I sat in the waiting room of the surgery center with mom yesterday morning as we waited for her name to be called. The Today Show was on the television and mom was asking questions about that amazing day I'll never forget. "Did you meet Al?" Unfortunately, no. "Did you meet that other guy?" No, Matt was taking a day off. Our mother-son Today Show Q&A was cut short by, "Beverly, come this way..." I once again reassured mom she was in good hands and this procedure was going to be okay, "I hope so," --It will mom, I love you. "I love you, too, son." And off she went into a patient only area.
And then it was just me, sitting there, watching Today on NBC--and making my way around my phone. I checked email, connected with my private support group via Facebook and thought about lunch plans. It wasn't very long in the waiting before I noticed a news headline for an article in The New York Times by Gina Kolata, picked "especially for me," all about Kevin Hall PhD's study on Season 8 Biggest Loser contestants. The study was over a period of the last six years. And since I've experienced my personal study over the last seven years, I was immediately drawn in to every single word Dr. Hall and this article presented.
The study, monitoring the season 8 contestants, documented the regain most experienced post-show. It concluded the same as similar studies: The body can and does develop a weight "set-point," and for those of us who lose weight, it means our bodies are constantly pushing back to this set point.
While the experiences of my exploration, or "research," if you will, agreed with much of this scientific study, specifically about the body having a set-point weight, I was extremely disappointed in the overall hopeless tone of the article's conclusion. The truth isn't hopeless. I've lived it. I'm living it every day. Trust me, there's plenty of hope.
Instead of hope, I immediately recognized the fuel for self-defeating rationalizations of which I'm very familiar. I talked myself into staying near, at or above 500 pounds for almost two decades, I know all about self-defeating rationalizations. These self-defeating thoughts, especially when supported by scientific research and presented in a publication respected the world over, become even more powerful. I wonder how many people read this same article and then released their embrace of taking extraordinary care?
To conclude our body will find a way to return to this set-point, as if it's a given, without exploring the role of personal responsibility/behaviors/and habits, not to mention the monumental effects of our necessary mental/emotional transformation, or lack of, was, in my opinion, potentially damaging to the millions of people embracing their plans and holding on to hope for a life at a healthy body weight.
Because, if we're biologically programmed to regain back to this set point, then why bother?
A friend of mine who struggles with weight issues, sent me a text about the study first thing this morning, "...it's a little bit frightening." Her message wasn't the only one. By days end, I had received several messages and engaged in a couple of conversations about the study. Several things came up, words like depressing and frightening, and the common question: Is what I'm doing pointless? No, it isn't pointless.
The following is an excerpt from the archives of this blog. In it, I describe my own discovery of this "body weight set-point" and I offer my answer to the question: Are we destined to return to a life of morbid obesity?
From The DDWL Archives-April 17th, 2015:
I don't know when it happened. At some point, I believe, I fried the circuits responsible for regulating my body weight. I hit 500 pounds before age 20 and although it took a lot of over-eating, late night fourth (and fifth) meal eating, an occasional binge and zero intentional exercise to accomplish this, I didn't consider the quantity of food at any one setting should have warranted such a morbidly obese body weight.
I remember reading an article when I was twelve years old about the worlds heaviest man. Reading about his typical day of food just wasn't ever me, at twelve--at twenty, or thirty-five. A dozen eggs, a pound of bacon and a loaf of bread for breakfast? In my late teen years, as the scale crept above 500, I'm sure some might have imagined I had similar eating habits, but no, never did. Perhaps I just spread mine out a little more. But here's the kicker:
At a certain point, I stopped gaining. My body settled between 500 and 515 for years on end while I did absolutely nothing to lose weight or maintain the weight. It was as if I found my body's "set point." And it seems this is where my fried body-weight regulating circuits want me to be, naturally.
I have zero doubt, if it wasn't for this turnaround period from relapse/regain over the last year, I would be back between 500 and 515 by now. Not a shred of doubt. I was headed that way in a hurry.
Recently, a medical paper was published in the Journal Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. And it was written about in a CBS News Interactive piece by Jessica Firger. Below is an excerpt from the article:
"Although lifestyle modifications may result in lasting weight loss in individuals who are overweight, in those with chronic obesity, body weight seems to become biologically 'stamped in' and defended," Dr. Christopher Ochner, lead author and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said in a press statement.
The authors of the paper say we need to change the way we think and talk about obesity, and use language reflective of the fact that being morbidly obese is a chronic disease. Like addictions to drugs and alcohol, patients can overcome it but shouldn't expect to be "cured."
"Few individuals ever truly recover from obesity; rather they suffer from 'obesity in remission,'" Ochner says. "They are biologically very different from individuals of the same age, sex, and body weight who never had obesity."
Those of us with chronic obesity have a body weight that is "stamped in and defended." Sounds very familiar to me. I wasn't surprised when I read the article. Not one bit. I knew about this from living it.
It's incredibly easy for me to regain weight. If I suddenly stopped intentionally exercising and tracking my consumption, even without binge episodes, I truly believe my weight would consistently creep upward. Maybe not as fast as it did in the middle of binge city-relapse/regain, but with the same ultimate destination between 500 and 515 pounds.
So now what?
Are we doomed to gain it all back because that's the curse of chronic obesity?
Is there any hope at all?
First of all, there is hope for long term recovery. I know people who have done it (maintained their weight loss) for ten, twenty and nearly thirty years. It does take work. And no, it's not fair. And that's precisely where our success starts.
Acceptance. If I'm constantly resistant of the elements I must practice each day because it's not fair that so and so can eat a truck full of food and never gain an ounce, then I'm in big trouble.
It is what it is. I've discovered the quicker this acceptance is fully embraced the quicker I can continue enjoying life at a healthy body weight. Something so effortless to some requires daily attention and diligence for someone like me.
They key, I believe, is finding a way--a plan you can truly enjoy. If you read this blog regularly, you see everything I eat. I do not feel deprived in the least. I love what I'm eating. And it's plenty.
I've set the boundaries of my plan and I hold them sacred. I must always hold them sacred. No sugar, daily food tracking and calorie budget management, regular exercise and most importantly, support. Exchanging support with people like me who are in this deal right alongside, is critically important. Writing this daily blog is also a strong source of support and accountability.
Acceptance to me, means these elements of my recovery become more than habit, they become woven into the fabric of my life, for the rest of my life. There isn't a finish line. There isn't a declaration of some big final victory.
I must never try to live someone else's normal. I must live my normal. This is my normal. And you know what? It's all good, even with the set point weight my body tries to gravitate toward if I don't stay on top of it.
What would happen if we gave our individual plans the same level of reverence as someone in successful recovery from drugs and alcohol gives their sobriety?
I've been getting the answer to that question for the last two years. When I started applying this importance level was when I consistently starting shedding my one hundred sixty-four pound regain/relapse weight, plus lost an additional twenty-three pounds and today, I continue to maintain a very nice weight range--and I've maintained this healthy weight range for over eight months. It's all documented--every single day, right here in this blog.
And I always keep in mind--I'm not cured and I don't "got this." My continued success isn't guaranteed. If I continue making what I do each day, important, then I have a really good chance at continued weight maintenance.
Another excerpt from very early in the archives is a message of hope to anyone getting started:
I've been doing a bunch of tough thinking lately about why some struggle so hard while others seem to be so solidly on their way. Why some say they “get it,” but continuously give in to the temptation that's trying to take this away.
I think it's actually harder for people who are exceptionally smart.
Let me explain: It's nearly impossible for someone to really learn something if they already believe they know. Especially when the solution has been broken down into very simple terms and easy to understand mental exercises. It can't be that easy, they might think.
And so their search continues---looking for books and articles to break it down into slices that challenge their intelligence. Some people insist on complicating things. It doesn't have to be complicated. It can be easy if you accept that it can.
Once you turn off the excuses. Once you accept 100% responsibility for your behaviors with food. Once you become completely self-honest about your consumption. Once you realize the importance of consistency. Once you stick to a lower level of calories. Once you commit to a real exercise schedule, once you do these things—it's almost impossible not to succeed. And yes, you have to fight. You have to bring out the fight inside and often times battle that little devil on your shoulder. If any of these vital components are not in place, it can seem very difficult.
You must not forget that I'm a food addict. You must realize and remember that I too spent my entire adult life until now, struggling the same way. I was out of control.
So if you read my words these days and think, Oh Sean, you make it sound so easy don't you? Never forget from where I've come. And realize that if I can get to this place, then it's not impossible for you to get here too.
And you don't have to understand everything to get started. I didn't. (I still don't!)
I didn't know or practice anything but the very basics on day one. You might even say I was going through the motions at first. Along the way these simple truths came out about my past failures and all of a sudden things started making sense. I started to have a better understanding of why I always struggled before and why I was struggling less now. Epiphanies started happening, they're all documented...go back and read them.
So if you're trying to get everything in order in a way that makes complete sense before you start succeeding, you're complicating the process. The things that must be rock solid from day one are your commitment to fight. Your resolve must be “iron-clad.” Your desire to succeed must exceed your desire to binge. It's that importance level thing again. Set it dramatically high. And fight for your life. Defend this journey from those evil thoughts within that threaten your success along this road. And find comfort in the fact that you will learn things and have epiphanies along the way that will catapult you onto different levels of understanding. But in the beginning you must fight. It's a fight worth fighting, it really is.
Okay--back to Dr. Halls study and the article from The New York Times. His study's conclusion, compared to my experience, was spot on. Yes, spot on. I believe 100% the body weight set point is scientific fact for many of us.
I also believe, with nothing more than my own experience to back it up, that our metabolisms can actually improve dramatically depending on what we're putting in our body.
My maintenance calorie budget is 2300 per day. This level, at one time, would have resulted in weight gain for me--but instead, it's now keeping me in a very nice range. How is that possible?
Is it the abstinence from refined sugar? Is it the food selection? Is it the water consumption goal each day? Or is it all of the above? I don't know. I've never claimed to have all the answers. But what I do know for sure is, there's hope. There's plenty of reasons to keep taking extraordinary care.
What I didn't like was the hopeless tone of the overall piece.
I was also appalled by the nine hour workout days on The Biggest Loser. My heart broke for fellow Oklahoman Danny Cahill while reading about the workout schedule he so desperately tried to maintain post-show. It was TV, I get it--there was a schedule--a time frame for hitting these milestones--but my question is this:
How did this approach affect each contestant's metabolism and biological makeup? The weight set point is real, sure--but is what we're doing--the method we choose, making dramatic contributions to the complications explored in the study?
I've always been big on "consistency beats intensity" and "simple is sustainable." I've rarely worked out for longer than an hour in one day. And still, dramatic results happened. The lessons embedded in all of this reminds me of the age old tortoise and hare story.
I'm passionate about sharing my experiences, perspectives and philosophies along this road. First and foremost, it helps me stay accountable and grounded in support. When someone let's me know how it's helped them, too--that's simply one of the most beautiful bonuses.
The sad thing is this: Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, will read the New York Times article about this study, and likely, less than a thousand will read this blog post. Countless people will feel discouraged by the findings and the idea that regain is a biological certainty. By comparison, few will read this blog's real life study of the last seven years. And you know what?
Because again, my number one concern is my continued recovery and successful maintenance of a healthy body weight. I'll continue doing what I do, regardless. And as time passes, and I maintain the fundamental elements that keep me well each day, it will strengthen my philosophies and understanding of this entire experience.
I'm simply passionate about effectively communicating a message of hope. I hope that comes through loud and clear.
I make my way to the doctor's office in the morning for my maintenance weigh-in. I'll have the complete weigh-in update in tomorrow night's edition.
Today's Live-Tweet Stream:
2 cups water, 20 push-ups & 10 squats-- #morningdeal complete✔️ Coffee earned! pic.twitter.com/UkBmHkoDJA— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
This coffee, good stuff. 3 tblspns half&half in this-& same in to-go cup later this morning. Good morning! 120 cal. pic.twitter.com/hMgIlgPAC4— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Breakfast in MFP... pic.twitter.com/U3tmTFFI5t— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Avocado Omelet! 2 whl eggs-2 whts w/139g avocado seasoned simply w/salt&pepper. 5.8oz apple & 8.6oz pear. 615 cal. pic.twitter.com/IAYTdmMoNe— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Midmorning cup of dark roast with two tablespoons half & half. 40 cal. pic.twitter.com/csh1cLlW27— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
4oz banana with 16g natural peanut butter. 169 cal. pic.twitter.com/aRungsq5MO— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Lunch in MFP... pic.twitter.com/amk4epvRd4— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
90 cal SF Flatbread w/62g SF sauce, 5.6oz pnapple, 40g red onion, 2-provolone & 28g Parmesan. 147g grapes. 552 cal. pic.twitter.com/obmzSp1U5g— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
After lunch coffee with two tablespoons half & half. 40 cal. pic.twitter.com/R2H3YG6Jl9— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Coffee & conversation. I have the best neighbors! Beautiful out here! Three tablespoons half & half. 60 cal. pic.twitter.com/CJV5c1XJb8— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Dinner in MFP... pic.twitter.com/CEDfQIXHgJ— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
Three cup water bottle to last for next couple hours. #wateraccountability pic.twitter.com/6rW8Hc5uXC— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
7oz 99% lean turkey burger w/yellow mustard & onion on Ezekiel bun. 182g sweet potato fries w/3secOOSpray. 587 cal. pic.twitter.com/Df9AWvH1aQ— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 3, 2016
It's time to climb aboard the magic elliptical for a max level 20-30 min cardio session. #endorphinparty starts now. pic.twitter.com/pvkfWTTbuh— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 4, 2016
2 cup water bottle refill in previous tweet exceeds #watergoal ✔️— Sean Anderson (@SeanAAnderson) May 4, 2016
Thank you for reading and your continued support,