The Obesity Mountain

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I thought Tara Parker-Pope's piece on obesity was fascinating, and worked best as a corrective to the notion that weight-loss can be easy and fast. (Lose 30 pounds in 30 days.) But I thought her basic conclusion--that weight loss is essentially impossible for majority of humans--was underserved by her reliance on studies that looked a lot like crash diets. 550 calories a day, much of it coming from shakes sounds insane, as does 30 pounds over eight weeks. It isn't shocking that someone on that diet would gain it all back, and then some. In another case the subjects were on a liquid diet of 800 calories a day.


I'm not a scientist, but I have lost roughly a quarter of myself. I've done it at a glacial pace--almost eight years. So glacial in fact that I wouldn't even call it a "diet.": I've gained some in that time, but never yo-yoed back to the heights of my girth. The pattern has been more like lose lot, gain a some, lose some gain a little, lose a lot etc. 

Obviously I wish this had happened faster and smoother. But the upshot of taking the long way is that I've learned a lot about how to negotiate  world where, at almost every step, cheap high calorie food is at the ready. You can't get that understanding in a lab and you're unlikely to get if your trying to burn of 3-4 pounds a week. That sounds like masochism. 

It would have been nice to see Parker-Pope incorporate studies of people who didn't lose weight through crash dieting. Perhaps those studies don't exist. I don't know. At the end Parker-Pope writes:

One question many researchers think about is whether losing weight more slowly would make it more sustainable than the fast weight loss often used in scientific studies. Leibel says the pace of weight loss is unlikely to make a difference, because the body's warning system is based solely on how much fat a person loses, not how quickly he or she loses it. Even so, Proietto is now conducting a study using a slower weight-loss method and following dieters for three years instead of one.

I really would have liked to have seen a more substantial treatment of slow question than that. It feels like an afterthought. I highly recommend the piece. But it seems to boil down to crash diets don't really work. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/the-obesity-mountain/250748/