There’s another (fairly heavily promoted) article out about how hard it is to maintain radical weight loss. The author is Shannon Chamberlain (who is ambivalent about Fat Acceptance and describes herself as a Fat Agnostic). It’s more of a personal story than Tara Parker-Pope’s The Fat Trap (which it references), but it shows a similar attitude toward radical weight loss maintenance. Except it’s a little more critical of the assumption that this is the healthy choice, at least for the author:
And, naturally, I’m starting to get solicited for weight-loss advice, but I refuse to provide it. Nothing about the way that I’ve lost weight was in the short term safe or healthy, if you define health as the pursuit of overall system happiness. Bariatric surgery was about the safest thing I’ve ever done for myself, in the sense that it was medically supervised and I got a special 24-hour-advice nurse number to call—and it involved five hours of getting cut open to have my intestines rerouted.
More than anything else, the article emphasizes how little we know about what makes some people fat and what allows some people to lose weight and keep it off, a message that I can definitely agree with. And I was glad that Chamberlain acknowledged that weight loss maintainers are often used basically as a club to beat still-fat people with:
In a perverse way, people like me make it harder for every fat person out there. If Formerly Fat X can do it, why can’t my morbidly obese sister-in-law?
This despite the fact that every shred of evidence available to medical science indicates that it’s nearly impossible to take off large amounts of weight and keep it off. That was largely the point of Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times Magazine article from earlier this year, from which the main takeaway was that even a more than typically well-informed healthy eater and marathoner like Parker-Pope is 60 pounds overweight.
The fact of the matter is: I don’t know anything about weight loss. Neither does anyone else. What is emerging from the best research is that the old nutritional mantra—burn fewer calories than you consume—is correct in the thermodynamic sense but useless on the individual level. You and I don’t have a clear idea of how many calories we’re actually burning up. Gary Taubes tells us that some calories count more than others. Michael Pollan says mostly vegetables. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks that putting our soda in two cups instead of one is the magic ticket. The federal government is so swollen with corn-industry money that I can’t even look at the food pyramid—old or new—without laughing. Absent these precise measurements or solutions, how can you look at someone who is obese and hold them personally responsible for each pound? Or personally virtuous for each pound lost?
This article seems to be part of a trend towards a newly emerging consensus that maintaining radical weight loss is not practical for most people. Which I see as good and bad–good that people are getting a more accurate picture of how this stuff works and are maybe a little less likely to see fat as evidence of a character flaw or psychological problem, but bad because it makes them even more determined in the childhood obesity crusade. The problem is, the only evidence they seem to have that obesity is easier to prevent than to reverse is that they now know that it’s really hard to reverse obesity and, well, something has to be done. They hope it’s true, so they’re gonna go ahead and assume it’s true.
What little evidence there is seems to point the other way. BMI has a large genetic component. People who gain weight (as adults) on purpose have a hard time maintaining the weight gain (CTRL+F for “Ethan Sims”). Adopted children have BMIs more similar to their biological parents than their adopted parents. And MeMe Roth and Debra SY have similar weight-maintenance regimes despite one having never been fat (but with a family history of high BMIs) and one being a radical weight loss maintainer. There is evidence that you can shape their bendy little brains, but not much that you can deliberately change their bodies.