The Myth of the Health Outlier

scene from vacation

I open the attic storage area door and weasel my way through the crawlspace.

On my knees and reaching over boxes of clothing and piles of luggage, I see the suitcase I’m looking for and attempt to heave it out into the bedroom without knocking my head on the ceiling, or jutting my foot through the insulation on the floor.

As I pull the suitcase out of the attic, it flies open and a few papers float down towards my feet.

What a cute little ribbon at the top, what is this?

I pick up the papers, and memories start to flow as it all registers.

Keepsakes from our trip to Montana last year.

Exactly one year ago.

These were our dinner menus, outlining every fabulous, decadent morsel of food we indulged in each night.menuranch 6-24-2014 9-39-16 AM

Oh, I wish I was there!

We are actually staying closer to home for vacation this year, driving instead of flying, and the reason I went to the attic in the first place was because I need to start packing, we are leaving soon!

I sit down on my bed with the menus, trying to picture myself there today.

That trip to Montana brings back amazing memories.

And the food, a definite highlight.

Last year, I threw food worries to the wind, you know, because it was vacation.

And tried to combat the decadent meals with lots of morning walks and some exercises on the deck of our cabin.

Once home, I definitely had trouble getting back to realistic eating habits, and learning how to right-size portions.

I most definitely gained weight.

I was stressed out at the time, and remember writing about it.

Hoping I could right this wrong within a few weeks.

But what I have learned since last year, is there were no wrongs.

It would be unrealistic to ignore delicious foods like this all week.

It would be unrealistic to not expect a little weight gain on vacation.

It would be unrealistic and unhealthy to starve myself when I return home, to quickly lose the weight.

And I shouldn’t get mad at myself.

Because this is Normal. This is living a good, happy, balanced life. This is to be expected.

Once home, back on routine, when I’m patient.

Those jeans will be comfortable again.

Do you find your weight changes seasonally?

My weight tends to go up a bit in the summer, when my routine is interrupted with vacations and travel, and there are so many amazing seasonal foods and farmer’s markets to attend.

And in the summer, I like more freedom, less structure in my workout routine.

And then I usually get more lean when it gets a little chillier and I enjoy the challenge of working out indoors.

It sounds like my normal might be backwards compared to many, who tend to gain weight in the winter months with all the comfort foods, and cold weather.

When I realized this was the case a few months ago, that weight fluctuates up and down seasonally and that it’s not the end of the world, I stopped getting mad at myself. Stopped striving for perfection all year long.

And just this tiny change in expectation and acceptance, has made a world of difference in how I see myself, and judge my success while maintaining my health long-term.

Now that I’m feeling super-comfortable in my skin.

Cutting myself some slack.

Understanding my personal rhythms.

I read something super-frustrating.

Maybe you saw it? There was a study posted this month by the CBC entitled: Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible.

The report basically says, barring a few exceptions, we will all gain weight. And if we try to lose it, we’ll just gain it back again.

It’s pretty much inevitable.

Only about 5% of people can “maintain” their weight loss.

Here’s an excerpt:

For psychologist Traci Mann, who has spent 20 years running an eating lab at the University of Minnesota, the evidence is clear. “It couldn’t be easier to see,” she says. “Long-term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people.”

We all think we know someone in that rare group. They become the legends — the friend of a friend, the brother-in-law, the neighbour — the ones who really did it.

But if we check back after five or 10 years, there’s a good chance they will have put the weight back on. Only about five per cent of people who try to lose weight ultimately succeed, according to the research. Those people are the outliers, but we cling to their stories as proof that losing weight is possible.

This also states that doctors don’t want this news to get out to the general public because people will stop trying:

Health experts are also afraid people will abandon all efforts to exercise and eat a nutritious diet — behaviour that is important for health and longevity — even if it doesn’t result in much weight loss.

Traci Mann says the emphasis should be on measuring health, not weight. “You should still eat right, you should still exercise, doing healthy stuff is still healthy,” she said. “It just doesn’t make you thin.”

As you can imagine, from my experience over the last few years, learning to maintain my weight loss after pregnancy, learning to accept myself, and navigate all the different life variables thrown at me each day, as well as the mental baggage that comes with trying to make sense of it all.

I read this report and learn my happily fluctuating weight approach, the one helping me stay sane and normal might put me in the failure category.

I don’t blame doctors for not wanting it publicized they think 95% of us are failures. If they are going to allow this information out, they should have given us all better details on what constitutes success, and good health. Not just a flashy headline, ensuring a great number of people will give up trying.

Every adult I know has made attempts to lose weight at some point in their life.

Men and Women.

I see success around me, every day. and it’s not that I live in a colony of outliers, as they describe this 5% who succeed, it’s because the definition of success and failure is not as black and white as they describe.

What defines success in this study?

Do we have to stay within a certain weight range? And for how long? Or do we have to stay on one number forever?

What if someone loses 50 lbs but then gains 10 back? Is she a failure, because she gained some back? Or a success because she maintained this for 10 years?

I have gained 8 pounds in the last 2 years but still fit into the same clothing, This is due to weight lifting–am I part of the 5% who is a healthy size or one of the 95% who can’t sustain weight loss?

What if you gain weight, maybe that same 10 pounds, going up and down periodically but are still considered healthy by your doctor? Are you a failure because you can’t sustain weight loss?

Scales fluctuate all the time, sometimes daily. Sometimes hourly…no wonder this report says it’s impossible to succeed!

I’m not going to listen to the headlines.

Whatever we do to keep ourselves active is good for our heart. Our bodies. Our flexibility. Our minds. Our disposition. Our energy-level.

And the food we eat? We lead social lives and sometimes, like on vacation, we shouldn’t have to worry about some number on the scale staying the same, all day, every day.

Much of the time, yes?

But all the time? I don’t see how this is possible.

If someone is told to lose weight for their health, any amount of loss achieved is worth it. Even if they might gain a little back here and there because there is more to life, and more to good health, than that fluctuating number.

And there is much more wiggle room than the headlines reveal.

Anyone who strives to keep their health top-of-mind, can be labelled a success.

It’s not a myth. It’s not impossible.

Unless defined in a short-sited way.

On that note,  it’s time for me to get back to that suitcase and let the packing begin.

The Montana menus will go in a scrapbook for now; I’ll have to trade them in for fried clams down on the beach next week instead. And perhaps leave the jeans at home in lieu of more roomy skirts…

Let the summer begin!

How do you handle the balance of fun foods and staying healthy during vacation? Do you find your weight fluctuates seasonally too? What do you think about this study on long-term weight loss, is it impossible? What strategies do you use to keep yourself in check throughout the year?

Would love to hear your ideas and discussion….and happy summer!

15 thoughts on “The Myth of the Health Outlier

  1. Robin! Great to see you here 🙂
    My favourite line, the one that resonated most with me, was this one: “But what I have learned since last year, is there were no wrongs.” I take all these studies with a grain of salt. Easy for me, I’m so unscientific and unmathematical. But I do think the news reports things irresponsibly, just to get readers and without fully researching what they’re saying. They manipulate their words to get the biggest bang, rather than to tell the story right or accurately. The most important thing is to be healthy – not to necessarily lose weight. I’ve never liked the goal of losing weight because it doesn’t tell the full story. Like becoming heavier through weight training. It’s good for you, but the weight going up is misleading. How you feel, both physically and emotionally, is what counts. Someone who starves themselves or has some other eating disorder because they are unhappy but manages to keep the weight off that way wouldn’t be an ideal example to shoot for. The weight thing really is – or should be – beside the point!

    • Hello! Thanks so much for your comment SL….And yes,it’s been harder and harder to write but I’m determined to keep up with my posts, just whenever I can is the best I can expect. You said it –it’s just irresponsible, in the days of social media to circulate this kind of study. I’m getting more and more tired of these misleading headlines. It’s so easy for someone to take this information, and really truly believe even trying is hopeless. I know so easily how weight and tight clothes can mess with your brain and self-confidence and just knowing we ARE doing ok, and not giving up the effort. Feeling like a success That’s what keeps us going….

  2. Love where you mentally “are” on this subject Robin! Rhythms of life…….perfect way to describe the ebb and flow of maintenance and health.

  3. Up until now, weight loss has not been my food-related issue. My issue is how food makes me feel physically and emotionally. That said I still have similar dilemmas while on vacation. Last summer my stomach was acting up and my expectations of junk food by the shore — ruined! That said, watching what I ate allowed me to walk on the boardwalks and go on rides with my kids bellyache free.

    As for long term — I don’t know my answer. I know I am an off and on kinda girl in most aspects of my life. I’m moving through an unhealthy period these last 3 years. I think I am due for a revision.

    • Jen thanks so much for your thoughts on this. I agree, about the “what”, I’m finding every other month something else is starting to bother me where I’m questioning what it is–dairy? yes, well, no it’s fine, no it’s bad again! Or carbs, etc. The part I struggle w/as an on-and-off kind of person is that if you are not, you get accusations of either being a kill-joy “live a little” they say! Or of having some kind of eating disorder because you are so rigidly strict. And with exercise, an exercise addiction! So this attempt to make peace w/both–but make the timing right–has been on my mind a lot. The remorse though has been bad but I’m finally feeling over it! I think your revision, beginning on your 40th birthday is great timing!

  4. Just going to fly right in here. Firstly, stats, studies etc they all make the hair on my arms stand up. I studied psych and stats for 5 yrs. you can make any percentage sound the way you want it to sound, it is all mumbo jumbo. So I don’t even read the headlines, I put in the dr oz catagorie of life. Sorry if that is to blunt just my opinion! Re vacationing, entertaining etc etc. Very hard to stick to your daily comfort happy menu. I try and be careful and not go crazy a little of this a lot of that. But I don’t feel like I am sacrificing at all, or any other lets say negative feelings. I do know I am an emotional eater. I know how to eat healthy I cook majority of our meals. But if I am feeling down, tired etc I turn to food a battle I have acknowledged and well heck maybe a lifelong battle. Activity does help, and boy it can be tough to fit it in on very busy days. Anyhow that’s my 2 cents. We r entertaining every weekend in the summer to some degree, some events are trickier than others more so the menu is something I would not be laying out…I know what makes my belly sore!

    • Erin, thanks so much! Love your comment and I agree, I don’t have a background in psych but know how to make numbers say what I want them to say. Headlines like this, we know they are ultimately dumb, but in weak moments, they maybe easy targets to fall back on if we want an easy solution to a complicated problem. Oh, 95% of us are failures, so I don’t want to try. You know? I just wish with these headlines, those putting those numbers out would be more pro-active at helping the community with positive ways we can feel successful–not just so flippant about telling us all we are going to fail. Many people read the headlines so there are so many vulnerable to believing it! Anyway, love your attitude about food and entertaining. Staying active and knowing how to exercise sure helps–it’s hard to say no to all the summer yumminess! Love hearing from you Erin!

  5. Vacation is a free for all! I eat whatever I want and I don’t care if it’s crap. I go on vacation once a year and I’m going to enjoy every second of it and that includes food. No guilt here. After a couple of week being home whatever I gained will be gone.

    I think there is some truth to that study in the sense that how many times have we all tried to lose weight before we were finally successful. I lost count for myself but this time was different. I knew it too. Something clicked in me and I did a complete overhaul on my life and I’ve kept it off going on 2 years now. I’ve gained a few pounds back on the scale but I know it’s muscle from all my lifting and my clothes fit the same and are actually becoming looser. I doubt the study really went in depth regarding gaining weight back from muscle. I think the average person probably doesn’t weight train. I measure my success not by the number on the scale, but rather how I look in the mirror and my clothing.

    Summertime is a little harder to keep weight in check for me due to bbq’s, patio weather, etc….I try to balance it though so that I allow my self the best of both worlds.

    • Carolyn, thanks so much for your thoughts—I love our like-minded attitudes about vacation, and well, lots of things. The thing about my story and yours, when I think about that study is that it’s all about education. Maintaining is about a choice to maintain. It’s about wanting it to happen. It can’t happen by chance. And I suppose if 95% of the people wish, or hope, or assume they’ll keep it off w/out much of an effort, it would be impossible to keep of. Lots of caveats there 🙂

  6. Robin, you’ve made me hungry! 🙂
    I guess I am lucky in that I usually lose weight in the summer and gain in winter. I am not a fan of ice cream, so that helps. Plus I seem to stay more active walking, mowing the lawn etc.
    Heck, vacation comes but once a year, plus life can be short-I say enjoy it as long as the trip doesn’t last for a few months!! Have a great time!!!

    • Hi Darlene, great point! I’d say a vacation lasting a long time could derail anyone! I heard it takes 21 days to create a habit–so that could be good or bad–so perhaps if we don’t make our vacation any longer than 21 days we will be safely back on track when we return. Great to hear from you!

  7. Robin, I only quickly read through the obesity study you references but I’m not terribly impressed with the article. You might be more uplifted by checking out the National Weight Control Registry (www.nwcr.ws). The registry is tracking over 10,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and have kept it off for at least a year. The goal is to understand the characteristics, habits, and practices of individuals who have successfully maintained their new weight. I don’t put much stock in the 95% number. I’ve seen studies that cite much lower statistics although certainly the majority of people do seem to regain the weight. But I think there’s a straightforward and simple explanation for that. Most people lose weight through restrictive, unsustainable eating and exercise habits (a “diet”) and once they get to their goal weight/size they resume their unhealthy habits. Less exercise, less movement in general, more junk food, and portions that are too large. And POOF! they regain the weight and claim that weight loss is futile. No, it isn’t. MFP and the Registry are full of successful “losers”. Bodies like to MAINTAIN. That’s their preferred, default state, I truly believe. Vacations with scrumptious, decadent eating is fine on occasion and won’t derail your train. Any weight gain should be just temporary when you resume your normal healthy eating habits. To me, the crux of the problem is that too many people’s daily eating & activity patterns resemble that of a vacation. That’s the norm for them. There is no healthy baseline to return to. And that’s why they are overweight. Great blog post, Robin! Thanks for writing.

  8. Robin, I have missed you — you’ve been here all along, but I took a detour for a while, so perhaps I should just say ‘hi again!’ instead. I read that same study article when it blazed across the web, and immediately began thinking about all the issues you bring up here. We are so alike, and I’ve kept my weight down (and relatively consistent) for almost 4 years. The weight training gain, the vacation guilt blues, mixing up workout interests and obsessions, and experimenting with different foods that may/may not give us tummy aches or mystery symptoms, and last but not least, processing all the emotions and judgements that go on in our heads. I wish our culture (and our media) didn’t contribute to how laborious and long this process has become for most of us — not just the process of numbers and plans, but the personal roller coaster of the heart and soul. And with all the other emotional/spiritual landscapes to conquer at different points in our lives, I think sometimes people are overwhelmed; they can only tackle one life issue at once, sandwiched among carpools, jobs, family, health concerns, etc. and those extra 30-50 lbs might have to be back burner to something else. I know I have been focusing on more spiritual things lately, and rethinking how my exercise plan and a semi-paleo eating arrangement are going to allow enough time for both.

    Sorry for the dissertation! 😉 Maybe I should write my own blog instead of cluttering up yours! Hee. But keep it up — I love and treasure what you’re doing. Hopefully we can finally meet in person one day!

  9. Pingback: Back to School Transition isn’t just for Kids | A Fit and Focused Future

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