect on the obesity epidemic.

Erik Hemmingsson

Why is long-lasting weight loss so hard?

Losing weight is not easy. Not at all. But keeping it off is even harder. This is not new knowledge, but it is only recently that we have started to find out why it’s so hard to keep it off. Last year, I was working with some colleagues on a meta-analysis that evaluated different strategies for keeping weight off after a period of rapid weight loss using a very low calorie diet (<1000 kcal/d). We evaluated different types of diets (low GI, high protein, and so on) and supplements, exercise and finally anti-obesity drugs.

What we found was pretty depressing: none of the strategies were very effective at helping people keep the weight off. This much we were able to conclusively prove.

This got me thinking about how the body defends against weight loss. I concluded that there are at least three types of primary defenses against weight loss, all of them powerful and hard to dodge for anyone wanting to lose weight long-term. Moreover, the defenses operate according to the rubber band principle: the more weight you lose, the more defense activation, and hence weight regain, you are likely to experience.

First, once weight loss occurs the body will increase circulation of appetite increasing hormones and peptides, such as ghrelin (increases hunger) and leptin (increases satiety). Sure, you can override this cognitively, at least for a while, but you are basically swimming upstream from now on. It’s doable, just not very easy.

The second line of defense is called adaptive thermogenesis. This means that your body goes into calorie saving mode once you have shed some weight, and you will now burn a lot fewer calories during both rest and exercise. This reduction in metabolism is a lot lower that what we would normally expect as a result of having a lighter body.

The third line of defense is behavioral relapse into old habits. Some habits are formed early in life and are manifested in the brain. By losing weight you needed to change your old eating and exercise habits and form new ones. But those “highways” in the brain didn’t just go away, they are still there. And we are indeed creatures of habit, and after a period of fighting those first two defenses, those old habits can easily make a comeback when you feel tired and stressed.

And there also appear to be more defenses, not least psychological and emotional ones. One such example is that many overweight individuals identify with having extra pounds, usually established already in childhood. This means that they are used to a looking heavier than others. Once they lose weight, some individuals will struggle to identify with their new appearance, and consciously or not, they can can feel uncomfortable and regain for that reason, no matter how much they want to appear thinner.

My suspicion is that children who grow up overweight will have a harder time losing weight that adult-onset weight gainers for this very reason, since adult-gainers do not identify with being overweight to nearly the same extent.

The highly visual nature of obesity could in fact be one of the reasons it is so hard to treat long-term, at least with current reactive methods, such as drugs, diets and exericse.

I can understand if you feel a bit depressed reading this but in order to make real progress we have to understand why we have been failing for so long. Now we at least know a bit more about what does not work and why. I say that is at least partial progress. Real tangible progress will happen when we find methods that do not trigger these defenses in the same way or perhaps even avoid them altogether.

If you feel particularly nerdy and want to read the meta-analysis we did, please see Johansson K, Neovius M, Hemmingsson E. Effects of anti-obesity drugs, diet and exercise on weight loss maintenance after a very low-calorie diet or low-calorie diet: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99:14-23. This paper was published open-access meaning that there is no fee for downloading it.

Erik

Ps. I will be holidaying for 2 weeks now, have a great summer everyone! Ds.

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