Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 3rd, 2016 A Hopeful Response To The New York Times Article On Dr. Hall's Biggest Loser Season 8 Study

May 3rd, 2016 A Hopeful Response To The New York Times Article On Dr. Hall's Biggest Loser Season 8 Study

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?

That's okay. 

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:

Thank you for reading and your continued support,


  1. Hi Sean,

    This is an incredibly uplifting post that resonates positivity and hope in me. I don't have as much to lose but let me tell you whether one has much to lose or very little, the struggle is just the same. I've been reading your blog for a long time and been through your reaching goal and the regain period and in all of that my struggle to get to my goal remains the same. I was doing very well and was at a very happy place and then life happened and I regained all of what I lost plus a few more. And now I start all over again. My take home message from your experience that you so honestly and generously share with all of us (readers), is your commitment to consistency and also the simplicity in how you execute each day. Every morning when I follow a simple routine of Yoga and body weight exercises I tell myself, consistency helped Sean get to his happy place and consistency will get me to mine too!

    Thank you for being an incredible support.


    Sydney, Australia

  2. Well said Sean! If you think about it we struggled over 80 years combined with out of control eating habits mimicking just about every bad trait for anyone struggling with obesity. If we can loose a combined 600 pounds and maintain our weight after over 80 years combined of struggling mightily & out of control with our eating habits. There is hope for everyone, no matter how long you have struggled the advice give in this blog is real and genuine.

    The biggest looser is a very poor example on all most all levels. These contestants are loosing weight far too fast not eating nearly enough working out 8 plus hours per day, no wonder there normal burning metabolism becomes damaged. I do not believe one second people overweight all there weight are destined to have a lower than normal burning metabolic rate if they were to loose all the weight. Having lost 250 pounds myself over 2 and half years, avoiding added artificial and real sugar, processed foods, junk food I noticed a significant increase, advantage in my burning metabolism seemingly burning at peak efficiency my entire transformation. A benefit I have to credit mostly due to avoiding the added sugar and eating real food. I am almost positive Sean enjoys the same benefit being able to maintain his weight at a fairly significant higher calorie rate than he originally was able to after his initial weight loss while still consuming added sugar.

    My theory why people who are dedicated to avoiding sugar as if its non negotiable like Sean and I works so well in maintaining long term weight loss has very much to do with being able to eat more, enjoying a higher burning metabolic rate. For me, avoiding added sugar has amazing benefits, eliminating food eating binges, enjoy taste of food more, significantly less hunger issues, increased mind clarity, decreased depression, higher burning metabolism & weight loss. There is no doubt in my mind sugar slows down bodys burning metabolism significantly. It like a triple blow, making it 10 x harder, slows down the weight loss enough, you have to cut back calorie content even more to the point that now your body is fighting back trying to conserve energy since it recognizes sugar as empty calories. You loose the benefit of making your body work harder to digest more real & healthy food suddenly your loosing less weight than you would be eating 500 or more calories with a clean diet, find yourself hungry, discouraged and very difficult if not impossible. At least that was my pattern over 40 years of failed weight loss attempts always caved in because of hunger pain and unavoidable food eating binges. Since eliminating the artificial and added sugar over 2 years ago I have not had one hunger or food eating binge to deal with. Sure you can still overeat eating healthy and all real food. On the very worst, usually most active days I can manage to get as many as 2500 over my set CB, that happens to be no weight loss days at worse case scenario. No longer dealing with the extreme food eating binges that left me days over 8 or even 10 thousand over my set CB. When your weight jumps up 10 or 20 pounds over just a few days.

  3. Sean has mentioned it several times here. I think If i go back 3 years and read over and over how important it is for him to avoid the added sugar and he reached out to me to encourage me to also avoid the added sugar I probably would told Sean it would be impossible for me to do the same. The reason I say this is I was convince beyond any doubt when I started my no added sugar challenge Dec 20 2013, I knew I could go no longer than one week without having one bowl of ice cream & 99.9% sure I was going to fail. Basically I held on mentally to that .1% chance I could do it long term, and had no clue of the amazing benefits I would soon notice. The mental hurdle, not believing or understanding anyone can do it, not understanding you will not miss it, is by far the biggest hurdle towards making sugar non negotiable. Soon into it, realizing the benefits, I realized I needed to avoid for life like an alcoholic has to avoid a drink in order for me to succeed. Once I made that non negotiable stance I freed myself from my past sugar addiction and know I was going to loose all the weight and maintain it for life. As long as I keep the added sugar non negotiable for life. It honestly would be severe punishment with sever consequences if I ever went back to using sugar. The part I would hate most is how much less I would enjoy food as I am accustomed too today. Perhaps the greatest enjoyment is how all food in general taste. I am sure you can relate to a lot of this yourself Sean.

  4. Great post.A lot to digest.I hate articles that seem to discourage people. I probably won't even read it.Robin

  5. Sean, I read part of that article...could not read the whole thing because it kept getting stuck on my computer. But I do not believe it. I used to be envious of those people on the Biggest Loser but now I believe that they lost their weight too quickly and probably did not deal with all the emotional elements behind the weight loss and strategies to keep it off. I say that based on my own experiences with being able to lose a lot of weight quickly vs what I have done now, when I was NOT able to lose it quickly. I think the article is wrong. Losing the weight and keeping it off is not a quick fix but it is not impossible.


  6. Marvelous and important post, Sean. THANKS! I have kept about 20 lbs off for over a year, and allow myself to be thankful for that. Yet I continue to follow your blogs and tell myself I can commit to losing the next 50 and keeping it off. You give me hope!

  7. I don't know where to start. There is so much wrong and discouraging about that article. The Biggest Loser is a SHOW! You can't keep that amount of weight off if you lose it so fast and don't learn the mind set to keep it off. Who can work out so many hours in a day like that then go back to normal living and working without gaining back weight?
    I talk from personal reference from being overweight all my life and yo yo dieting. There is no pill or quick fix. I've tried everything. Every diet and exercise plan, no matter how crazy.
    I have learned since keeping my weight within a 5 +or- range, that it's called MODERATION. I have anything I want, even desserts and wine, but with moderation every day. Therefore I do not feel deprived. I also do some form of exercise every day. My mind game I play with myself is if I don't exercise today I will not have my glass of wine or piece of chocolate. This works for me. You have to find what works for yourself.

  8. Excellent blog post, Sean. Thank you for taking the time to write it. As one who has 190 lbs left of a 200 lb needed weight loss, I need positive reinforcement, not negative. Thanks again.

  9. Excellent post, as others have said. You get it right - it is in your mind. If you do not find what thoughts are making you reach for the food, if you don't understand and make that the starting point and the sacred point, then you will find yourself faltering. I read the article yesterday and all I could keep thinking was - yes but--- Yes,you lost weight, but you didn't do it in a way you could live the rest of your life as. Yes, but what did you learn about yourself in the process. yes, but what did you learn about saying no to the addictive side of your brain. It isn't true that some people can eat what ever they want - people with out a weight problem don't WANT to eat in binges, mass quantities, of only highly processed food. I have never met or seen that person. I see thin or normal weight people that eat things in moderation. Those of us who are addicted know that our chemistry will not allow for "moderation". At least not now. Let us be happy in at least realizing it, and stop moping about.

  10. I did not read the article. And honestly I did not read your whole post either. This topic, the set weight thing, drives me a little crazy.

    So I wanted to comment to say -
    Our weight is determined by our habits.

    Our body does not have a "set weight".

    Our habits determine our weight.

    What we do, every day, determines what we weigh.

    That is why it is super important to lose weight in a way we can continue to support/do.

    And this process evolves as we go through weight loss stages and into maintenance. The process continues to evolve in maintenance.

    Exercising, intensely, for many hours a day, is not usually something we can continue to do long term.

    Eating too low of a calorie range is not something we can continue to do long term.

    And as you have found with your own journey, what we eat has far more to do with maintenance than exercise.

    Exercise is SUPER important. But it is important for range of motion, flexibility, strength, bone density, posture, etc than it is for calorie burn.

    Water and sleep and living a very balanced and stress free living is also important.

    Eating whole foods and a very balanced food plan is also very important. The balance point for each of us is a little different (protein, fat, carbs) but we all have a balance point. In your life, staying away from added sugar probably sorts itself out to achieve your balance point, in my opinion.

    The Biggest Loser goes against all of those points. The show is not looking out for the long term life of the contestants. It is looking for what makes a good show.

    If the producers were looking for long term success, each contestant would be working with a therapist.

    And they would focus on learning how to eat.

    And they would work on many facets of their lives.

    Some would need to go to couple's therapy or get divorced. Many would need to change jobs. Most all of them would need to make major changes/set up boundaries with their families of origin. How they handle money, their social life, the stuff in their house, might need major attention.

    The fat is just the part we can see. A lot of loops in our lives are tied into our "food" response.

    Just burning off calories does not work, unless they continue to live at the ranch for the rest of their lives.

    And that whole process, all the loops we need to address/change, does not happen on day one. It is very much a process.

  11. You were the first person that came to mind when I read that NYT article. "But what about Sean!" I thought. I agree that it was a super discouraging article and probably will do harm to those that read it, regardless if that was the writer's intention. You live your truth, though, and that's all you can do. Thank you for sharing your perspective with us and for being such a great example!

  12. I have never read your blogs before. I heard about you in the comments of another person I follow. It amazes me how very true the whole taking responsibility for your own emotions, actions, eating and all is. It also amazes me how very hard it can be. I am a food addict. I love to eat. I emotionally eat. I eat cause I'm happy, bored, mad, sad, you name it and I want to eat. I like the taste and texture of food. I try to avoid certain foods because I will binge. I also know all about the excuses. At one point in my life I was over 500. I'm down to 295. I had gotten down to 245 a couple of years ago but then gained back 50 pounds. It's frustrating. It's hard and I know it's MY fault. I know what I need to do to lose the weight and keep it off. It's the following through that I am having the problem with.

  13. Great post! The article on the study left many feeing hopeless, I'm sure. Thanks for the encouragement and for being a living example of someone who is successfully maintaining a significant weight loss and dealing with food addiction head on. Our efforts to overcome food addiction are not in vain and I feel sorry for all of the people who read that article and decided to just give up. I hope they find your blog and get some encouragement!


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