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My Life as a Guinea Pig

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:04pm
I am a member of the National Weight Control Registry , an ongoing study of over 5,000 people who have lost weight and successfully kept if off for a year or more. Periodically they send me huge surveys in which I detail the food I've for the last several months, my level of physical activity and other relevant lifestyle choices I make.

Every so often, they send me study results (which are often posted in major popular and scientific media). The latest data compilations from the NWCR show the following:

#1 "Persons successful at long-term weight loss and maintenance continue to consume a low-energy, low-fat diet." By "low energy," the researchers are talking about calories--not about how depressed you feel after gnawing your way through another stalk of celery. The bombshell here: thin people eat less than overweight people.

I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock.

This result explodes the fantasy that you'll diet dramatically, lose all the weight, then swing right back into a freewheeling, party lifestyle full of joy and pasta. The lifestyle changes necessary to lose and keep off weight are permament. You get to decide whether or not to continue eating next year's calories this year--and pay with years off your life. Or you can accept (as I have accepted and must accept over and over again) that wellness will take attention and effort your whole life long.

#2 There are "no significant differences in the metabolic rates of those who had never been overweight and Registry members . . . [showing] that having a lower metabolic rate is not a necessary consequence of losing weight . . . weight loss can be maintained primarily through diet and exercise and that weight gain is not due to problems with metabolism.

This result counters an excuse I hear a lot,

"I'm heavy because I have a slow metabolism."

(Actually, overweight people have a faster metabolism than their thin counterparts: It takes the body more energy to maintain a larger mass than it does a smaller one, though thinner people can keep a higher metabolism by maintaining muscle mass.)

At the heart of this excuse is the desire to blame the body for the decisions you make. It's your pancreas's fault that you cooked that microwave brownie, picked up the fork, dropped the fork and pushed it into your mouth with your fingers. It's your liver's fault you told your friend, "It's too cold to walk today."

I know there are subtle subconscious processes that undermine healthy decisions every minute of every day. But it is possible to override these messages and take the high (and hilly) road to health. Over 5,000 people have already proven it. You can be 5,001.

(P.S. You can join the study if you qualify! Don't qualify yet? Join Belly Dance classes and get yourself into study-ready shape.)
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