Weight Cycling Industry

From Deb Burgard comes this amazing post on weight cycling:

Why do we call it the “weight loss industry” when what we really get for our time, sacrifice, and money is weight cycling? 19 times out of 20, what we are really purchasing is the experience of weight loss and regain.

Imagine if we called it the “weight cycling industry,” and “weight cycling programs.”  Would you participate in Weight Cyclers at work?  Buy food from NutriCycle?  Hire a trainer from the Biggest Weight Cycler?  […]

Because that is what we are doing, folks.   Better face the facts:  Of 100 people trying to lose weight, the vast majority of people will regain weight. Some significant group – perhaps a third – will gain more weight than they lost.  Some tiny number (7? 5? 3?)  will maintain their weight loss, and of that group, some number from 0-4 of them will be flirting with, developing, or fortifying an eating disorder.

People ask me why I don’t diet anymore.  I don’t lose weight “for good” — my weight goes down in the short term  and up in the long term, ending up weighing more than when I started.   So yeah, “weight cycling” is more descriptive than “weight loss”.

And yet, people ask, “what about health“?  As Deb points out in the same post:

It is the practices that people adopt in the pursuit of weight loss that are the problem, because for the 95 out of 100 people who regain weight during a diet, when the practices are not sustainable they lead to more physical and psychological illness.

The Health at Every Size® model is weight neutral.  People using this approach are not pro- or anti-weight loss, but they are mindful that the pursuit of weight loss is usually harmful, unlike the cultivation of sustainable practices that feel life-affirming and support your health.   In keeping with the “truth in advertising” theme, the Health at Every Size model does not insist that everyone is healthy at every size, or that anyone anytime is necessarily the size that optimizes their health.  “Health” in this context means that whatever size you are, there are practices that will support your health.

As I’ve written before, I don’t consider myself perfectly fit.  But I refuse to frame exercise or healthy eating or getting enough sleep as “something I’m doing for weight loss”.  What matters is the effect is has on me.  Getting enough sleep makes me feel good.  Lifting weights makes me feel strong.  Walking increases my endurance.  That’s why I’m doing it.



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15 responses to “Weight Cycling Industry”

  1. Phyllis Jeans Avatar
    Phyllis Jeans

    Amen! Sister, have you got this right. Every time I have tried to lose weight, I have gained more back. I have been on the diabetic diet like I am supposed to be a few times. Every single time I go on that diet I end up getting sick. I finally figured out there is not enough protein in it for my needs. Now, I eat what I want, when I want, and I feel much better than I did while dieting. My body tells me when to stop, when to eat, when not to eat. My doctor was having a fit but has gotten used to the idea evidently. She has quit nagging me about it. I am far from healthy, but with the grace of God and not going on a diet, I hope to live at least another ten years, which is really good for someone who has had diabetes for over 40 years already, for someone who wasn’t supposed to live past 25. I am 61. Thank God I have brains enough not to listen to a lot of the garbage I see on tv and in magazines!

  2. MK Avatar

    Huh. Nearly every diabetic person I know is on a high protein diet, either handed down from their doctor or drifted into because it’s what makes them feel best. That makes me wonder about your doctor a bit, Phyllis.

    My mom has been on one diet after another for my entire life, and I’ve watched her weight bob up and down and get gradually higher every time it settles. Lately she says she wants to lose weight but that would mean exercising (oh noes!), and I try to sound neutral but encouraging when I say that exercise would be good for her whether she lost weight or not.

    OH! And I also have a client who was diagnosed with diabetes about a year ago, whose doctors are completely obsessed with her weight. (If only they’d transfer some of that concern to managing her blood sugar… *fumes*) A couple or three months ago she was put on an extremely low fat and low calorie diet, and was losing a lot of weight fast. However, her body was flushing so much sugar into her eyes that she had to stop her diet and see a specialty ophthalmologist immediately just to avoid going blind. It was a huge, scary mess, and from what she tells me they still seem to only care about her weight.

    1. Marshmallow Avatar

      “However, her body was flushing so much sugar into her eyes that she had to stop her diet and see a specialty ophthalmologist immediately just to avoid going blind.”

      OMG I’m gobsmacked – that is truly horrifying.

  3. tehomet Avatar


    I think that a lot of people think that they will succeed at weight loss where 95 percent of people have failed because they are not lazy, greedy, or unable to keep to the regime for whatever reason. Possibly they haven’t reflected on the fact that even in the unlikely event that a dieter can restrict their calories perfectly forever, their metabolism will change over time, partly to compensate, partly just naturally over the years and depending on what other demands life is placing on their body. And possibly because it’s an accepted fact in, say, the assessment of birth control that there’s ‘perfect use’ and ‘ordinary use.’ I t hink that the ordinary dieter who thinks that he or she will be the part of the tiny percentile who loses weight and maintains the weight loss for more than five years – well, god bless his or her optimism, but doesn’t it say something too about part of the appeal of the weight loss industry being the offer to participants to justify looking down on other people?

    Deb Burgard’s post is amazing as you say, but I disagree that two years is an acceptable minimum. I think the medical profession’s standard for looking at the efficacy of a treatment is five years, as you’ll often hear when doctors refer to (for example) cancer survival rates. And it should be five years from the day that goal weight is achieved, as it could easily take two years to lose the weight in the first place, no?

    Now I’m go vent my wrath with a nice long walk in the snow with the dogs. Bloody weight loss industry! *shakes fist*

    1. DebraSY Avatar

      Actually, why don’t they track results for ten years? Twenty? God knows we’ve been studying weight loss for eons, and shouldn’t we be studying weight cycling too? That we don’t is a head scratcher. Is it that, perhaps, no one is interested in the answer because it may be, er, depressing? I can tell you on good authority that at nine years the wolf is still in Grandma’s bed poised to eat you if you’ll let him. Wouldn’t we like to know how many maintainers are still standing at ten years? I mean, come on! I know I would.

      1. Living 400lbs Avatar

        Good point, Debra :)

        Btw, did you see the NYT Magazine article on maintaining weight loss? A lot of it reminded me of your blog.

        1. DebraSY Avatar

          Oh, yeah. I saw the article. Liked her words on Endocrine. Liked that she quoted Rudy Leibel of Columbia University. He rocks. Did not like that she took Rena Wing and the National Weight Control Registry so seriously. I mean, really. Wing founded the NWCR on an agenda NOT a hypothesis, and she still hasn’t seen the light. Grr.

          Over all, though, I was taken by the whole tenor of the thing, and how Ms. Parker-Pope inserted herself into the story. I generally see that as journalistic self-indulgence, but I was glad to see it here. Explains a lot about her writing heretofore, which has had an undercurrent of shame and blame. Now we know why. That shame and blame has been directed at herself as much as her readership. I’m hoping this article heralds a change in that. Maybe she’ll cut herself and others a break? Her voice is an important one in the marketplace of ideas. We can only hope.

  4. ako Avatar

    tehomet makes an important point. A lot of people hear the ninety-five percent number and assume that ninety-five percent of dieters are morally weak. They invent a story about a Bad majority who gives into their greed/laziness/stupidity/insert character flaw here, and a Good minority who work hard and are inevitably rewarded with success. And, of course, they’re the Good.

    It’s a lot easier to think you’ll beat the odds if you think you’re just better than everyone who doesn’t. And it’s a lot easier to think you’re one of the superior beings with real willpower if you live in a fat-hating society that constantly tells you all fat people are horribly flawed in a myriad of ways. Just assume that everyone else fits the stereotype, and it’s easy to end up think because you’re not the cartoonish crumb-covered couch-potato with a bag of chips that’s so beloved by the media, you’re special and better and will be able to join the thin people where you belong.

    Of course, if the near-inevitable weight regain happens, then the person is going to be set up for a horrible self-esteem crash.

  5. faycinacroud Avatar

    I’m still fighting the exercise must equal weight loss mindset. If I can get out of that mindset I can truly enjoy exercise. I do enjoy it when I do it but I still fight myself in this way, which is one of the big reasons I’m not consistent.

  6. […] See, a study has discovered that…drumroll…BMI can be inaccurate!!!!  Really!!!  You might be fat and not know it!!!  (eeek!)  And since most people who are “overweight or obese” aren’t actually very fat, increasing the number of people who think they need to lose weight can increase customers for the weight cycling industry.  […]

  7. […] think it’s no surprise. The weight-cycling industry has been marching on largely unchallenged for decades now. Who cam blame us for being a bit […]

  8. […] Fat people are expected to diet, which leads to weight cycling. […]

  9. […] ADS for healthist stuff. This is “nutrition”, weight-cycling, “fitness”, […]

  10. […] It’s a win for the weight cycling industry:  […]

  11. The AMA is Wrong | Everblog Avatar

    […] It’s a win for the weight cycling industry:  […]

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