Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: Vengeance of the Bulge

The Biggest Loser makes for fascinating television. It's about salvation! Health! You can do it!
Cahill, on left, gained it all back.
Except the results have not quite panned out in real life. Barring one exception, 13 out of 14 of the 2008 season's contestants have regained the weight, some with further additions, as Gina Kolata reports

Researchers tracked their metabolisms, which had originally been normal for those of their size, and found that they had slowed considerably following the weight loss. On top of that, even after regaining the weight, the metabolism remained sluggish. 

Further kinks: leptin is the hormone that controls hunger. When losing weight, leptin levels fall and appetites are increased. The one exception among the contestants' weight gain is Erinn Egbert, who initially lost 87 pounds by finale and shed another 20 on her own steam. "Two treats can turn into a binge over a three-day period. That is what I struggle with," she says.

With low leptin, cravings can be ever-present. According to another study, the hormone that drives the urge to eat rises as the leptin falls. In essence, the body fights any weight loss, uncomprehending that it is for it's own good. 
[Danny Cahill's] slow metabolism is part of the problem, and so are his food cravings. He opens a bag of chips, thinking he will have just a few. “I’d eat five bites. Then I’d black out and eat the whole bag of chips and say, ‘What did I do?’” 
I think I'm seeing a connecting thread . . . 
But Dr. Ludwig said that simply cutting calories was not the answer. “There are no doubt exceptional individuals who can ignore primal biological signals and maintain weight loss for the long term by restricting calories,” he said, but he added that “for most people, the combination of incessant hunger and slowing metabolism is a recipe for weight regain — explaining why so few individuals can maintain weight loss for more than a few months.”
Dr. Ludwig was not involved in the study, but was featured a few months ago on CBS in regards to his new book, Always Hungry? His premise is to forget about calories; focus on food quality. 

So here's my take. I'm not a doctor or scientist. But I can speak from my own experience. 

Over the past 13 years, I have slowly lost weight, usually in five pound increments. The first and forever step was to eat only good foods. I have learned and still learn that yummies that I thought were okay aren't (like non-dairy whip). As my diet became more and more veggie-based, low-carb, low-sugar, my body stopped, for the most part, yearning for those bad foods. 

But I also know I can't start. 

Magazines, TV, and the internet display calorie-bloated recipes peddled by waif-thin cooks, and I couldn't understand the contradiction. I then realized that these individuals can take a small piece and walk away. My one dragon that is still unslayed is that of unscheduled portion-control; faced with a buffet, once I have tasted, forcing myself not to go back for seconds is an out-and-out war. There is no "everything in moderation" for me with many things. 

I don't hanker for potato chips, like Mr. Cahill does. But when faced with a no-no that I do, I know there is no "I'll just take five." So I surround myself with vegetables, which can be consumed in infinite amounts with no ill-effects; if I overeat, it's sugar-snap peas. I'm working now on a brownie recipe that won't slaughter me if I need a real pick-me-up.
Don't believe the cat!
I do watch what other people eat and wonder why they aren't heavier; perhaps, I, too, have a slower metabolism and low leptin levels. Yet maybe by abiding by the same premise as Dr. Ludwig's, the rebound did not come. Erinn not only maintained her triumph, but shed even more. There is still hope, people, despite the study's results.
Erinn on The Biggest Loser
Erinn before
Erinn now
Embrace the tomato.      


Altie said...

I read about this study. It is a frustrating reality, that after all the hard work you put in, your body is your worst enemy. Dr. Huizenga said that he told contestants once they lost the weight they would have to work out at least 9 hours a week, and stick to a strict diet to keep the weight off. I don't know who as 9 hours a week to exercise, but I certainly would not be able to sustain that.

As a person who has experienced significant weight loss and regain on 2 separate occasions a few years apart, I would be interested in seeing where this study goes, if they do end up coming up for a reason why the metabolism does not go back to normal, and what can be done about it.

Regarding cravings, they are always there, lurking in the shadows. I do know I fee a whole lot better when I eat healthy versus feeding my body junk, however when a craving comes on, there is no reasoning. I have countless times bought junk food, eaten some, got more resolve and discarded the rest of it, and then gone out and bought more shortly after. It's a constant struggle. I think it is psychological as well, or in a large part, because sometimes my body is fine ad clearly does not want or need the junk, but it is like my brain won't believe that I can actually be fine without it.

Sometimes I wish I was addicted to alcohol or drugs, and not food. At least the you can swear off it for life.

Princess Lea said...

Hell no, 9 hours a week! I don't do that, and I've maintained my weight loss. Just park the car a little further away and walk more in general.

Yes, one cannot swear off food, as opposed to other addictions. But there isn't just one category of FOOD. There are many sub-levels!

Any store-bought junk, for me, is verboten: Cookies? No. Chips? No. Pretzels? No. Hershey's? No. Those are officially off the table. Like crack.

There is a withdrawal period. Like with crack. And like those addictions, one can only white-knuckle it until one is "clean."

I used to yearn for Stella Doro and Ostreicher cookies. But after I went cold turkey, I don't anymore.

Store-bought is really the demon. One can make the transition easier with homemade. Just stick to homemade . . . everything.

"Sur mei'ra, v'asaei tov." Then there is the active consumption of anything that grew from the ground. There's so much there!

For me, it was about not taking on too much at one time. Like with any self-improvement, slow and steady.

Of course it's tough. But it gets better. ;)

Altie said...

What about in a household where other members make/buy stuff that you don't eat? Doesn't that make it harder to stay on track?

Princess Lea said...

I'm in a different position; I'm the only "kid" at home, Ma's on the same health bend as me, and my father either doesn't know how to shop or we don't let him.

It does make things easier. When I go away, to my siblings, for instance, not having my own constructed, controlled environment takes some getting used to.

But from what I hear from others (i.e. wives whose husbands aren't on board) it is still possible.

Also: There was a letter debunking the above study's results, in terms of metabolic slowness:

To the Editor:

Your article on the metabolic rate of “The Biggest Loser” contestants raises serious concerns about drawing broad conclusions from 14 individuals undergoing an extreme and unsustainable regimen. The National Institutes of Health study reported a considerable drop in the metabolic rate of contestants, despite a weight regain, on average, of more than two-thirds of the original pounds lost.

In contrast, my colleagues and I have published two larger studies showing almost no negative effect of weight loss on metabolism. In one study, 145 participants lost 11 percent of their weight and experienced a drop in metabolic rate of just 5 percent and a decrease in calorie requirements of 7 percent.

In another study, of 30 gastric bypass patients, weight loss was 38 percent and caused a decrease in metabolic rate of 26 percent and a decrease in total calorie requirements of 24 percent. Far from documenting adverse metabolic efficiency, these studies demonstrated a healthy parallel decrease in weight, metabolism and calorie needs.

Data from “The Biggest Loser” should not be extrapolated beyond the effects of extreme and unsustainable diets that are not recommended for general use.



The writer is director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory and a professor of nutrition at Tufts University.