There are so many myths about obesity and excess weight, and many of them lead to weight stigma. It’s hard to reach a healthier weight when we don’t understand how the body works. So here are four FACTS about weight management.
Fact #1: Obesity is a chronic medical condition
Many people believe that people living with obesity or excess weight just have an issue with willpower– that if they just worked harder at eating less and moving more, they would lose weight and keep it off. It turns out that this is FAR from the case.
As Toronto-based obesity specialist Dr. David Macklin puts it, “There’s a ton of great medical evidence to suggest that struggling with weight is a true genetically conferred complex, environmentally influenced medical condition.”
Why? It has to do with how our bodies evolved tens of thousands of years ago when food wasn’t so readily available. Let’s say I start a diet and begin losing weight. Unfortunately, my body thinks that weight loss happened because food is suddenly very scarce and it starts fighting back, trying to prevent additional weight loss and working to go back to my original weight. It lowers my metabolism, so that I burn fewer calories, and charges up hormones to make me hungrier and weakens the hormones that make me feel full.
This is my body’s way of protecting itself- it really thinks I’m in danger. Even the most motivated dieters are working against their own biology, and ultimately almost all dieters gain the weight back, often plus a little more. It’s these mechanisms that make obesity a chronic medical condition, “just like asthma, just like depression, just like Parkinson’s” as Dr. Laura Reardon, an obesity expert in Halifax says.
Fact #2: Genetics play a big role
“What we weigh is a result of what we eat and how much we exercise” is a very commonly held belief. Actually, the truth is that genetics play a big role in what we weigh, “determining somewhere close to 80% of our size and shape,” according to Dr. Macklin.
He goes on to point out that the numbers are very similar for height, but says that “you don’t really see people blaming themselves or calling themselves out as lesser just because they haven’t reached the height that they really feel they should have been, yet the genetic influence is the same, between our body size and height.”
We tend to view height as something that’s determined for us by our genes, while believing that our weight is under our control, and it’s more complex than that.
Fact #3: For most people, diet and exercise alone just isn’t enough…
For those who believe that the formula for managing weight is simple– all we have to do is eat less and move more– here’s the reality. For most people, diet and exercise alone just isn’t enough to help them reach and maintain a healthier weight. Part of this has to do with the nature of “diets” as we classically think about them.
Vancouver obesity expert Dr. Ali Zentner puts it this way: “The challenge with diets is they don’t work. Diets have a beginning, they have a middle, and they have an end. The challenge with a diet is it advocates restriction. It advocates denial, deprivation. It advocates that white-knuckled, kind of ‘just work harder and hate this’ for a period of time. But when it comes to obesity, you have to do this forever.”
Making sustainable changes towards a healthier lifestyle is important, but when it’s not enough, we need to try something else in addition to a healthy lifestyle…
Fact #4: There ARE treatments to help anyone reach a healthier weight
Here’s the good news– there are medical treatments available. As Medical expert Dr. Sean Wharton puts it: “There are resources to help you to keep that weight off and it’s not willpower. You failed with willpower over and over again. So it’s got to be something different, such as bariatric surgery, medications, or cognitive behavioral therapy. So there’s hope. There’s an answer, there’s an answer out there.”
And the first step towards finding the answer is going to talk to your doctor about getting medical treatment for your weight. It might involve getting referred to a specialist or exploring some of the medical treatments available with your family physician. Seeing a healthcare professional will help you find an individualized plan that’s right for you and your situation. Do your research, and know that this step will pay big dividends in the long-run. Here’s how Ottawa specialist Dr. Judy Shiau describes it: “It is truly of value to seek medical attention, whether it’s your primary care physician or whether you get referred to a specialty clinic for weight management. There’s nothing wrong with getting that professional help.”
Did you find this article helpful? Knowledge is power! Seeing a physician who specializes in weight management can help you get even more information about the treatments available for reaching a healthier weight… to find a doctor near you, click here.
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