Weight management success: Why the media portrayal of the “Biggest Loser study” is flawed
I have had a lot of ideas flying through my head the last few months and have had difficulty putting any of them down in words. But I read a post this morning that was discussing a study about “Biggest Loser” participants having difficulty maintaining their weight loss and a part of that article resonated with me:
“If you want to succeed with long-term weight loss, it’s crucial that you embrace both reality and imperfection. Remember, too, that your best efforts will vary. Your best when facing a challenging time in life will be different from your best when everything is hunky-dory, just as your best on your birthday, or on a vacation, or at a holiday meal will require indulgence.”
The article hit a place in my gut that really isolated a lot of what I have been juggling in my head. I have struggled with weight management in my first year teaching new subjects and dealing with some personal stresses, and I have felt like I am constantly hitting the “reset” button. Like I wasn’t giving my best effort to maintain what I had worked so hard to accomplish.
My health educator recently told our class that we always check-in to tell him what we are doing wrong. That we often fail to celebrate what we have done right. And reflecting on my own check-ins, I can see what he means. I can easily pinpoint when I have succumbed to the GAP and eaten everything in my purview. I know when I have skipped a workout. I know when I have decided to eat a high calorie food when a veggie or fruit would have worked just as well. I have seen my weight go up and down over the last 18 or so months since I transitioned out of the Phase One HMR classes. I have beaten myself up for the gains, and when I have had a loss, I have beaten myself up that I even needed to lose in the first place.
It’s hard to define what your best effort it, especially when we live in a world of comparatives. I struggle daily when I look at people successfully maintaining their weight and want to be like them but then I see others around me who don’t have to count every calorie and I want to be like them as well. I want to be free of managing my health but I want my health managed. I want to be a social butterfly but I also want to have the body of someone who lives at the gym and never eats a gram of fat. I know I can’t have all of these things as some of them operate on completely contradictory orbits. And I know this.
Everyone is different. Everyone’s “best effort” will be different. And everyone’s definition of a “tough time” will be different. The secret is figuring out what my own personal definition is – figuring out what is maintainable, what is my push-effort, and when I am not giving it my all.
We discussed the Biggest Loser study in health class last week and while many focused on the negatives, I wanted to learn more about the success story. The woman who not only kept it off, she continued to lose weight. Erin Egbert was quoted as saying she continues to struggle daily, but somehow she has found success. However, there isn’t much in the news about how she has managed to do it. The popular media instead chose to also focus on the failures, and not the successes.
So where does that leave me and my mental struggles?
First, I must continue to embrace the reality that weight management is really an EVERYDAY responsibility. I won’t make the comparison to brushing my teeth because I think that’s too simplistic. Instead, let’s compare it to sleeping. I could choose to not sleep – and I have done so in the past – but the implications of not giving myself ample time to sleep are magnified with each hour I shave off in a week. I can try to “catch up” on sleep but it isn’t the same, similar to crash dieting after a few weeks of ignoring weight management.
Second, I must realize that my best efforts need to be in relation to my own experiences and not the experiences of others. Just because some people can abstain from comfort eating easily, can deny themselves of food groups by just saying no over and over, I may still struggle with this, especially in times of stress. But I need a clearer definition of what a challenging time looks like, or when I am just making excuses. It’s like the sleep analogy. Choosing not to sleep so I can watch one more episode of a television series is not a responsible method of managing my sleep patterns. However, not being able to sleep due to nightmares or stress would be a challenge I might have less control over.
The reality that I need to accept is that this will be something I will struggle with my whole life. Weight loss was the easy part, but keeping it off will be with me forever. Some day it might get easier, but just like getting a regular and consistent amount of sleep (and forsaking a late night social event or television marathon), it will still be something I will need to be consciously aware of. I need to continue to celebrate my successes while acknowledging when I slip up, so I can keep myself on track.
I want to be the success story. I *will* be the success story. And I won’t let my journey be reframed to focus on the negative storyline.