“Weight that will stay off”

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TextThe above text exchange appeared in my Facebook feed, placed there by a personal trainer (whose name I blacked out from the image) who shared it to promote his business, a testimony to his prowess and the results he can bring to his clients who are seeking to lose weight.

Let’s talk about results. Losing weight is relatively easy and numerous paths to weight loss exist. Keeping off the lost weight, well, that is a completely different story. Research shows us that about 95% of people who try to lose weight will ultimately regain it (whether or not they maintain the behaviors that created the weight loss in the first place) and of that 95%, 60% of them will end up heavier than they were at baseline.

Said differently, if 100 people intentionally lose weight, five of them will keep it off, 38 of them will return to baseline, and 57 of them will end up heavier than when they started.

These facts may not be talked about very much in our weight-loss-obsessed society, but they are no secret. At the 2013 Cardiometabolic Health Congress, data were presented showing that this pattern of weight loss and subsequent regain was virtually identical regardless of the mode somebody used to lose it. That is why some people in the healthcare field say that the best way to gain weight is to go on a diet.

So when the trainer refers to his client’s 10 pounds of lost weight as “Weight that will stay off,” on what is he basing that claim? Based on the research, if he says something like that to 20 of his clients, 19 times he will be wrong. Not only is he misleading people with false promises and expectations, but he is putting them at high risk for weight cycling and the negative consequences with which it is associated.

Chances are better than not that the client in question will eventually regain the 10 pounds he or she lost plus more. What will the text exchange between the trainer and client look like then?

The sad thing is that I think the trainer in question is actually a good trainer in terms of the mechanics of his profession. He just needs to be more careful about the lessons he is teaching his clients. Had he responded to his client’s text with a sentiment along the lines of, “Losing weight feels important to you right now, but let’s remember that being physically active is doing wonders for your health and well-being regardless of what happens with your weight,” I would not be writing this blog.

2 thoughts on ““Weight that will stay off”

  1. This post is very important to me, as I have spent all of my adult life tying my self worth to my weight. Almost 5 years ago, I started a personal training program and lost 30 pounds rather quickly, and then another 10 pounds more slowly. Since 2012, however, the weight has been creeping back on, which has made me depressed and angry with myself for not being “disciplined” enough to keep it off. This negative self-talk has led to me not exercise as much, eating as well, or getting enough sleep. These behaviors just make me feel awful, and of course, then I return to the “I am fat and disgusting and ugly” negative self-talk. Intellectually, I know what I am telling myself is wrong. I have the research to tell me I am wrong, but the self-talk is so powerful. I’m still struggling with feelings of failure that I have gained 20 pounds back and feeling terrified that I will gain the other 20 back. TERRIFIED. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for this post.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for having the courage to share your story. You know first hand the negative cycle that can happen when we follow a weight-centered model of care. Society tells us that we can achieve and maintain weight loss if only we work hard enough, which intellectually we both know is nonsense. We hear the message so incessantly though that many of us internalize it, turn to self-blame when the weight returns, and abandon behaviors that in and of themselves were beneficial for health independent of weight. In order to better help people, we need to get the word out, and your testimony is an important piece of that. Thank you again for sharing it, and I wish you the best.

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