“Nobody wants to be fat. In most modern cultures, even if you are healthy…to be fat is to be perceived as weak-willed and lazy. It’s also just embarrassing.” –Tara Parker-Pope, the New York Times

Over the holidays, I met with a friend who has struggled with her weight for nearly as long as I have. Right now, she is close to her ideal weight, and she has worked hard to get there. As we were talking about weight and dieting, she told me about an article in the New York Times“The Fat Trap” by Tara Parker-Pope. (I started this On Being Fat series by linking to it.) My friend also mentioned how discouraging the article was, but that she was going forward with an optimistic attitude about her own weight, and I said I would be doing the same with mine. (I’ve lost about 45 pounds since May.)

This is exactly what we should do, but let’s face it, the odds aren’t in our favor. My friend and I both have a long history of losing weight and then gaining it all back, and we aren’t alone in our struggle with fat. According to MSNBC, “more than 80 percent of people who have lost weight regain all of it, or more, after two years.” My own patterns of gaining and losing certainly verify this, and the same is true for many people I know.

Why should so many of us who really and truly want to be trim gain weight back after losing it? Parker-Pope provides some answers in “The Fat Trap.”  In brief, studies indicate that genetics and hormones make it difficult for many people to lose large amounts of weight permanently. It seems our bodies don’t like shedding pounds, and when an obese person loses weight, his or her body pumps out a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. At the same time, the dieting body will produce less of peptide YY and leptin, which suppress appetite.  “A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels.”

Parker-Pope notes: “For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped.”

She movingly recounts how her mother struggled with being overweight, and how, as her mother lay dying, “[i]t was her great regret that in the days before she died, the closest medical school turned down her offer to donate her body because she was obese.” In turn, Parker-Pope struggles with her own weight, and by her own admission, she is at least 60 pounds overweight.

Parker-Pope then goes on to describe some people—the happy few—who have indeed managed to keep their weight down for many years. Readers, I have bad news that will come as no surprise to those of you who have a history of dieting. It takes constant vigilance and will power for a formerly obese person to maintain a healthy weight. Such people can never not think about food, how much they have eaten and how much they will eat. It also requires exercise—at least an hour a day, seven days a week.

Is it any wonder people just give up? I have done so many times in the past when I have just plain gotten tired of always monitoring every bit of food that has gone into my mouth.

However, I do have some good news. I have found a system that has made losing weight and keeping it off a little easier. (Not easy, mind you. Just easier.) I stumbled across it by accident fourteen years ago, and I had more success with this method of losing weight than I have ever had with any other system. Unfortunately, after keeping off the weight for two years, I gained it back, and the reason is fairly simple. My husband and I started a small literary magazine called Wolf Moon Journal, which occupied so much of my day that I couldn’t focus on keeping track of everything I ate, and I no longer had time to exercise.

Two years ago, we stopped publishing the journal. Over a year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told not to diet during radiation treatment, and it was open season on chocolate and sweets, my weaknesses. Last May, after radiation treatment was over, I went for my yearly exam, and I found I had gained 13 pounds over the winter. I was at my heaviest. Yikes!

The time had come to take another shot at losing weight, to return to the system that had worked so well for me 14 years ago. That system is called controlled cheating, and in my final post On Being Fat, I’ll describe the system and the roundabout way I came across it.


  1. Did you happen to read the Elizabeth Berg piece (p. 63)in the new Real Simple magazine? Very good. I think back on the older women in my life and they all had some weight. It may be natural. It may be the way it is supposed to be. At least I like to think so! :<)

    1. I have not read Elizabeth Berg’s piece. I don’t get Real Simple, but I will either look for it on newsstands or see if I can find the piece online. I am coming to believe that biology plays an important part in how much a person weighs. It’s not the whole story, but it’s a big piece. As humans, we evolved to deal with scarcity, not the incredible abundance of the last 50 years. In addition, we have become a “sitting” society, where most of us spend much of our time sitting at work, sitting in our car, and sitting at home. Is it any wonder we are such a fat society?

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