You’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time. You did everything you were told by your doctor, dietitian and personal trainer. You had some success when you had the support but the weight came back when you were left on your own. You’ve been told that you keep eating too much, that you have become lazy and that you lack the willpower. You are sad and depressed. Well, it is not your fault, so don’t blame yourself. Losing weight is a complex process and many factors interact with each other leading to weight gain. Let’s look at what you up against.
The food environment
The food environment is not helpful. Unhealthy foods are always much cheaper than healthy ones. Just compare the price of vegetables to the price of chips! Portion sizes have increased over the last 20 years, the average size of a coke or French fries at a fast food outlet is much larger than it used to be. Unhealthy foods are tastier: who is going to trade an apple for a slice of pizza? Lastly, unhealthy foods are also heavily marketed. You never see an add on TV for fish or vegetables. Outlets offer regular promotions: get a double portion of French fries for another 99 cents. But have you ever heard of a similar promotion to get double the salad?!
The physical activity environment
Our current environment favors sedentary activities. We’ve lost our ability to move in our daily lives. Most people work in an office in front of the computer and the only exercise they get is getting into their car to drive to the office and walking from the parking garage to the elevator -forget about using the stairs. Even you want to go for a walk, in many areas there are no sidewalks. Children no longer walk to school even if they could; they are always driven to school. Outdoor ball games have been replaced for video games.
Our genetic code
Our genetic code tries to protect us from starvation. There are many hormones that kick in once we start losing weight and oppose our weight loss. Also, once we start losing weight, we start experiencing more hunger.
It is important to have the willpower to lose weight and maintain the weight loss. I believe most people have it. Do you remember the program The Biggest Loser?
Some people lost an incredible amount of weight in that program. But if you see them now, after they left the program, nearly everyone gained the weight back. And it was not because they didn’t have enough willpower. The moment the support stopped they went back to the same environment that drove them to put on weight in first instance.
All the positive behavioral changes that occurred in areas other than weight loss are not related to willpower but have been triggered by policy changes. The best example is smoking cessation. Smoking was promoted at all levels 50 years ago. You remember the Marlboro man? All actors used to smoke in movies. There is a famous photo of James Dean with a cigarette in his mouth. Well, things changed over the years and smoking rates went down. This is not because smokers woke up one day and suddenly got the willpower to stop smoking. This is because the scientists pushed the government to institute policy changes. So, we need new policies to change our fattening environment so people can lose weight.
What Can You Do?
There is no magic bullet when trying to lose weight. Sustainable weight loss can only be the result of a lifestyle change and not a “diet” with a start and end date connected to it. Don’t blame yourself, if you cannot do it on your own. Get some support. Many studies have shown that brief interactions with a coach can provide you with the accountability and support you need to make long-lasting lifestyle changes.
You can do it!