What a loaded question. But it goes through so many people minds as they try to navigate the diet industry, the Instagram perfection, the looming summer swimsuit season. Why can’t I lose the weight? Why do I keep sabotaging my diet? What is wrong with me?
A lot. A lot is wrong. But not what you think.
I am going to give you a variety of reasons this isn’t working for you. I don’t have all the answers, and I haven’t put all the pieces together yet for myself, but I have come to one BIG conclusion for myself, and for all of you.
You are doing your best.
How do I know this? Because very few people choose to be overweight. Some do, they are fine with it, they like to overeat, they equate it with bonding time with family, or perhaps they just like the way their body looks in that shape. And that is okay. If you are good with how your body looks, no matter the size, I am so happy for you, and you keep being you, and you can move on. This conversation is for the people who are struggling. Who feel upset, ashamed, guilty, overwhelmed, and feel like it is never going to get better. I am here for you. I am speaking to you.
So why is it so hard?
- Our bodies are designed to store food. They don’t know food is so plentiful now. They don’t know that we aren’t starving peasants anymore. It has fine tuned calorie preservation into a biological art form over millennia.
- Processed Foods: Preservatives are killing us. I can’t back that up with any facts. It is strictly my opinion. If you are company that sells preservatives don’t come after me. But I can’t see how these microscopic molecules can do what they do to food, and not affect our cellular chemistry in some way that isn’t harmful.
- American Wheat: It’s been modified and refined. It is different than European wheat, and seems to cause more insulin resistance. There is a some evidence to this, it isn’t solely my opinion, but I am too tired and exhausted to look it up and fact check myself. We will call this my opinion too. I haven’t figured out a way to get European wheat into my diet. But it makes sense to me why us Americans have worse health and more central obesity than Europeans. They eat different wheat, and they eat more fresh foods.
- STRESS: It raises our cortisol levels, which causes us to slow our metabolism, and store more calories as fat. Stress can be physical, but for most of us, it is mental. I can’t tell you how many people I see in my office everyday overwhelmed by their work. We are not managing our stress very well in this country.
- Lack of Exercise: This isn’t a lesson in expend more energy than you take in… Though I love to tell my patients that you can’t out-run a donut. (Meaning it can take a few seconds to eat 500 calories, but takes an hour to walk off 500 calories,). This is about improving your metabolism. It also improves your mental health. And it doesn’t need to be a run. Walking for 30 minutes a day is really a tremendous achievement we should all be aiming for.
- Lack of Sleep: Supposedly, we burn more calories when we sleep. It is also restorative to our cells. Our bodies need sleep to be at peak performance. Lack of sleep affects our concentration, and our mood. A good night’s rest also helps us handle stress better…. And most importantly, it improves our metabolism.
- Water: If you are dehydrated your body is in panic mode. It doesn’t know that you have a water faucet three feet away from you. It is still thinking back to peasant times. If you are dehydrated your body is going to go on high alert, and raise your cortisol level. It is going to slow down your metabolism and hold onto all resources.
- Hunger: I saved the best for last.
Thin people just say, push the plate away, put down the fork and walk away. There is a lot of judgment there. What they don’t realize is, fat people (and I am generalizing here), don’t eat when they are full. They eat because they are still hungry. They can be hungry all the time. Thin people eat a “reasonable” portion, get a cue to be full, and they stop eating. It doesn’t work that way with fat people. They don’t get that cue. They still feel hungry.
If you are a thin person reading this, and have gotten this far, ask yourself this: Remember the last time you were starving, and just wanted to eat until your stomach stretched beyond it’s limits? Imagine feeling like that ALL THE TIME. Starving. Hungry. It takes about 1-2 hours to digest your food. Imagine having that feeling coming back every 2 hours. To where you were constantly thinking about food. It is an uncontrollable urge. Only eating gives it relief.
There is a new class of medications that have come onto the market in recent years. They are getting a lot of buzz. They have their pros and cons, and I am not going to get into all of that here. If you are interested in them, we can have that chat in person at my office. But what I will tell you is that for the people that go on them (and are able to tolerate them), they are GAME CHANGERS. Yes, people lose weight on them, and that is of course fantastic, and the reason that I prescribe them. But what is most striking to me about them, is the comments I hear from the people who take them.
“I don’t think about food all the time”
“I finally know what feeling full is like”
That is AMAZING. It was really eye opening for me to hear those words. For so long fat people have been judged for eating too much. The entire world blames them for lack of self control, with this holier than thou attitude, of why can’t you stop eating? The rest of us are perfectly able to put the fork down… but in reality, people with a weight problem are getting INTENSE internal signals to eat that the average weight person has never had to overcome.
I haven’t found a solution to this hunger problem. The meds seem to work well for a lot of people. Working on reason 1-7 above can also mitigate hunger for a lot of people as well. I think we all need to take a look at this list and see what in there is changeable for each of us individually. I am very grateful that scientists are trying to solve this problem. In the meantime, we need to give grace to ourselves, and those around us struggling with this.
So please PLEASE stop judging yourself. And stop judging other people.
They are doing the best they can.