Who hasn't gained weight after a diet ends? The number might fill a small closet. As one of my friends who has been dieting since she went into training pants recollects, "I was at my lowest weight in l987 for about 10 milliseconds. Then I got off the scale and began to gain."
Even those of who weigh themselves constantly, and scrutinize their faces and bodies for the first sign of another chin or protruding belly, admit the impossibility of keeping their weight constant. To be sure, for the hypervigilant, a five-pound weight gain produces the same dismay as a 20-pound weight gain for the rest of us. But the fact that they can gain pounds despite constant self supervision is more evidence about the difficulty of keeping one's weight constant.
Of course, there are the rest of the dieters whose wardrobe reflects their continuing fluctuations in weight. Many of my weight-loss clients refuse to throw away clothes that are too big because they assume that weeks or months after the diet is over, they will grow back into them. And, sadly, sometimes the weight gained after a diet is considerably more than the weight that was so happily lost.
Everyone recognizes regaining weight as almost inevitable and yet at present few, if any, effective interventions exist to prevent it. Weight loss franchises,for example, offer free lifetime memberships for those who have maintained their weight loss. But, as a formerly fat friend of mine told me, "The only people who take advantage of this offer are those who somehow have managed not to gain back their weight. People I know who have regained are often too embarrassed to return." Studies offering comprehensive weight-loss support including prepared meals, consulting dieticians, psychological support, personal trainers and frequent weight monitoring have reported failing to prevent weight gain during the second year of the program. Yet this would be the period when, hypothetically, new eating, exercise and general lifestyle habits would already be solidified. Websites devoted to information about phentermine, a weight-kiss drug that is supposed to only be used for a few months, are filled with claims from people who purport that they have been taking the drug for years because they believe that once they stop, they will regain weight.
Sometimes weight gain can occur despite efforts to avoid it. Medications, injuries, limited food choices because of travel or relatives, thyroid problems: These are but a few causes of weight gain that we may not be able to avoid. The most common cause remains, and that is eating a little too much and exercising too little. We all know we are doing this, especially during the holidays, but self-denial can be potent until the scale reveals the truth.
It begs the question at this time of year, would we stop straying from the eating and exercise patterns that maintain our weight loss if we were alerted to what we were doing? I have a car that beeps at me if I drive a few inches over my lane. When this happens I immediately focus on my steering. The beeps are loud, annoying and embarrassing, especially if someone else is in the car.
Would some (quieter) signal work to tell me that I am about to stray from the “lane of appropriate food choices and exercise?” What if, for example, I thought about buying a doughnut to eat with my coffee or debating whether to order French fries with my sandwich? If a voice from my smart phone were to say, “You don’t want to do that, do you?” might I turn away from the fries and order the salad, with dressing on the side? And what if it were time to go to the gym but excuses for not doing so were being sorted in my head? Might a verbal prod from a monitoring device make me pick up my gym bag and go exercise, or would I simply remove the batteries? After all, none of us likes to be reminded by someone else that our eating and exercise habits are going to make us gain back weight. But we accept reminders from machines that we have to do something, now…Think alarm clocks.
So maybe there are two solutions to preventing creeping weight gain. The first is an alarm that goes off when our eating and exercise stray into the lane of weight gain. The second is our willingness to ask ourselves why are we doing this....The doughnut still may be eaten, the exercise forgotten. But if the reasons for it are identified and acknowledged, then maybe the next time it happens, they can be resisted.