There’s nothing our culture enjoys more than a great success story. The diet and weight loss industries capitalize on this affinity in the the way they market to us as consumers. Commercials for weight loss products or programs almost always include case studies about people who lost huge amounts of weight in a very short period of time using the product being advertised. Shows like The Biggest Loser on NBC feature contestants vying to lose the most weight the fastest. The tabloids seem to always have a weight loss before and after story about a celebrity who just lost a large amount of weight. These weight loss success stories are great because they encourage us and give us hope that we, too can achieve those results…but what those stories don’t mention is that only 5% of people who lose weight keep that weight off after five years.
I don’t know about you, but a 95% long-term failure rate doesn’t seem very successful to me. The good news is that by understanding the reasons that most people who lose weight gain it back, you can increase your chances of being among the 5% of people who keep the weight off. Thanks to my extensive “before and after” weight loss research–including research involving contestants from The Biggest Loser—as well as my personal weight loss journey, I have a very good understanding of what those reasons are.
Your Life Flipped Upside Down
When you lose a dramatic amount of weight in a relatively short period of time—say, six months to a year—the changes that you experience go well beyond what is visible on the outside. Other people start paying attention to you in a way that they didn’t before, and the world sees you in a completely different light. Some people may not be supportive of your lifestyle change, and you may encounter resistance from people you love and care about. As if all that wasn’t enough to deal with, you have to transition from dieting to maintenance eating—i.e., eating just enough to maintain your weight but not gain weight. If you’re like most people, it’s just too much change, too fast.
Of course, too much change in too short a time period causes stress, and when you get stressed you return to what comforts you—food. This, of course, causes you to start gaining weight again, which causes you shame. The more shame you feel, the more you want to hide…and the more you hide, the more you hang out with food. As you can see, the result is a vicious cycle that, if unchecked, will leave you right back at square one with all the weight back on feeling completely dejected and devastated because you weren’t prepared for that much change that fast.
Factors increasing the risk of regaining weight
While anyone who loses large amounts of weight in a short time period is susceptible to the problem of regaining the weight within five years, one group of people is especially at risk—folks who have been overweight their entire lives. You see, people who gain weight after a life event—for example, an injury that limited activity, a divorce, or the loss of a child—still have a memory of what things were like before they gained weight. Even if they’ve been overweight for 10-15 years, they still have a mindset of trying to return to a point in their lives where they had more confidence, more activity, and more social engagement, and this gives them an advantage. They believe they deserve to return to a happy and healthy life.
On the other hand, for people who have been overweight their entire life, when they lose a large amount of weight they’re going to a place they’ve never been before and they often struggle to believe they belong their to begin with.
The changes are even more dramatic and drastic for them, so I think those people are the ones that are most in need of additional support through therapy, through coaching, or through a program that can address those types of changes that are occurring.
The weight cycle phenomenon
Sometimes, people fall into a cycle of losing weight, regaining it, and losing it again that can go on for quite some time. There is a temptation to view this cycle as a series of failures, which can lead to discouragement. I believe that a better way of looking at it is a natural part of a long-term process that eventually leads to permanent success.
Think of an athlete that trains for an important event that occurs every year, and improves his performance every year while still not winning the event—nobody would call that person a failure. The same would be true of an addict who takes three or four attempts at getting clean to finally stay sober. When someone is stuck in a cycle of weight gain and loss, each time they go through the process the changes are just a little bit less overwhelming, and each time brings them closer to a point where they are able to keep the weight off for good.
A road map for success
When I began my research with contestants from NBC’s The Biggest Loser show, my goal was to use the results to create a plan for people who are considering drastic weight loss that will help them increase their odds of success. Now that my research is complete, I have created that plan, and DrMondo.org is dedicated to putting that plan out there for the people who need it.
I believe that if you can understand and get some knowledge on what to expect during drastic weight loss, you then can start to shift your expectations. The sooner you can begin to account for the dramatic changes occurring as you lose weight, the less likely you are to get caught off guard and feel out of control—and the more likely you are to achieve lasting success.