FYI Daily

Once and for All, Why Are You Fat?

Last updated:

December 30, 2011
fat cat

At the start of a new year, millions of Americans start regretting extra pounds added over the holidays and/or making a resolution to lose weight once and for all. But even if they do lose a few pounds, or a lot, most of them will gain the weight back. What gives?

Health editor Tara Parker Pope -- who's 60 pounds overweight herself and the daughter of an often-obese mother -- has wondered this herself. In a New York Times Magazine article, she sifts through the latest thinking on weight loss (and gain), hoping to tease out a solution.

To some extent, we can blame something called "biological determinism" -- at least in part. Our bodies are programmed as a survival mechanism to want to hold weight, at least to some extent, she says. That makes it harder to keep weight off once it's lost. The body is metabolically different once it's lost 10 percent of its weight -- it requires fewer calories than a person of the same weight who didn't diet to get there, and it burns energy slightly less efficiently. So you have to work harder to keep it off.

Even the brain is working against you, conspiring to cause food cravings after weight loss and amping up your emotional response to food.

Despite having a biological deck stacked against you, attitude, Pope seems to say, makes the ultimate difference between the permanent weight-losers and those who regain.

For example, some people with a genetic predisposition for easier (though not inevitable) weight gain adopt a fatalistic attitude when they learn this: Oh well, I'm destined to be fat so I may as well order the extra fries and skip the gym membership.

Successful weight-managers keep a constant awareness of food intake. According to the National Weight Control Registry -- 10,000 successful losers, who have lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years or more -- maintaining loss usually demands constant vigilance. Registry members also tend to exercise an hour a day, watch less TV than others, and weigh themselves daily.

So is obesity a psychological problem or a biological one? A bit of both, it seems. Writes Pope: "Weight-loss scientists say they believe that once more people understand the genetic and biological challenges of keeping weight off, doctors and patients will approach weight loss more realistically and more compassionately." She says it was liberating for her to discover that there are factors beyond her character responsible for her weight gain.

Unfortunately at the end of the day, there's no magic pill to make it come off -- only the most determined of wills, plus a little know-how about what you're up against. These 5 secrets to lifelong weight loss can help, as can this plan for weight loss after 40 -- why it's so hard and what works.