bathroom scale errorSo here we are once again: diet season.

The media are littered with ads for weight loss programs, gyms, diets, fitness gear, diet foods, “miracle” supplements, and all the rest.

TV schedules are loaded with diet and weight loss competitions, and, of course, scores of reality programs on bariatric surgery, skin surgery or merely what it’s like to live anywhere on the spectrum between overweight and morbidly obese.

It’s a pretty potent recipe for instilling guilt, all to the constant drumbeat of accusation: If you don’t lose weight, it’s all YOUR fault. You’re lazy. You don’t eat right. Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise.

But though there’s no getting around the fact that diet and exercise ARE the foundation of losing weight – not to mention improving overall health and well-being – reality is never so black-and-white simple as media makers and “marketeers” make it sound.

That reality was cast in bright – if brief – light this past fall by a study published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. Analyzing nearly 40 years of data from more than 36,000 adults, its authors found that a person today is, on average, about 10% heavier than a person with comparable diet back in the 1970s – and 5% heavier than a person from the late 1980s with a comparable level of exercise.

In other words, it actually is harder than ever to lose weight today.

“Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40 year old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight,” says Professor Jennifer Kuk in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science. “However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”

Through recent decades, we’ve come to identify a number of other crucial factors that can impact overweight and obesity. These include

  • Chronic stress.
  • Sleep debt.
  • Hormonal imbalance.
  • The state of our microbiome.
  • Increased use of prescription drugs, including SSRIs, atypical antipsychotics, steroids, and pain meds.
  • Environmental toxins – and not just endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA and other obeseogens but also, potentially, interactions among constituents in the chemical cocktail each of us eats, absorbs and breathes every day.

Yet another reason was suggested by a study published this past November in Cell. The one-size-fits-all diet approach we’ve relied on for years may be an impossibility. We may each, in fact, require a specifically personalized diet. As Science News reported,

The researchers made the discovery after fitting 800 people with blood glucose monitors for a week. The people ate standard breakfasts supplied by the researchers. Although the volunteers all ate the same food, their blood glucose levels after eating those foods varied dramatically. Traits and behaviors such as body mass index, sleep, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and the kinds of microbes living in people’s intestines are associated with blood glucose responses to food, the researchers conclude.

Those findings indicate that blood sugar spikes after eating depend “not only on what you eat, but how your system processes that food,” says Clay Marsh, an epigenetics researcher at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

To put it another way, what may make one person pack on the pounds can be a problem-free diet for another. It depends on their total metabolic picture.

Yes, diet and exercise matter. They will always matter. Good food and physical activity are requirements our bodies need to function properly and efficiently. There’s no getting around that.

But “weight management,” as Professor Kuk said in a media release on her Obesity Research study,

is actually much more complex than just “energy in” versus “energy out”…. That’s similar to saying your investment account balance is simply your deposits subtracting your withdrawals and not accounting for all the other things that affect your balance like stock market fluctuations, bank fees or currency exchange rates.

This is why it can be so much more productive to embark with a qualified and knowledgeable integrative physician in any attempt to slim down and shape up – rather than just going with what sounds good or right or familiar, just because everyone else is saying “yes, it works.”

Together, we can identify all prospective contributing factors and devise a personalized plan for you to work for the results you seek.

Image by Matthew, via Flickr


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