[By Roanne Weisman; Boston May 20, 2016] By now, you have probably heard about the “Biggest Losers” from the reality TV show: They all regained their original weight and, in some cases, even more. The media reporting on this result would have us believe that there is no escape from our genetic destiny. Once we have arrived at obesity, we are genetically trapped in metabolisms that, in the words of the New York Times article, “were intensifying their effort to pull the [Biggest Loser] contestants back to their original weight.” Ultimately, This article advises us to give up on ourselves. Why? Because “science” has said so. What kind of science is that? Or, perhaps more importantly, what kind of science reporting tells us that we have no control over our own bodies? The answer to both questions is “irresponsible.”
The experts whom I have been interviewing for years for my articles and books argue that we need to take responsibility for our own bodies to achieve flourishing good health. And there is plenty of solid evidence for the health benefits of self-efficacy and good lifestyle choices in my Own Your Health book series. As counterpoint to the recent doom-filled science reporting, I asked integrative medicine physician and health book author Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, for her reaction to the media articles on The Biggest Losers.
“What did scientists think would happen if they put somebody on a crash diet and grueling hours of trainer-enforced exercise, and then send people back to their old lives?” asks Dr. Fleckenstein. “Of course, the pull of old habits – friends, food choices, wee hours at the fridge – will get them back to where they were, in no time. As Einstein observed, it is insanity to do the same thing again and again, and expect a different result. Magical thinking does not work in weight loss: You do the same old, same old– and you definitely end up at the old weight.”
So what is a better way to interpret this “Biggest Loser,” data? “Short-term diets don’t work,” asserts Dr. Fleckenstein, “Long-term change in eating habits work. And real science knows this.”
The other point overlooked by the media how detrimental sudden, enormous weight loss is to the body, points out Dr. Fleckenstein. “Yes, one can do it. But, no, it is not without dire consequences,” she says. “For thirty years I have told my patients to not shed more than two pounds per month. Did I lose patients over this principle? You bet I did. But the people who follow my advice have kept their weight off. It is very easy to lose two pounds in a week. The hard part is to maintain that weight for the next three weeks. Which is required to get to the new plateau, the new healthier self.”
“Biologically,” says Dr. Fleckenstein, “if a body faces sudden enormous weight loss, it perceives it as a threat: Hunger times have broken out, starvation looms! The body changes its resting metabolism, holding onto every crumb, every calorie. And that is what the scientists found for The Biggest loser contestants: A slowed-down metabolism that is the body’s way to fend off starvation. If the contestants combined old eating habits with the new sluggish metabolism, no wonder they regained the weight!”
To avoid metabolic tardiness, says Dr. Fleckenstein, “you have to dodge the silliness of quick weight loss, which is anything more than two pounds per month. “But the pressure of TV competition and the relentless drive of a personal trainer push people into unhealthy, rapid weight loss that cannot be biologically maintained.”
Why is such nonsense sold to us as “science”? Journalists often jump on sensational tidbits gleaned from lopsidedly-picked science, says Dr. Fleckenstein: “Sloppy science reporting boosts circulation, but has nothing to do either with truth or science,” she says. “The less you know about healthy living, the more you will fall for fast foods, processed foods and as-advertised-on-TV foods. And the sicker you will get, and the more prescriptions from your doctor you will need. Such people are the unwitting victims of the profit-driven food and pharma industries.”
If, on the other hand, you want truly lasting weight loss and good health, here are a few tips from Dr. Fleckenstein:
- Eat clean produce, cooked by yourself. Plants contain all the chemical compounds including minerals you really need.
- Eat plenty of good fats (olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, and the meat fats of organic animals) to stay satisfied, and keep your organs working.
- Eat a little protein from organic meats, fish, eggs regularly (a serving should be the size of your palm). Too much protein ages the body and its organs. Too little – and repairs and maintenance will suffer.
- Rotate what you eat – there are no superfoods! Anything you eat every day can give you allergies. Space highly allergenic foods like nuts a week apart.
- Leave out sugars, fried and processed foods, empty white starches, artificial colors and flavors, chemical preservatives.
- Drink clean, filtered water (a cheap filter is good enough).
- Move more: Go for a walk often (and smell the roses). Don’t sit around!
- Get enough sleep because tiredness wrecks your metabolism.
- Try one-day fasting: It does not slim you down, but it resets your metabolism your taste buds become more discerning, and THEN you lose weight easier.
Final advice from Dr. Fleckenstein: “To believe that it is all in your genes is foolish. But nor should deny your genes: If your grandmother was overweight and diabetic, chances are you will be too one day, but only if you don’t pay attention. Genes need switching on and switching off – and your lifestyle controls the switches. If you don’t want diabetes, don’t feed your genes sugar, fried foods, or starchy calories,” she says. “Genes don’t just sit there, they can be worked. Take back your power from the food manufacturers and the diet and TV industries.”