The Antidepressant Diet

The connection between carbohydrates, serotonin, and antidepressant weight gain

The Elusive Weight Loss Goal

Can the dieter ever reach it?

Have you ever seen a weight loss program, diet pill, spa, or even surgical procedure promise that will get the dieter to his or her weight-loss goal? Yes, the advertising will tell you how easy it to start a diet, but most sales pitches are eerily silent as to whether or not you will complete it.

Some dieters, of course, achieve their weight loss goal, especially if it can be reached within weeks or months, rather than in years. But for the majority, dieting is halted pounds before the desired weight number is reached. And the dieter is faced with the problem of maintaining the weight already lost.

An acquaintance lost a considerable amount of weight, but after two years of dieting and exercise was still 50 pounds away from his goal. His weight loss slowed to a stop; it was hard for him to reduce his calorie intake any further, and his job prevented increasing the duration of his exercise program. He gave up. Slowly, but noticeably, he started to gain weight and his appearance reversed itself like a film being played backward.

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His story is familiar. His weight loss goal seemed unattainable, and his frustration from months of eating frugally, working out regularly, and self-denial overrode his ability to stick with his program. He confessed that he did not know how to maintain his already considerable weight loss. “I don’t know how much to eat or how often to work out so I won’t gain weight,” he told me. “I can’t even figure out how to eat normally—whatever that is.”

As weight-loss goals retreat into the mists, dieters often give up and start to gain lost weight. If they stayed in the program, returned to the spa, or visited the surgical center, perhaps someone would be able to help them maintain their weight loss. This is the marketing logic that commercial efforts manipulate for new business or client retention. It is embarrassing, after all, to admit that you are no longer dieting, when it is obvious that you failed your weight-loss goal.

Balancing between continuing to lose weight, and then not re-gaining requires specific strategies that differ from those used for weight loss itself. The strategies consist of using some do-it-yourself simple measurements, getting support and even life-coaching from caring and competent professionals.

The do-it-yourself measurements require a scale, a device to record daily activity, measuring cups, and paper and pen.

Dieters have to know how much they weigh, hence the scale. Human nature makes us reluctant to weigh ourselves when we are pretty sure we have gained weight, but the alternative is pretending it is not happening until … eek, it has. A scale is the dieter’s best tool for figuring out how to maintain weight loss, because it allows the dieter to see how increasing or decreasing food intake and exercise effect his or her weight. Without a scale, there is really no way of figuring this out.

The inability to prevent weight gain may be due to changes in activity that go unnoticed. The fall, for example, may decrease activity simply because traffic is heavier and commuting time longer. Earlier sunsets might result in fewer after-dinner walks and time in the garden. Instead more sedentary time is spent in front of the television set, and the number of hours sleeping may also rise; these are common occurrences during the darker months. Clearly these substantial decreases in activity can certainly explain why weight loss slows or why weight gain increases.

Remember portion control? This dieting tool tends to be discarded early in a diet and replaced with the eyeball technique of estimating how much is being eaten. It is much easier to pretend that the correct portion size is being eaten, than to actually confirm it. But if weight loss is to be maintained, there is no alternative to measuring what is being eaten. Practice at home so you can rely again on your eyes to tell you how much you are eating.

Finally, do you know what you are eating every day? Memory is unreliable, especially when it comes to food eaten standing up, at the sink, on the run, or from someone else’s plate. Keep track of a week’s food intake after you stop dieting to see where those extra calories might be coming from. Be honest and do not diet during the food record week. Otherwise what is the point of doing it at all?

Plug in your food intake information, activity levels and current weight into one of the many programs on the computer (some activity monitors have this option) to see what your calorie intake is and ought to be to maintain your weight. It is important for the maintaining dieters to know how their everyday lives affect their weight: source of meals (home, restaurant, at work), available time for exercise and relaxation, travel schedules and jet lag, alcohol consumption, social time, work and family stress. Should any of these represent obstacles to weight maintenance, then life coaching, or perhaps even therapy, is necessary to prevent the pounds from coming back.

Just as important, the family and friends of the dieter must be compassionate and understanding when the diet comes to a halt. Acknowledging the success of the dieter is critical, regardless of how close or far the dieter is from an ideal weight. There must be no muttering , “I knew you would gain back the weight,” or “Why have you stopped dieting? You still look fat.” The dieter needs verbal pats on the back and help in avoiding the temptation to eat too much and exercise too little.

The weight-loss goal may never be reached, but if the dieter can lose enough weight to ensure a healthier life, this goal may be sufficient.

Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., is the co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet and the founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility.

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