Diet And Exercise Can’t Help The Obese, Say Researchers

ScaleA new study conducted by Australian researchers says its all but useless for obese individuals to keep off weight the old-fashioned way—and that’s why we should look to gastric bypass surgery as a more common solution.

Despite dieting and exercising away pounds, obese individuals participating in the University of Melbourne study gained most of the weight back in four to five years. Lead researcher Joseph Proietto said this wasn’t casued by lack of effort or knowledge on the part of the subjects, but by hormonal changes as their bodies sought to return to what it considered its set weight.

“Once someone becomes overweight, that state is physiologically defended” by the body, wrote Proietto. “This newly discovered biology explains the high failure rate of obesity management.”

Actually, the discovery isn’t quite ‘new.’ In the 2007 book Rethinking Thin (a book I can’t recommend enough for anyone interested in this sort of thing), author Gina Kolata points to ample research of just this sort.

The research shows that individuals have a range of weights, often spanning as much s 20 or 30 pounds, that they can acchieve and sustain. Being at the low end of your range usually means constant vigialance, being at the top can mean throwing all caution to the wind.

[...] But there is another facet to the issue of self-control and obesity. It involves the science that has shown more clearly than ever that most people have limited power over their weight. The research has identified brain pathways that determine how much we eat, and those pathways are just as owerful as brain pathways controlling blood pressure and heart rate.”

Regardless, none of this is the kind of conventional wisdom we’re used to hearing about weight loss. So .. what? Do we just give up?

Not so fast, says Procietto—why don’t we, as a society, devote some of the energy we use to promote diet and exercise to reducing barriers and increasing access to weight-loss surgery for anyone who wants it?

But aside from being politically contentious, is that even practical? If our brains are really wired (perhaps prenatally) to maintain a set weight, wouldn’t they still try to do so, even after substantial weight loss via bariatric surgery? Researchers aren’t sure. Trials of bariatric surgery have found weight loss of 21 to 38 percent in patients up to 10 years after the procedures. But because of the newness of these procedures, results beyond that are unavailable.

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    • Hannah Beth

      Very interesting. I understand a body getting used to a set weight, but it wasn’t used to obesity before. Can’t it change again to being used to the healthy weight? I’m still not fully convinced that a conscious mind can’t keep the weight off.

      While I don’t think we should take any energy away from promoting diet and exercise, especially to young impressionables, I do think “increasing access to weight loss surgery” is a good idea, and would be a big step to a healthier community.

    • Queen

      I think this is the single most depressing thing I have read all d@mn day (and that includes the horrific debt ceiling “deal”)

      I started writing a novel in response to this and all I want to do is go throw up in disgust. I could tell you how it is for me to be obese and want to be healthy and deal with all the emotional bullsh!t that goes with losing weight, how I’ve watched my mom have the surgery and then gain half of the weight lost back because she’s never addressed why she eats. A conscious mind doesn’t overeat, but we’ve lost that conscious mind to cheap low nutrient foods that the government subsidizes over healthy foods, people eating to stuff down the pain of every day life, of being told that because they don’t have the perfect body, perfect life, what other crap the media and marketers try to feed us to keep us spending our money on things that don’t mean squat in the long run.

      I’m slowing learning to listen to my body the way God and nature intended. I’m relearning that exercise doesn’t have to be tortuous, organized insanity. I hated sports as a child because I was clumsy. Instead of people helping me, they made fun of me. Now, I hate exercise because it brings back all sorts of emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of “better knowing people” who didn’t know squat. I am learning that there isn’t any bad or good foods and that everything in moderation is okay and that I can want and have ice cream or grapes or beef or Soda, that is putting everything together in a matter that works for me that will help me live as full a possible life as I can. I’m slowly learning that the myth of thinness is just that. My life won’t be magically more happier, perfect, etc. if I’m thin. I’d still be self-conscious about my laugh, my shyness, all my faults and quirks whether I’m thin or fat. By just living my life the best way I can right now in this instant is the only way I’m going to be truly happy. I’ll never get the hours, days and years I’ve missed because I thought that my life would be perfect when I lost weight, that I am not worthy of love because I’m obese and that maybe the world is better off without my fat @ss and frankly, I’m mad as heck over that wasted time.

      So, to all those so called experts who have never dealt with the reality of obesity, you can take your weight loss surgery and shove it!

      • Briana Rognlin

        Hi Queen,

        I hate hearing that you’re getting depressed by Blisstree! But you’re right; this study is really confusing and discouraging.

        I think a lot of what you said is very accurate; there’s so much evidence that diet, exercise, and lifestyle factors can help individuals achieve a healthy weight (note that “healthy weight” and “skinny” are not the same thing). But I think your comment is testimony to the fact that developing a healthy lifestyle can take a really long time of dealing with the baggage that comes along with food, exercise, and body image.

        Your approach and attitude is fantastic. So many people decide that either a) a healthy weight is out of reach, so they won’t try at all because it will just be difficult and emotionally damaging, or b) they’ll only ever be happy at their goal weight, so they engage in all sorts of disordered behavior to get there. There are other options! And you’re clearly seeking a really healthy medium; you should be really proud.

        I think you’d appreciate these posts, from Dayna Macy (author of Ravenous) and Anna Guest-Jelley (of Curvy Yoga), about how they dealt with their weight and food issues to get out of the crazy crash-dieting, self-abuse cycle that so many people go through:

        Good luck, and let us know how everything is going from time to time!

        Briana Rognlin
        (Blisstree’s Editor-In-Chief)

    • Queen Aeron

      (The Aeron part of my name got cut off before)

      One of the things I actually like about Blisstree is that you do talk a lot about body image and that being healthy is more than the number on the scale. And I appreciate you personally taking the time to answer my comment. It means a lot.

      But when I read some “expert” telling the world that we need better access to weight loss surgery I just see red. I can’t blame my mom and any of the other people who have had the surgery for having it. But watching my mom lose and regain her weight has completely and utter put me to it. And the more I read about how others put the weight back on, I can’t see permanently deforming my body like that. I guess technically it isn’t permanent, but how do those people feel when they regain the weight and yes, most of them do. 21-38% of the people experience weight loss up to 10 years later. Great! But how good are their bodies processing the food they are eating, are they getting the correct nutritional balance they need or do they have to supplement it with vitamins and shots and who knows what. How are their bodies destroyed by those losses? I may be obese, but most of what is wrong with me can be turned around through better eating and exercise. I’m not going to blame anyone but myself for the state I’m in. But looking at my family, both of my grandmothers were heavy. My mother (whom I take after) was heavy. My paternal grandmother was a farmer’s daughter and wife, she had 10 children and I know she worked sunrise to sunset. She was “sturdy” She wasn’t muscular, she would have been considered at least overweight, if not obese by today’s BMI standards. She’s in her early/mid 90s and is just in the last year or so what I could consider getting frail. Yes, she did eat healthier than I do. She did get more exercise than I do, but to listen to the so called experts, she should have had the surgery to help her live longer. Heck, she’ll probably outlive us all and still be driving to church daily too!

      The point that I think needs to be said over and over and over, until the media and our society understands is that you can not judge a book by its cover. You can be stick thin and die tomorrow you eat all junk food and don’t walk farther than from the TV to the fridge. You can be overweight or even obese and be able to walk or bike for hours on end.

      We say that obesity causes Type 2 diabetes because mostly obese people have, that heart disease occurs more often in obese people. Does obesity itself cause the problems or is it their bad eating habits and non-existent eating habits that are to blame. The studies all say that if you lose weight things get better, but again, is it because you are losing weight or because you are eating better and getting more exercise. Maybe it is the behavior not the result that causes the benefits to your health. Maybe weight loss is just the happy by-product of eating well and exercising well. Until we stop using the BMI as the gold standard for health and look at things like heart rate, BP, blood sugar, cholestorel levels as real standard to reach for, we will never know.

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

        I just want to jump in here for a second too and clarify that just b/c I’m posting about what this research said doesn’t mean I endorse it. And as an aside -Rethinking Thin (which I was re-paging through yesterday) has a great chapter on research skeptical whether being overweight, per se, is unhealthy …

    • Steve

      Bariatric surgery changes the hormes of the body that regulates body weight. It basically changes the level of weight the body wants to be at.

      • Queen Aeron

        Could you please link or at least talk about the research that describes this? Because I can provide anecdotal evidence that says that statement is false. Why do so many people regain the weight they lose.

        Yes, you can change the set point that the body wants to be at, but do you do it in a way that forces the body to do it immediately (and with potentially lethal side effects) or do you do it slowly, methodically and in a way that allows the body to adjust normally and with little to no lethal side effects.

    • Steve

      Queen Aeron,

      This blog post talks about the research supporting that (the article includes citations for the research).

    • Reverend Irma Carew

      Excellent posting Queen,

      I too am obese and tired of the media’s obsession with the “perfect” body and feel it has done nothing but cause emotional damage to those of us who obsess about weight.

      If we are not obese we are anorexic. Those who don’t fall into either of those categories are obsessive about exercise. How often have you seen someone jogging in 90 degree heat, covered in sweat and purple in the face? Too often for me.

      And then there are those who swap eating for other addictions like smoking or drugs. They’ve got great bodies and black lungs, or great bodies and wasted minds.

      I worked at one job where all the executive staff had their stomachs stapled!
      The company actually paid for it, and it wasn’t a modeling company or entertainment company, it was a travel agency.

      It has taken me many painful years to realize that I will not change my eating habits until I am at peace with eating, so I have let go of the fad diets and the obsession with my weight and have been working on finding the inner peace I need to make the changes necessary in my life.

      As a result, I have changed my diet, not to please society, but because it is now a part of my inner journey to live according to a higher calling, and not the rantings of my lower mind.

      Because it has worked well for me, I suggest it to anyone who is also obsessed with body image, food, dieting, exercise.

      It has been my experience that our obsessions occur because we are running away from ourselves, looking for external acceptance when what we really need is internal acceptance and healing.