Many Americans are living with excess weight and obesity, meaning they have a higher-than-normal body weight for their height. With more than a third of the U.S. adult population affected by obesity, the marketplace is saturated with “quick-fix” weight-loss tips and unhealthy and unsustainable diets. Indeed, at the beginning of every year, favorite snacks are left out of the grocery cart, gym memberships soar and healthy-cooking programs earn a second look as losing weight tops New Year’s resolution lists.
Yet for all the good intentions, weight loss is no easy task, and for some, it is an ongoing struggle. Why? In reality, obesity is a complex chronic disease that changes how the body uses food and the energy it produces, preventing some people from maintaining the weight loss they achieve.
The result is a lifetime of ups and downs, as well as emotional, psychological, physical and health implications.
The Weight-Loss Cycle
According to a recent U.S. ethnographic study conducted by Novo Nordisk, many people affected by obesity often experience a cycle of weight loss and weight gain. The phases of this cycle include:
1. Defining Moment: Feeling energized and motivated. I’m ready to do something about my weight.
2. Consideration: Feeling hopeful and determined. I have many options. I will choose the one that will help me get to the goal I have set for myself.
3. Momentum: Feeling confident and excited. I’m seeing a difference in my weight, and so can others. I can do this.
4. Plateau: It’s getting harder. It’s easy to get off track. I’m not losing weight anymore. Life is getting in the way. Note: Missteps often occur here. It becomes challenging to maintain my plan. I’m becoming frustrated and anxious.
5. Collapse: I’m tired of this. I can’t keep this up, so I’m not going to. I’m actually relieved that the pressure is off of me.
6. Fatigue: Feeling exhausted and sad. I don’t even want to think about my weight right now.
According to the study, individuals commonly repeat this cycle frequently throughout their lifetime. Each time, they return to the Defining Moment, such as trying to find clothes that fit properly for a special event, or struggling to fit on a bus or plane seat, motivated again to restart the process with hope renewed. Along the way, many rely on family, friends or even the media for inspiration and support, often focusing on immediate, rapid weight-loss solutions rather than behavioral changes that can influence choices over the long term.
“The cycle of weight is often extremely frustrating for individuals affected by the disease of obesity. For far too long, individuals have been met with the ‘eat less and move more’ response, which simply does not work. We know more about the science of obesity today than ever before, and we need to utilize this knowledge to help individuals effectively manage their weight and improve their health through safe and effective treatment options,” says Joe Nadglowski, Obesity Action Coalition president and CEO.
As the medical community continues to evolve in its understanding of obesity, many healthcare professionals (HCPs) are prioritizing open dialogues with their patients about the value of a comprehensive weight-management approach. It is this collaboration, many physicians believe, that can play a vital role in helping patients break the cycle and shift the focus from exclusively weight loss to a more long-term view of health and weight maintenance.
“Obesity is a complex, chronic and multifaceted disease that is best managed through a partnership between patients and their healthcare providers” says Dr. Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness. “Addressing weight is not easy, but finding a support network, which may include a doctor, nurse, registered dietician, mental health provider, or others, can provide resources that help with short- and long-term weight management. Patients are more likely to achieve progress when, in collaboration with their healthcare network, they have opportunities to discuss treatment options, establish plans, monitor results and evaluate responses to the plan.”
Specifically, treatment plans that are customized to patients’ personal considerations, realistic goals and changing needs over time have the best chance of success. By consulting a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals, including physicians, registered dieticians and mental health professionals, among others, individuals can receive tailored, comprehensive support based on their changing weight-loss needs. Over time, this can result in long-lasting behavior change, which helps break the weight-loss cycle. Plans that include the necessary tools to help patients build skills for long-term behavior change stand to provide the most value.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
While the motivation to lose weight often comes from the desire to have more energy, reduced pain, better health or to take part in certain activities, many patients have unrealistic ideas as to how much weight they have to lose to achieve any level of success. Fortunately, even small improvements in weight loss can significantly impact overall health and wellness. Many studies indicate that a 5% to 10% reduction in weight may lower health risks related to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bad cholesterol, hypertension and sleep apnea.
If you need help in losing or maintaining your weight, consider professional consultation. What once worked may no longer work, so it’s important to talk to your provider if the pounds are not coming off or are coming back on.