If you look at some of the research and the studies behind people’s ability to keep weight off in the long term, it seems pretty gloomy. The good news is that Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian doctor and expert in weight loss and obesity management, believes there’s still good reason to be optimistic.
“The ability to be successful depends a lot on the goal posts that you establish for yourself”, Dr. Freedhoff explains. He notes that many perceive success to be losing every available inch or pound, where some people would benefit even from a 10-20% weight loss.
Is It Your Fault You Aren’t Keeping Weight Off?
Many people, when they “fail”, blame themselves for their weight regain instead of looking to the methods they chose to lose weight. What Dr. Freedhoff has observed is that the enjoyability of a way of eating and exercise is ultimately what contributes to one’s ability to stick to it.
“I think with more thoughtful approaches and more realistic goalposts, people can lose meaningful amounts of weight that in turn improve their health and their quality of life. And that really should be what we’re aiming for, not for some number on a scale,” Dr. Freedhoff declares.
Another issue people run into is that they view food as simply fuel and fail to recognize the role it has in our lives. “Food is pleasure. Food is comfort, it literally reduces our stress hormone levels. Food is social networking, food is life,” he goes on to explain.
What’s Your Best Weight?
Dr. Freedhoff defines your best weight as “whatever weight a person reaches when they’re living the healthiest life they can actually and honestly enjoy.” And he clarifies that what someone’s best weight might fluctuate depending on their circumstances at the time and may vary from day to day, month to month, season to season and year to year.
Enjoyment Vs Tolerance
The key word in Dr. Freedhoff’s definition above, is enjoy. It isn’t enough to tolerate a way of eating and living – that won’t lead to long term compliance. It is truly enjoying it that makes a way of life sustainable. That level of enjoyment is something Dr. Freedhoff is trying to quantify with “The Diet Score”, a concept for rating diets that he is currently researching with colleagues overseas.
What About Set Point?
Dr. Freedhoff isn’t a big proponent of set point theory, suggesting the “set point” effect where a body seems determined to stay at a certain weight is likely more lifestyle related that biological. That rebound effect where weight is regained is normally related to people returning to a way of living that they enjoy more, which may include more calories or less extreme movement, causing the person to regain.
The Role of the Food Environment
“We need to change the food environment, not keep telling people they need to resist the food environment,” Dr. Freedhoff explains. As far as the food environment, he means the North American environment where food is highly available and can be ultra-processed, noting how supportive it is of weight gain. That environment can be particularly problematic for children.
Dr. Freedhoff did an experiment where he asked his kids every day for a year who had offered them food throughout their day in an attempt to look at their food environment. What he found was astonishing, the sheer volume of offers his children received were from people in their lives, often offering “junk foods”. He has since tried to make changes to who offers his kids foods and what they are offered. While total control isn’t necessarily something he advocates, Dr. Freedhoff tries to make healthy choices more available to his kids to support them in making good choices.
If it works for you, it’s good.
Dr. Freedhoff, in his practice, encourages people do what works best for them. In an age when studies of varying quality confirm or disprove pretty much any way of eating as being what’s best; he finds that the diet you can live with that supports your wellness is what is ultimately going to be the best for you. He points to modern diet culture’s tendency to elevate “one true path” for wellness based on whatever they are selling as the basis on which people feel they have failed.
That failure can come from setting goals around numbers, something Dr. Freedhoff doesn’t advocate. He suggests instead to focus on behaviors and also to find some self-compassion in recognizing that we will make mistakes and perfection isn’t necessary.
Ultimately, Dr. Freedhoff’s message is one of hope. Long term success in weight loss is possible; he sees it all the time. By setting appropriate goal posts in defining success and focusing on what really matters (finding an enjoyable way to live that supports wellness), long term results aren’t outside the realm of possibilities.
Download a copy of this episode’s transcript here.