Weight regain after weight loss – Is weight loss a futile endeavor?

In a meta-analysis of weight loss studies, more than 80% of lost weight was regained by 5 years. In the paper Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity, the authors point out that many people give up on weight loss and regard it as a futile endeavor.

5 Posts
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedback
View all posts
Murray Hinton
December 27, 2021 10:40 am

The system has let us down for far too long. Whether it is fat loss or health in general, the volume and complexity of contradictory information from so-called reputable sources will make your head spin. Add into the mix the plethora of influencers who have no qualifications, education or training in any health-related discipline giving advice on social media as if they are authorities with expertise.

I’ve yo-yo dieted for years in the past, losing weight and regaining it, wondering where I was going wrong. A lot of the time I would blame myself for lack of willpower and ‘not wanting it enough’. It was really demoralizing to put so much effort into something and be back where I started. I would find myself back at square one over and over again. Although I take full responsibility, it angers me how much misinformation was out there.

I’m not just angry about the weight loss misinformation. I’m angry at how it was packaged. Even today you’ll find books, articles and videos promising to have the information you have been waiting for. Other information has let you down, but this one will be different! When I started my weight loss journey, I’d follow advice that was packaged as definitive. This was how you lost weight and kept it off! Because I’d fail to do so, I wouldn’t blame the information. I would blame myself. Now that I know better, I wish these authors had a bit more integrity and explained that their advice wasn’t definitive, and more research was needed.

In the 2000s, the Glycemic Index was all the rage. Control your blood sugar levels by choosing low GI foods. This was the way to lose weight, they all said. I would avoid certain healthy foods like potatoes because they were so high up on the GI scale. When I went to a restaurant or a supermarket, I would cross check the food I wanted with the GI index to make sure I was helping my fat loss, not hindering it. In fact, the whole GI fiasco was hindering my fat loss because of unnecessary complexity. It was later found out to be irrelevant because it was calories that mattered. There was also an underlying contradiction by the ‘authorities’ that promoted GI. Some of them would sell protein shakes that were high on the index. Who cares about giving correct information when you can profit, right?

Then there was this whole phase where everyone recommended you eat 5 or 6 times a day to stoke your metabolism 🤦‍♂️ The prevailing advice at the time was if you didn’t eat every 3 hours, you would enter starvation mode, your metabolism would grind to a halt and you’d lose all your muscle. What a load of nonsense! Thinking that the advice I was getting was correct, I’d have these tupperware containers I’d take with me. When I started a new job that had field and office work, I planned everything around my meal timing. It was an enormous hassle that added to the difficulty of losing weight. We now know that meal timing and frequency has minimal effect on your metabolism and starvation mode is a myth.

There are health practitioners out there whose mission is to provide the public with correct, up-to-date research about weight loss. But just like people who give up on their weight loss, many of these practitioners are giving up on their mission. Their demoralization comes from the system that favors marketing and money over substance. We know that our own health institutions such as the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health are accepting money from Coca-Cola and Pepsi. When the system is set up for lobbying, special interests and profits to take center stage, it’s no surprise weight loss is a futile endeavor.

Sefa Kozan
December 28, 2021 9:58 am

Being a personal trainer, I can share some insight on how the industry fails people who want to lose weight. It’s unfortunate that our profession is looked down upon but we have done it to ourselves. If you stumble upon comments about personal trainers on the internet, you will see that we have the same reputation as GNC staff 🤣 The perception is we don’t know what we’re talking about.

This perception has some merit to it because a lot of the time it’s true. A lot of personal trainers don’t know what they’re talking about because many PT certificates are awarded by glorified diploma mills. You study (I use that term loosely) for a weekend and you get a qualification, on condition you pay the fee. The outcome is a batch of personal trainers who have no real grasp of training, nutrition and the behavioral elements affecting weight loss. They can’t help clients and ironically, they can’t help themselves. I don’t mean to say you have to be in great shape to be a personal trainer. But you have to wonder about a personal trainer’s knowledge if the advice they give you doesn’t even work for them.

Money also impacts the success of a client’s weight loss. Our job should be to help and teach you how to lose weight sustainably. Actually we should be training clients up to the point where they don’t need us anymore. But look around your gym. I guarantee you will see PTs with clients that haven’t made any progress in months. The PT keeps getting money from the client and the client gets some comfort in thinking they’re actually doing something for their weight loss.

One client I took on told me about his experience with another PT. The client really wanted to understand what needed to be done to lose weight. He asked the PT to provide as much information as possible so he could lose weight and also understand how he lost the weight. The PT promised to do this when he signed up the client but never followed through. He claimed to be making all sorts of nutritional calculations and was varying exercises to provide the best stimulus for the client. When the client asked questions, the PT told him to “trust the process”. The client did lose weight. He was diligent during training and on his eating plan even though he didn’t understand why he could have sweet potatoes one day and not the other. He stopped training with the PT because he got a job promotion and had to move to a different city. Within a few months he had regained all the weight he had lost.

For our profession to get more respect, we need to make it more challenging to get PT qualifications. Weekend courses aren’t doing anyone a favor except the companies that grant the certificates. PTs also need to stop looking at clients like cash cows. They are our source of income, that’s true. But a PT’s reputation and ability to secure more clients will be better off if you achieve lasting success with your clients. Keeping them running on a hamster wheel serves no purpose other than to squeeze money out of them. The biggest motivation to do a better job with clients is because we are currently failing the people who seek our help. People are placing trust in us to steer them to better health. For that reason alone, we should improve our profession.

Nicole Stratton
December 30, 2021 9:29 am

I think a big reason people end up at their original weight or even larger is because of how dieting is perceived. It is framed as a short-term period of discomfort that will be over after a few months of restriction. I have been there! I have done a dieting stint and celebrated afterwards with pizza and milkshakes. There’s nothing wrong with indulging now and then. After all, food is life! It’s about striking a balance between enjoying treats and keeping up a healthy lifestyle.

And that’s the main point. Framing a diet as a short-term thing isn’t helpful. To lose weight and keep it off, we need to frame it as a long-term lifestyle change. The healthy eating habits you form during a diet should be sustainable, which you can keep doing for the rest of your life. It’s also why diets shouldn’t be too restrictive. If your dinner consists of a carrot and some celery, no willpower in the world can keep that going for long. Keeping foods you enjoy in your diet means it won’t feel as restrictive and you won’t be as tempted to binge eat after the diet is over. We need to look after ourselves during and after a diet, not kill ourselves during it.

Another reason I think we struggle with keeping weight off is because we are impatient. Who wants to look and feel better in 6 month’s time? I want to fit into my skinny jeans now! For many people it took years to be overweight enough for them to want to lose weight. Why do you think it can take a week to undo all those nights of pizzas, burgers and tacos? Let’s be realistic with ourselves. Losing weight takes time.

It’s not helpful to go on a starvation diet of 800 calories a day and expect the weight to fall off. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. For some people who are trying to lose weight for the first time in their lives, a few small changes can make a difference. Less sugar in your coffee. Substitute a high calorie snack with a fruit. Try to walk or cycle to work instead of driving. Then when you get into the swing of things, you can look at your calories and starting a structured exercise plan. If you try to go all-in at once with the expectation of instantaneous results, there is a good chance your impatience will work against you.

Have patience. Love yourself. And if you slip up, it’s not the end of the world. Just get back on the horse and keep going. Remember, it’s a marathon. Not a sprint.

Devin Graff
December 31, 2021 6:53 pm

Is weight loss a futile endeavor? I don’t believe it is futile. But environmental and cultural factors play a large role. It is instructive to review case studies where obesity is a problem so we can learn why it is happening. Tonga, a small Polynesian country south east of Fiji and north east of New Zealand, has a population that is 90% overweight. What’s happening in Tonga?

Insufficient public awareness of nutrition, sedentary lifestyles and equating food consumption with respect are some of the reasons. Cheaper cuts of meat imported from New Zealand are also to blame. Shockingly these cuts of meat aren’t worthy of eating in New Zealand and are used as dog food. When 90% of the population is overweight, the entrenched environmental factors in the country make it hard to be a healthy weight.

You may adopt a similar view to others who eschew traditional healthy foods in favor of modern salt and sugar-laden foreign fast food. Being a good host will be important to you so you’ll ply your guests with plates of food, and this treatment will be reciprocated when you visit another person’s home. The culture and environment will be geared in a way to make you overweight.

Now let’s look at nearby Fiji. Fiji is known for being a powerhouse in the sport of rugby. It has a strong national team and players in teams all over the world. How can a small island nation produce so many world class players? Environment and culture. Rugby is the most popular sport there. Almost everyone wants to be a rugby player, which means that it’s what people talk about, learn about and argue about. The knowledge of the game and how to get better at it is widespread, and competition is very strong. Just like some of the best soccer players in the world have come from humble beginnings of kicking around a tennis ball, some people in Fiji play rugby with a plastic bottle filled with water. All this combines to build an elite cadre of rugby players that can hold their own on the world stage despite being a country of only 900,000 people!

Although we can’t compare the population of Fiji to India, India has a similarity to Fiji in that people are obsessed with a sport. In India’s case it is cricket. You will see kids playing cricket in villages using a broken tree branch as a bat and the best players are revered alongside the most famous Bollywood actors. The cultural affinity with cricket has produced a national team that is a 2-time Cricket World Cup winner.

So what does this all have to do with weight loss and keeping it off? Many of us live in societies that are obesogenic. We have access to highly processed, palatable, high calories foods at our fingertips. Our environment is geared toward overconsumption. Does this mean we’re doomed? Not at all. It means we need to be mindful of how our decisions can be shaped by the culture and environment around us. Yes, we can eat a week’s worth of calories at the local McDonald’s. Yes, we can press a few buttons on Uber Eats and have a high-fat, high-sugar meal within 15 minutes. But if we’re aware of this, we can also manage it.

A good tip is to never go shopping when you’re hungry. That way you won’t be guided by your hunger when you’re shopping and you can make healthier choices. Another tip is to not keep unhealthy snacks in the house. You’d be surprised by how easily we can cave into temptation when tasty snacks are right in front of us. Try deleting your food delivery apps and see how that goes. Try shopping in the outer aisles of the supermarket. Most of the unhealthy, processed foods are kept in the middle. They also tend to be more expensive. The point is, culture and environment can help or hinder your weight loss goals. If your environment is geared towards the latter case, then simple awareness of these hurdles is actually helpful. Culture and environment can push you in a particular direction, but they cannot determine your outcome.

Happy last day of 2021!! 🎉🎉🎉

Sean Ellis
December 30, 2021 4:14 pm

As someone who’s done weight cuts for sports, I know a thing or two about losing weight. Cutting weight is a brutal process that shouldn’t resemble healthy weight loss. Terminology wise, they sound the same but they couldn’t be more different. Cutting weight is rapid weight loss to make a weight class for competition. It is not healthy. Think dehydration, mood swings, foggy concentration. If your weight loss is causing these symptoms, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

That said, I believe it is a good thing to lose weight and regain it if you understand why and take accountability for it. Making mistakes is a great teacher and experience is the best lesson. At different points in my sporting life, I have done drastic weight cuts – not recommended! – and slow and steady weight loss. Whenever I’ve fallen off and rebounded, I’ve taken note to understand why it happened.

Everyone rages about vegetables. You can eat lots of them and they are low in calories. They are considered a diet staple. But guess what? They don’t work for me. I have tried to include them during my diets but they don’t satiate me as much as other foods such as lean meats or fruit. Many others have great success with vegetables. For them it’s an essential component of a successful diet and makes weight loss much easier. Not me. Instead of fighting against it, I accept it and use this knowledge to tailor my diet in a way best suited for my individual needs.

Adapting your diet based on lessons you’ve learned from your own experiences is beneficial. You learn more about yourself in the process and you understand what’s required to keep the weight off long term. I’ll also point out that this applies to people who want to gain weight. Yes, that’s right. Believe it or not, people struggle to gain weight and have to use strategies to take in more food than they are comfortable with. I know this sounds like an alien concept to people who struggle with weight loss, but weight gain isn’t as fun as it sounds. Forcing yourself to eat beyond satiation day in, day out is not fun, and you yearn for the days of being on a diet. However just like when you are losing weight, you understand what foods are best suited for you to achieve your goals.

So in my opinion, falling off the wagon and regaining some lost weight is a positive thing, depending on your attitude. Take it as a learning experience and you’ll be armed with valuable knowledge that will only help you in your weight loss journey.