Researchers Suggest Long-Term, Sustained Weight-Loss Is Nearly Impossible



I went from 194 to about 153 lbs. last year, and have held my weight steadily between 152 and 159 lbs. ever since. That said, what is considered a healthy weight varies between individuals, and with genetics, lifestyle factors, and environmental influences, it’s hard for me to make any sweeping judgments about body size, health, weight loss, and your average person’s experiences. I’m inclined to be skeptical about this study’s conclusion for many of the same reasons Cory Doctorow is.

Here’s a CBC science piece quoting several obesity experts argues that long-term weight loss is almost impossible, saying that (uncited) meta-analyses of weight-loss intervention found that in the 5- to 10-year range, most weight-loss was reversed. According to Tim Caulfield, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, this is an open secret in scholarly and scientific weight-loss circles, but no one wants to talk about it for fear that it will scare people off of healthier eating and exercise regimes, which have benefits independent of weight-loss.

I found the article frustrating. While I am willing to stipulate that the data on long-term weight-loss suggests extreme difficulty, I wish the journalist had found biologists or doctors to discuss the issue, and had cited actual, specific research to support the claims made, which would make it easier to parse the nuances in the piece. It’s not that I think that interdisciplinary lawyers with an undergraduate science background have something to say on this

via Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible – Boing Boing.

  • emperorreagan

    The deck is stacked against everyone, when you go to a grocery store and basically everything on the shelf is loaded with extra sugar/corn syrup and salt combined with, on average, less active jobs. Maintaining a healthy weight is work.

    • Echar Lailoken

      It can be done, but a person needs some serious willpower to shift towards a healthier lifestyle and eating regimen. I could only take so much ground turkey and turkey sausages. Carbs is a hurdle for me as well. Ultimately what was the biggest thing for me is that I had to ride a bike 10 miles both ways to work. Once I got a vehicle, all bets were off. It wouldn’t be so bad if it never rained and mechanical errors did not happen.

      Anyhow, if a person sets up there week where they have to exert themselves physically, it’s much easier. Going to the gym or whatever may end up going to the wayside, because life happens. Even though the upfront tedious activities (which can be acclimated to enjoyable) can improve quality and longevity of life. A resistance band is an affordable and efficient workout tool, btw.

      • emperorreagan

        Oh yeah, I’m not arguing that it’s impossible. It’s tough, but people do it. They completely change their eating habits and lifestyles. My Dad dropped something like 80 lbs – but he stopped eating most carbs and walks a minimum of 5 miles a day to do it. That’s a huge change for someone working 12 hour days at a desk in some corporate office.

        At the macro level, I do think that the issue is more social than biological. There have big changes over the last 60 years in food availability, consumption (people, on average, eat more of every category of food than they did in the 1950s in the US according to the USDA), composition (all of the added empty calories – who needs HFCS in bread and tomato sauce?), working hours/patterns (long hours at less physically intense work), etc.

        I don’t think researchers trying to chase down some medical intervention are every going to be successful. The biology of humans isn’t what has changed – it’s political choices, from subsidizing the cost of corn, making HFCS a cheap additive, to choices in economic policy that create the character of the labor we do.

  • Ted Heistman

    I weighed 230 in 2005, I lost 30 lbs over the next 5 years after that. in 2012 I got down to 185 but could not stay at that weight. My body seems to really want to weigh 200 lbs. I usually go back to that weight withing weeks.

    I eat pretty much low carb all the time.

  • mannyfurious

    It is very difficult to lose weight and keep it off. It’s not “impossible” but it doesn’t happen very often. It’s in our genetics. Losing weight signals famine, and your body never seems to forget the abundance of food it once enjoyed, so it’s constantly trying to reach what it perceived to be it’s golden era of abundance.

    Essentially, the signal you’re sending to your body is, “When I weighed (say) 220 pounds, that’s when there was plenty of food. Therefore, that’s a ‘safe’ weight. I’ve been starving since then. When I weight 220 pounds again, I’ll not be starving.”

    Even Doctorow admits how much work goes into his maintaining his weight-loss. His methods, quite frankly, are quite extreme. In fact, I’m not at all sure exactly what his beef with the CBC piece is.

    I lost 20 pounds several years ago. About six months ago I upped my caloric intake by about 100 calories/day to “bulk up” and I gained about 20 lbs in 3 weeks. It was ridiculous.

    • Ted Heistman

      Yeah there is like a “set point” I basically got to 230 by eating shitty, if I eat fairly healthy with not too huge of portions I stay around 200. As far as getting down to 170 which is less thaN 10% body fat for me, I have to do something extreme and I tend not to maintain it.

    • emperorreagan

      I would guess the beef with the CBC piece is saying it’s impossible.

      If you look at smoking as a comparison, the UK health services reports the quit rate after a year is 4% and long term success rate in quitting smoking at 2-3%. People acknowledge that it’s tough, but no one goes around reporting that quitting smoking is impossible or argues that people should just manage their smoking to only a pack a day instead of two.

      • mannyfurious

        My understanding was that the report said it was “nearly” impossible (admittedly, I just skimmed it). If that’s what the report said, I just don’t think Doctorow’s own arguments really do much to contradict the report. Doctorow’s own efforts are what I would consider borderline extreme just to MAINTAIN his weight.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      I call it “famine proofing”. It’s useful–in context.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Your body is good at gaining and maintaining weight as a survival mechanism. It doesn’t want to lose it. Obesity and the problems it causes aren’t usually experienced in the wild, there isn’t really an evolutionary response to cope with it. Prosperity is some people’s worst enemy.

    • Matt Staggs

      Yep. Your body wants to hold on to all the fat, salt, and sugar it can, cause it’s rare in the wild and you need it to last. Have you ever read any of the theories regarding the evolution of ritual cannibalism in societies lacking in steady sources of fatty protein

      • Anarchy Pony

        Can’t say that I have.

  • BuzzCoastin

    exercise & a reduced cyborg food diet
    can keep weight off
    I have weighed between 20 to 30% less than my peak weight
    for more than 25 years
    through exercise & diet

    • aaron

      “exercise & a reduced cyborg food diet can keep weight off”

      Yea ….this is America for the majority of the population doing thise two things for a extended period of time will never happen. What this title should have said is with the average American diet long-term sustained weight-loss is impossible.

      • BuzzCoastin

        for the first 12 years of my weight lose
        I worked in the matrix & ate matrix food
        exercised only moderately but
        still manage to keep 10 to 20% less than peak

        once I quit the matrix & as much cyborg food as I could
        I cruised at 30% of my peak
        strenuous work also helped a lot

        over time I have reduced the amount of food I eat
        skipped meals & kept active
        maintaining my desired weight is no prob

  • InfvoCuernos

    You want sustained weight loss? Cut off a leg, you’ll never gain that weight back.

  • 5by5

    If this is the case, then the focus should be on: increasing societal acceptance, encouraging the clothing industry to actually supply clothing that fits (I don’t think there’s a single store in L.A. where you can find clothes above a size 12 sold), supporting exercise programs catering to those who are overweight so that at least internal health is encouraged, we should end price supports for sugar and high fructose corn syrup and move that money to reducing the price of vegetables, and creating more spaces for walking, bike-riding, swimming, etc.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Your biography was already complete the millisecond meiosis finished. You can pass go without collecting $200 and go straight to the bone yard.

  • Juan

    I have been as heavy as 200 lbs, though that was many years ago. Last time I weighed myself, I was at 165. At 6ft, that is about as thin as I wanna get.
    Was weighing around 180 forever, then when I changed my diet because I was getting gout, I dropped down to where I am now in about a month.
    I eat very healthy low carb and exercise at least 6 days per week.
    I think what really melted the weight off, was that I stopped drinking Monday through Thursday. The first week I tried it, Friday could not come soon enough, now it’s no problem. Saving money too, so there’s that.