Weight Watchers Works. For Two Out of a Thousand. (And They Probably Weren’t Fat to Begin With)

fatfu-48.jpg posted by fatfu

One of the things you often hear – even among fat activists – is that 95% of weight loss attempts fail long-term. It sounds like an impressively discouraging number, but still, it leaves us with the idea that 5% of fat people are able to leave their corpulence behind and join the world of respectable, acceptable, normal-weight humanity. Or at least get somewhere in the vicinity.

We should be so lucky.  When weight loss failure numbers are presented (generally 80-95% failure) “success” doesn’t mean achieving “normal weight” – let alone permanently.  It means the ability to keep off some very modest amount that a given researcher (usually with a vested interest in the weight loss strategy) has arbitrarily defined as “weight loss success.” Typically 5-10% weight loss maintained anywhere from 1 to 5 years.

If that’s enough to make you thin, then I have news for you: you weren’t fat.

And studies that look at “successful losers” – unusual as they are even when defined by such a low bar – find the overwhelming majority are in the process of regaining, they’re just taking a little longer than average in getting back to baseline. 

In reality, people who go from “obese” to “normal weight” and maintain it for more than a few years are so rare that nobody knows just how rare because no weight loss study has been large enough or rigorous enough to detect a significant number of them. You can look everywhere (and I have) for a respectable study that gives you this number and you won’t find it.

Weight Watchers – More like Two in a Thousand Success Rate?

But Weight Watchers has sort of spilled the beans on this well-kept secret. At least it gives us a number to start making deductions. They come in a recent article published in the British Journal of Nutrition by Michael Lowe, an assuredly unbiased Weight Watchers consultant,  who hopes to convince us that successful weight loss is more common than the studies say. Mainly by spinning really horrible numbers in the best possible light.

His study is an update of one he did in 2001, and since the current article is pay per view, and I’m too cheap and ornery to spend my money on an article promoting the diet industry, I went with the 2001 version, which examined results from the early 90s. Yes, the older results are slightly worse than the newer results appear from the abstract, but as you’ll see later – it hardly matters.

Lowe surveyed Weight Watchers participants who became “Lifetime Members” in the years 1992 to 1996 to see how they did after one to five years. Lifetime Members are only “the most successful” Weight Watchers members who achieve their “goal weight” (usually a BMI of 25) and maintain it for 6 weeks. After that they get to attend for free.

Apparently Lowe felt we could better appreciate how well Weight Watchers works if we confine our examination to the people who do incredibly well on it. I bet the pharmaceutical companies wish they could get away with that.

Anyway it seem relevant to know how representative the lifetime members are – that is how many Weight Watchers members actually reach their goal weight. The article doesn’t say. Naturally. Somewhere towards the end Lowe admits that the these people are only a “fraction” of the people who join Weight Watchers, but he doesn’t let us in on what fraction they are. Just that there have been 189,000 from a five-year period. Or 38,000 per year (give or take).

38,000 people who reached goal weight per year sounds like a lot. But actually it turns out to be a really small number.  I found a business article  from back then that stated that Weight Watchers had 600,000 attendees in the U.S. in 1993.  Divide 38,000 lifetime members per year into 600,000 and my calculator says that each year only about 6% of Weight Watchers members (give or take) reached their goal weight (presumably 94% failed).

Now before you get all impressed with Weight Watcher’s 6% success rate, let’s step back. For one thing, the successful 6% weren’t so fat in the first place. The 2001 study says that most were between a BMI of 25-30 (i.e. “overweight” but not “obese” – to use definitions I find silly). The 2007 abstract says the average starting BMI for that study was 27 – which is well below the average Weight Watchers participant. So in order to achieve goal weight the average lifetime member probably had to lose less than 10 lbs and would have to include a lot of people who had even less to lose.

So we’re not talking about massive weight loss here. And what about maintenance? The study spins it this way:  of these successful losers, “weight regain from 1 to 5 y following weight loss ranged between 31.5 and 76.5%. At 5 y, 19.4% were within 5 lb of goal weight, 42.6% maintained a loss of 5% or more, 18.8% maintained a loss of 10% or more, and 70.3% were below initial weight.” He concludes that these results “suggest that the long-term prognosis for weight maintenance among individuals who reach goal weight in at least one commercial program is better than that suggested by existing research.”

That’s sounds promising. But actually, wait. Some of those numbers aren’t too impressive on second glance, e.g. that 20% staying within 5 lb of goal weight is kind of meaningless – since we don’t know how many of them were within 5 lb in the first place. That 76% of weight lost is regained isn’t too impressive either, considering they didn’t have that much to lose to begin with.

And what about the number we’re really looking for – how many people actually become “normal” weight long-term using Weight Watchers? It turns out only 3.9% of the golden 6% were still at or below goal weight after 5 years. By my calculations that means 3.9%*6.3% = 0.24% or about two out of a thousand Weight Watchers participants who reached goal weight stayed there for more than five years.

Two in a thousand? I hear you cry. That doesn’t sound so bad! I’m a disciplined person! I can be one of two in a thousand!

Maybe. But remember, not only are you competing with people that have to keep off two pounds. There’s also this: there are innumerable medical conditions that cause weight loss weight loss and wasting including cancer, drug abuse, thyroid problem and AIDS. (I started listing them in my head and had to stop because I completely lost track of the topic.) It’s reasonable to expect that at least two in a thousand Weight Watchers members fall into one of these categories and was going to lose a lot of weight regardless. This is why you do controlled studies to determine the efficacy of a treatment, you know – to adjust for all those people who were going to get better (or in this case lose weight) anyway.

In fact the combined annual incidence rate of medical conditions that can cause significant weight loss far exceeds two in a thousand by orders of magnitude. I would actually have predicted far more “successful losers” in a random population just from a back of the envelope calculation.

Which makes me wonder: how the hell are the Weight Watchers dieters (excuse me “lifestyle changers”) so successfully avoiding weight loss? What’s their trick?

Science or Not? 

Now what I’ve just done. Is this any relationship to science? Picked out the most damning numbers in a slightly less successful study to paint a dismal portrait of Weight Watchers? Of course it’s not science. And I could have pointed out that the most successful 6% did manage to keep off a few pounds on average after five years. I could have mentioned that the 2007 study claimed a 16% goal weight maintenance after five years – of which I’m skeptical – but which would have translated to ten in a thousand instead of two in a thousand Weight Watchers members (woohoo). I could have conceded that some of the Weight Watchers members who didn’t achieve their goal weight might have come close.

But why should I feel obligated to do that when weight loss researchers – including this one – aren’t engaged in anything remotely related to science either. And when they feel no compulsion to be honest or transparent, selectively culling data to play up the faintest glimmers of hope, and downplay the overwhelmingly negative evidence — purely to promote a treatment that is wildly unsuccessful. And leading millions to believe that if we’re fat we can be thin. Because unless we’re extremely lucky – lottery lucky – we can’t.

There’s This Thing Called Informed Consent

But mainly I just raised the bar for “weight loss success” to the level that most people have in mind when they start a weight loss program. I don’t feel the least bit apologetic about this, because weight loss industry advocates for decades have been quietly lowering the bar further and further down so that by now their definition of “a successful weight loss program” bears little relation to what the ordinary person would think it means.

When you hear diet drug claims that they “double” weight loss – it’s probably true – they probably had a study where their 2 lb weight loss doubled the average of 1 lb weight loss.

Which is why a popular topic for weight loss researchers to write about these days is whether “unrealistic weight loss expectations” matter. This is code for “should we feel guilty about the fact that when we talk about ‘success’ we’ve come to mean something completely different from what the public’s been duped into thinking we mean?”

I have a two-word answer: informed consent.

(By the way, if anyone wants a good review of the data out there on weight loss programs I suggest UCLA’s study.)

Update: Oops, blew it. I looked at my notes again and the lifetime membership was 189,000 not 100,000. Which means that Weight Watchers had a whole 2 out of a thousand success rate. My bad. Now don’t all stampede to Weight Watchers, people. One at a time.

Update 2: Numbers in the article fixed.

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99 Responses to “Weight Watchers Works. For Two Out of a Thousand. (And They Probably Weren’t Fat to Begin With)”

  1. Fillyjonk Says:

    I love you.

  2. erin Says:

    Good God I love math. Awesome post!

  3. OTM Says:

    Seriously. This is great.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Dear god, this is the most unbiased and neutral thing to come out ever about Weight Watchers. Thanks so much for deconstructing this – I plan to reference it heavily in the future.

    So in order to achieve goal weight the average lifetime member probably had to lose less than 10 lbs and would have to include a lot of people who had even less to lose.

    Haha, I can gain and lose 5 pounds the week of my period.

  5. The Rotund Says:

    This is FANTASTIC. Thank you for running the numbers.

  6. attrice Says:

    This is amazing. Exactly the kind of post I just love to bits. I’m bookmarking it right now as I’m sure I’ll be referencing it constantly.

  7. Tari Says:

    Which makes me wonder: how the hell are the Weight Watchers dieters (excuse me “lifestyle changers”) so successfully avoiding weight loss? What’s their trick?

    This damn near made me spit orange juice on my keyboard, I laughed so hard. Well done.

  8. liz Says:

    This definitely just points out that dieting doesn’t work, I rarely eat because I’m actually hungry (or just continue eating long past satiated). And once that strictness is over I fall right back into old habits. I’ve definitely realized that emotional eating is my problem, but haven’t found a way to make food nourishment instead of a celebration or therapy. I want to eat what my body needs, instead of my mind, but who can figure that out!!

  9. JeanC Says:

    Great post. Normally anything that involves the slightest bit of math makes my head hurt, but I understood this :)

  10. One in a Thousand: A Break Up Story « Says:

    [...] 24, 2008 in fat Inspired by Weight Watchers Works. For One Three Out of a Thousand (and I’m not changing my clever title to match the change to Fatfu’s clever, title, [...]

  11. meowser Says:

    Now that was worth waiting for.

  12. DivaJean Says:

    This- is the shiz!

    For all the point counters that invade my space- I swear to FSM in the sky that I want to memorize this entire article!!

  13. meowser Says:

    Another thing: I am sure WW knows perfectly well how their long-term success rates break down on people with X number of pounds to lose versus people with Y number of pounds to lose. Like you said, Fu, lumping in people trying to lose 10 or 15 pounds with people trying to take off 50 or 100 or more is unbelievably misleading. If they actually did have numbers proving high long-term success rates (or even any success rates) among the “50 to 100 or more” gang, they’d be touting them all over the place. It would be the greatest marketing tool ever, even better than, “It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet.”

    They manage to “sell” their program mostly through short-term weight loss euphoria among the membership. The praise! The hot new clothes! The sexual attention! I was there, damn it, I know. But you don’t hear from these same people after regain, and somehow most remain convinced that regain is their fault. How can it be, when it’s a feature of WW and not a bug?

  14. GoingLoopy Says:

    “*results not typical” anyone?

    I hated WW. First, I hate rules. Second, I hated the fact that I was HUNGRY and then had to go to stupid rah rah meetings and talk about nothing but FOOD.

  15. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker Says:

    Oh, the money we’ll shell out NOT to have to exercise . . . !

    The only time I was thin after the baby was when I was dancing, and I could eat as much as I wanted (I was in my 30’s). Burgers and fries were my daily staples.

    Now I’m in my 40’s with a sedentary job and it doesn’t matter what “diet” I’m on at any given time. The weight will NOT stay off me. And this will be my fate until I get my butt moving again, I know, but . . . (insert excuse here).

  16. meowser Says:

    And like you, Rachel, I find it staggering that someone would pay actual money to go into a program to lose 10 pounds or less. Don’t any of these people retain water?

  17. Shauna Says:

    This just stands to add further evidence to my claim that diets make you fat, broke, and depressed; my blog about it: http://shauna26.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/how-your-diet-is-keeping-you-fat-broke-and-depressed-6-tips-to-re-kick-start-your-health-goals/

  18. zoewinters Says:

    Almost anything anyone undertakes that takes any amount of time or effort has a high failure rate. I’m a writer. If I looked at statistics I’d give up now. I guess it’s a matter of not looking at what everybody else is doing but deciding what you want and how you’re going to get it. And how bad you want it.

    I understand a lot of people have severe weight issues and can’t lose weight. Though physically being unable to lose weight is generally a medical problem like a thyroid problem (though some drugs make you gain weight too) There is no simple answer, however if you have an underlying medical condition or a drug that’s making you gain weight, why not seek an alternative, any doctor will agree that an unhealthy weight raises risks for nearly everything.

    There are a million strategies for losing weight and each of them works for somebody but not everybody. I’m not sure we should knock “lifestyle change” as a lot of people who do make lifestyle changes do it in order to be healthier.

    I was never “obese” and I know how much of a struggle it was for me to lose 30 pounds, and I have 20 more to go. What I’ve lost I’ve kept off for a year. Maybe not thrillingly amazing or anything but it’s all based on behavior. If I start eating junk all the time and not exercising I’ll gain the weight back. It’s basic math. It’s all a day at a time and if today I’m choosing to make healthier choices.

    I don’t look at “fat” people and think they’re evil or bad or stupid or lazy. I know it’s incredibly difficult and most people never lose the weight, but at the same time I think constantly telling people who are overweight how bad the odds are, isn’t solving problems.

  19. apieceofme Says:

    U could not change or help anybody, if he dosen`t want to help himself. Old truth. It`s normal if u manage to loose weight and go back home and continue to live the way u have been living, that the effect will be short instead of long term. I`m not really familiar with WW (it`s the first time I heard about it) but anyway, loosing weight is really about “lifestyle change” and that`s what the people with overweight could not understand… Sorry if u think i`m wrong but when u go to tae-bo or fitness club or whatever the activity is, there are the girls who need it the least… What are the rest doing? Complaining?!

  20. vesta44 Says:

    zoewinters – the thing is, with odds that bad, I’m not willing to gamble my health on my ability to lose weight and keep it off anymore. I’ve done enough damage with all the diets I’ve been on, and the failed WLS, I’m not going to add to it by trying another diet that’s going to fail me again (and it is the diet that fails, not me). I could lose 30 lbs and keep it off, no problem. But you want to know what my ideal weight is for my height of 5’8″? It’s less than 150 lbs, according to the BMI bullshit calculator. That means I would have to lose 227 lbs. It ain’t happening! Not on WeightWatchers, not on Jenny Craig, not on NutriSystem, and not with WLS. Been there done that, they all failed, and I’m done being called a failure because that shit doesn’t work now, didn’t work in the past, and probably never will work. I’m working on eating the best I can with the foods I can afford, and working as much movement into my life as I can physically handle. That’s good enough for me, and if it isn’t good enough for anyone else, tough cookies and pass the baby-flavored donuts, please.

  21. meowser Says:

    There is no simple answer, however if you have an underlying medical condition or a drug that’s making you gain weight, why not seek an alternative, any doctor will agree that an unhealthy weight raises risks for nearly everything.

    Oh goody, another “fat people are stupid” post. (Fu, if you’re in a deleting mood, feel free to delete this too.)

    When I was first put on Zoloft, the drug that made me gain 65 pounds, it was relatively new. When I mentioned to my doctor that I thought the drug was making me gain weight, she pooh-poohed the whole idea and insisted that I must have some evil twin pounding potato chips that I couldn’t ever remember tasting. I had no health insurance at the time and this was the only psychiatric treatment I could afford. Plus I was getting samples and didn’t have to pay for the meds.

    Eventually I went off Zoloft and onto Wellbutrin. Sure enough I started to lose weight. But my depression returned, with such a vengeance I had to be hospitalized for a suicide attempt. So they put me on Effexor and the weight went back up again. And didn’t go down, despite dramatic changes in eating and exercise habits, until I discontinued the Effexor for an amino acid regime — something every psychiatrist I saw warned me not to do because my major depression would probably recur. (Incidentally, it hasn’t yet, but if the haters keep it up…)

    Once you are on a psych med that controls your symptomatology, they do not want to take you off it for love or money. And there’s a good reason for that. For someone with a serious psychiatric problem, the legal exposure could be unfathomable if that person were to commit suicide or homicide after going off the drugs. There’s no such thing as a second opinion from a psychiatrist about these things. They all have the same opinion.

    The only reason I was able to go off the medications at all (which I did because I was tired of sleeping and twitching all the time — I could have handled the fat) was that I found a chiropractic neurologist who is absolutely brilliant and knew exactly what I needed to do. Most people do not have access to this kind of care. And frankly, my new treatment regime is expensive, not covered by insurance, and what most people would consider a giant pain in the ass, so I can’t blame anyone for not trying it unless they are desperate.

    Compassion. Empathy. Speaking of two in a thousand…

  22. fatfu Says:

    zoe –

    I’m not clear on why the double standard is here. Why is deception about “treatment” success perfectly fine – even laudable – when talking about weight loss programs, but a complete breach of ethics for any other condition.

    And as for your writing example, if anyone sets out to be a writer and thinks the odds of success are good, then they’re in trouble. There are any number of writers who have actively discouraged aspiring writers from pursuing the profession for precisely that reason. They consider it the responsible thing to do, and I tend to agree. If anyone wants to join weight watchers – go for it – but go for it with your eyes wide open.

    As for being physically unable to lose weight must be a medical problem – that’s just ignorance. The body monitors and maintains fat mass in everyone and adjusts appetite way upwards and metabolism way downwards when weight is lost. In everyone. This is why it’s “normal” to not be able to lose weight permanently, and unusual to be successful. If I met somebody who was incredibly successful at weight loss, I would in fact wonder if there was some medical problem there.

  23. zoewinters Says:

    Hey Vesta, I agree with you. I guess I just see all the doom and gloom about it and I think it stops a lot of people who can lose weight. I’ve never gone on a diet. And I know dieting messes with your metabolism. When I lost 30 pounds I didn’t go on a diet I just ate better and exercised. But I know it gets to a point where it’s next to impossible to do.

    If you’re doing what you can do to enhance your health and be happy, I say more power to you. I’m certainly not going to judge you for your number on the scale and I don’t think you should have to reach some certain magic number before people get off your back about it.

    Meowser I didn’t suggest fat people were stupid or that you didn’t know this, only that people seem to act as if these things don’t exist. I gained 70 pounds on medicine, (was underweight when I started) Been there, understand your pain, not calling you stupid. I also understand that even at my highest weight I was not “obese” by most of society’s standards.

    I’m not a troll and I didn’t call you stupid or imply that you were stupid.

  24. zoewinters Says:

    fatfu, I understand the metabolism concept.

    I’m not going to argue this all day. I’m not judging you or anyone else here. I was simply pointing out that I’ve known people who changed their lifestyle and lost weight and kept it off. It’s not impossible and saying that it is only discourages people from trying.

    And I’ll keep writing.

    • plant Says:

      Zoe, just because there are some people who were able to change their lifestyle and lose weight does not mean that that is true for everyone who changes their lifestyle. Not everyone who changes their lifestyle loses weight.

      I’ve tried almost every “healthy” and “doctor recommended” eating and lifestyle change out there recommended for weight loss, and have never lost a pound unless I got a really bad cold, or after the first 2 years of dieting, when I finally succeeded in starving and exercising 5+ hours per day til I lost 18 lbs. And kept that off for literally 1-2 days before gaining it all back. I’ve never been able to lose weight since, and just kept gaining more, the more I tried to lose.

      It is not healthy physically or psychologically to pressure people to keep trying to lose weight. Please be respectful and just drop the assumptions and your comments to the contrary. You’ve never been there, as you’ve said, so please stop assuming on behalf of the rest of us. It’s really arrogant, rude, disrespectful, and flat out wrong that what you think or have observed is true for everyone. Your comments are hurtful and do harm.

  25. fatfu Says:

    Good luck with the writing, Zoe.

  26. meowser Says:

    And as for your writing example, if anyone sets out to be a writer and thinks the odds of success are good, then they’re in trouble. There are any number of writers who have actively discouraged aspiring writers from pursuing the profession for precisely that reason. They consider it the responsible thing to do, and I tend to agree. If anyone wants to join weight watchers – go for it – but go for it with your eyes wide open.

    Not only that, but weight loss itself is not free of health risk. There’s no Valhalla of Perfect Health and Never Having to See the Doctor that you enter when you reach a certain weight. This is a huge, huge, huge lie. And the risks go up with age.

    I recently had a flareup of a low back problem that makes prolonged sitting extremely difficult (great fun for a blogger, you bet). As I mentioned, I did lose some weight post antidepressants, and don’t the experts always recommend weight loss for back problems (and pretty much everything else)? Fat lot of good it did me. In fact, my doctor told me that my weight loss might actually have contributed to the flareup, since the weight distribution pattern had changed with the loss. (So nice to have a doctor who isn’t a size bigot!)

    Also people (especially female people) don’t get told over and over again from every possible corner that if they don’t become successful writers (or rock stars, etc.) as soon as possible, they will die and everyone will hate them forever, not necessarily in that order. Really not an apt comparison.

  27. Tari Says:

    saying that it is only discourages people from trying

    Which is the point, I think. I mean, telling people that (statistically speaking) they’ll most likely go splat if they jump off a building probably discourages people from doing that, too….but I guess I see that as a good thing. I like to encourage people to do things that they have a good chance of accomplishing without beating the odds. I’m an asshole that way.

  28. zoewinters Says:

    Tari, I meant it discourages people from trying to improve their health at all. They just give up and sit down with a big bucket of KFC, if I’d been exposed to this before I lost any weight that’s what I would have probably done if I’d believed it, and my health would have suffered as a result.

    Thanks, Fatfu.

  29. zoewinters Says:

    btw, the “thanks, fatfu” wasn’t sarcasm, it was a reply to the “good luck with the writing”

  30. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    THANK YOU! This is exactly one of the things that has been bothering me, and I needed to know how to explain it – first to myself, then to others. What a handy reference!

  31. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker Says:

    Would you believe I’m on BOTH Wellbutrin and Zoloft? Oy. But what it’s doing is shutting down my digestive system, which results in all sorts of icky things including weight gain. I’ve gained 15 pounds and every month I go up a little more!

    I mentioned it upthread already but I think we’ll do ANYTHING (laxatives, the celery diet, the too-crazy-to-fathom diet)NOT to have to exercise. I have a mental block about this and I’m pretty certain I’m not alone.

    But you know what? We don’t need to humiliate ourselves in aerobics class. All we need to do is WALK. Hiking strongly suggests itself here. My grandfather had bacon, eggs, and REAL cream in his coffee his entire life and he was skinny as a rail because he worked the farm (almost like the Amish do) and walked and walked and walked in the woods talking to deer.

    Anyhoo, when it comes to the medical reasons behind obesity, some people really DO lack this hormone or whatever that tells your brain that you’re FULL. People cursed with this body chemistry are HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. They’re working on a pill to replace whatever it takes to make you feel like “OK I’ve had enough,” so cross your fingers!

    Diets suck. If doing something for the rest of your life doesn’t make you giddy with excitement DON’T DO IT!!!! I eat “real” food, and I’m only 130 pounds (almost 20 more than I want to be since I’m petite), so if I want portion control to manage my weight for the REST OF MY LIFE I know I need to exercise. For the rest of my life.

    I’ll start exercising tomorrow. Or soon. Later. As soon as I . . . whatever.

    Best to everyone,
    HPS

    PS: If you haven’t done so already, QUIT with the aspartme and sucralose, even Splenda!!!!!!!!!! They’re exitotoxins that make you ravenous and studies show they’ll make you GAIN weight not lose it!!!!! Don’t go sugar free! On teaspoon has only 16 calories anyway so what the heck? Eat the REAL THING, just less of it.

    MSG also causes weight gain because it’s another excitotoxin.

    If you’re in the slightest bit tempted to take that pill that doesn’t allow your body to absorb fat, you HAVE to watch this video http://angryaussie.wordpress.com/2007/06/20/laugh-i-nearly-shit-my-pants/

    I’m serious, it’s hysterical. Caveat emptor!

  32. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    “Almost anything anyone undertakes that takes any amount of time or effort has a high failure rate. I’m a writer. If I looked at statistics I’d give up now. I guess it’s a matter of not looking at what everybody else is doing but deciding what you want and how you’re going to get it. And how bad you want it.”

    This is so discouraging to hear. All this effort I’ve been seeing these intelligent people expend to explain that it is NOT a matter of “wanting” it bad enough, that it is NOT a matter of time and effort to “succeed” in losing weight, and this is still what people are saying. By the way, if it were really based on discipline, time, and desire, at LEAST half of the people (maybe more) who embarked on becoming thin and healthy (two separate things entirely, but let’s assume they want both) and probably more than half. The fact that none do is evidence contrary to everything you’re saying.

    “I understand a lot of people have severe weight issues and can’t lose weight. Though physically being unable to lose weight is generally a medical problem like a thyroid problem (though some drugs make you gain weight too) There is no simple answer, however if you have an underlying medical condition or a drug that’s making you gain weight, why not seek an alternative, any doctor will agree that an unhealthy weight raises risks for nearly everything.”

    Same as above. Pretty much ALL of this has been completely debunked (and please try to understand I’m not lashing out at you here – this isn’t my place anyway – but it is so sad to keep seeing it) and STILL it’s like playing fat bingo. No it’s not usually a severe medical problem, no it does not raise the risks for nearly everything, there is no magical “unhealthy weight” and in fact the risks of being skinny are far greater, etc. and just because “any doctor” (which is not accurate) will agree with something false does not make it true. It isn’t. After reading obsessively for a little while now, I know so much more about why none of that is true, and I’m damned glad these people have taken the time to dig and do the research to prove it.

    “There are a million strategies for losing weight and each of them works for somebody but not everybody. I’m not sure we should knock “lifestyle change” as a lot of people who do make lifestyle changes do it in order to be healthier.”

    There are more than a million strategies for losing weight and not a single one has ever been shown to work. For anyone – at least not beyond what this blog JUST explained would be controlled for in randomized clinical studies. So no, there is no evidence whatsoever that even some fat people can become thin. Almost anyone can starve and “lose weight” just as almost anyone can then become malnourished, sick, and very unhealthy. Also, there are a million fat people who have indeed made lifestyle changes to become healthier. You are still equating thinner with healthier, which is nonsense. They have made changes and improved their health – they just happen to still be fat. There are a whole bunch of fat people I’ve read from just in the past two days who became vegetarians for their health, and began engaging in regular and vigorous exercise – they are healthy. They are fat. They will never be thin without LOSING their health. Why would that be a good thing?

    “I was never “obese” and I know how much of a struggle it was for me to lose 30 pounds, and I have 20 more to go. What I’ve lost I’ve kept off for a year.”

    Not to be dismissive, but let’s talk in four more years. And perhaps we could hear something from someone who actually was ZOMG teh “morbidly obese” who has lost 250 lbs the same way and kept it off for five years and is healthy. Healthy mind you, not malnourished.

    “Maybe not thrillingly amazing or anything but it’s all based on behavior.”

    I think FA has been making the point for a long time now that no it is NOT all based on behavior. The proof is so abundant of this that all you need to do is actually start reading and listening and processing. Use links. It’s really all there.

    “If I start eating junk all the time and not exercising I’ll gain the weight back. It’s basic math.”

    Calories in calories out? No it isn’t. The basic math is in the blog entry above. Try reading it again. Your setpoint weight is a certain range and your body will fight to get there no matter what you do. If you’re still within it, then you may be right – in fact, in a few years you will be right, because the weight will come back and then some as it does for pretty much everyone else. I realize you’re enthusiastic about it, but if the weight came off because of some healthy changes, then you were likely somewhat over your setpoint – the changes would have been healthy regardless if you lost nothing or gained 20 lbs.

    “It’s all a day at a time and if today I’m choosing to make healthier choices.”

    That’s admirable, but you’re connecting that to weight loss and that’s not connected. What you sound like you’re doing is dieting, and that you’re still in the enthusiastic phase – if I’m wrong and you’re really just doing healthier things, then you’re far from unique. Countless fat people have done the same. They’re still fat. So?

    “I don’t look at “fat” people and think they’re evil or bad or stupid or lazy.”

    I’d like to say that’s admirable, but really, it isn’t such a huge admission. Why SHOULD you think that? What would be the impetus behind ever thinking such a thing anyway? It would just be incredibly stupid. So yes, you get credit for not being incredibly stupid, but that isn’t such a huge bar to meet, you know?

    “I know it’s incredibly difficult and most people never lose the weight, but at the same time I think constantly telling people who are overweight how bad the odds are, isn’t solving problems.”

    It’s like a riddle trying to spot all the errors in that sentence. Most people never lose it – well that much is true. And if they do, they gain it back and then some, there’s also that, which you don’t mention. Telling people something is impossible, or at least not possible without sacrificing your health, is a good thing, you see? And the odds here are not “bad” they’re impossible. As to solving problems, what problems? You’re still conflating thinness and health, which is patently absurd. You know the problems fat people have? Doctors who don’t treat what is actually wrong with them. A society that hates them. A government that declares war on them. A media that sells us snake oil relentlessly and tells us that fat is deadly, period. These are the problems. FA IS addressing the actual problems. The problem is not that people need to lose weight. That is not the problem. Why do you think it IS the problem? What’s losing weight got to do with it???

  33. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    Oops – my first paragraph should read “more than half would actually lose it and keep it off, and be healthy.”

  34. Fatadelic Says:

    In reality, people who go from “obese” to “normal weight” and maintain it for more than a few years are so rare that nobody knows just how rare because no weight loss study has been large enough or rigorous enough to detect a significant number of them. You can look everywhere (and I have) for a respectable study that gives you this number and you won’t find it.

    Thanks for making this important point, not to mention your fabulous analysis of the WW study. This definitely needs to go in a FA FAQ.

  35. meowser Says:

    Hedonistic Pleasureseeker, please do some more reading around the Fatosphere before you assume that we are all fat because none of us ever exercises. I actually have to exercise daily or my back problems will flare up again. And I know plenty of people my size and larger who exercise as much as I do or more. There is no universal formula; the “exercise diet” is no more successful statistically than any other. If weight peels off you easily with a little bit of exercise, you are genetically a thin person.

    And Zoe, there is a happy medium between eating buckets of fried chicken (my stomach heaves at the very thought) and being on Weight Watchers. It’s called Health at Every Size. Those of us who practice it have not “given up” on our health, only on the idea that the scale will tell us how “healthy” we are. I was no healthier at 125 or 140 pounds than I am now — despite being much younger then! — and I have no health issues that would be “solved” by weight loss. Other than not having the stress of people making unwarranted assumptions about me, that is.

  36. La di Da Says:

    HPS, one of the many points of the FA movement is that many, many fat people DO do plenty of exercise and yet still don’t lose weight. Me, for example – I don’t have a car, so I walk, walk, walk, walk. Every day. To work, to activities, to public transport stops, to the store and back carrying a heavy load of groceries. I also do other exercise; I’ve recently taken up yoga and bellydancing after getting bored with the machines at the gym. And I eat a pretty normal, balanced diet. Yet, still fat. Very fat. (And I’ve had full blood workups done several times by the doc and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me except allergies.) But like most people who follow a HAES philosophy, it’s the physical and mental health benefits, not any potential or actual weight loss, that I enjoy. Some people just don’t like exercise, and that’s their business (I’m not trying to pull a “but I’m a GOOD fatty” here). Others have been put off by the “you WILL lose weight if you just go for a walk” or the idea of exercise as punishment for eating. It can take a bloody long time to get over that block.

    Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin examines the cases and studies and research on fat people who have problems with appetite regulation hormones sch as leptin and ghrelin, and the conclusion from obesity researchers such as Jeffrey Friedman (who are actually inclined to agree with a Health At Every Size philosophy, relatively speaking, comapared to the Walter Willetts of the world) believe that maybe 5% of the fat population have this problem. That leaves 95% of fat people who are just plain fat. The percentage of fat people who have binge and compulsive eating disorders and may have higher weights due to this is also similarly small, estimated at around 5% too. Rethinking Thin examines efforts to treat people with biological appetite regulation problems with leptin injections and related treatments. A few respond quite well and are able to eat ‘normally’ again, but many can’t tolerate the treatments which do have their own side effects. And of course any leptin/ghrelin/etc treatment is useless on the great majority of fat people who don’t have appetite regulation out of whack. Binge eating and compulsive overating require their own therapy-based treatments, not diets, exercise, or “permanent lifestyle changes”. Or whatever the latest letpin treatment idea is.

    The problem with most of the “obesity” “cures” being touted is that they are based on the provably false idea that all fat people have no appetite control, or that their normal appetites that are the same as any slim person’s ought to be heavily restircted ‘for their own good’. Like the doc that suggested I have lap band surgery. I pointed out to him that I can eat only 300-500 calories a day without surgical intervention: it’s called disordered eating, I’ve already been there, and it’s fucked up, so why I’d want to have it surgcially enforced for the rest of my life is beyond me.

    And like Meowser and many others have pointed out, there are plenty of medications that are widely prescribed, such as psychotropics, hormonal contraception, steroidal treatments, etc, that cause people to gain weight even if they’re ‘perfect’ dieters/exercisers/”lifestyle changers”/etc/whatever.

    As for the idea that the claim of “Weight loss doesn’t work permanently, learn to love yourself and take care of your health without the disappointment of weight re-gain”, see Kate Harding’s The Fantasy of Being Thin for an excellent extended analysis.

  37. La di Da Says:

    Whoops, I meant for the idea that “diets don’t work, etc” takes away people’s hope and motivation, see The Fantasy of Being Thin for a refutation. God, I needs teh caffeine.

  38. HeatherRadish Says:

    Oooh. I just read The Fantasy of Being Thin for the first time. I could have saved a couple thousand bucks on therapy if my mother had read it before I was born…

    My mother has joined Weight Watchers 6-8 times since I was five (maybe more; I haven’t lived with her in 15 years). I’m pretty sure their 1980s “eat only off this list” plan contributed to the dysfunctional food attitudes/behaviors in my family. Anyway, it’s always reminded me of a cult:

    a) Recruits members who are unhappy and vulnerable because they’re not acceptable to society.
    b) Offers them a way to achieve Perfect Happiness if they join and follow the teachings (The Fantasy)
    c) Tells them they’re good people because they’ve chosen to become part of the group.
    d) Rituals to reinforce beliefs, remind members they NEED the group to succeed and be happy.
    e) Propaganda insisting they’re the best way to live, the rest of us are wrong, and they can’t be happy if they leave the group
    f) Endless evangelism from group members.

    Not much different from the Vice Lords or the Branch Davidians…

  39. Lindsay Says:

    HeatherRadish, i’d never looked at WW with the cult guidelines before.

    That’s um. Yeah. That’s freaky. O.o

  40. wriggles Says:

    Oh fu, you’ve got a lot of kung today. You’ve got WW bang to rights as we say over here, you sly vixen! They’ve been hiding their figures for a long time, and look at all the ‘investigative journalists’ not trying to get it out of them, shame!

    “Almost anything anyone undertakes that takes any amount of time or effort has a high failure rate. ”

    Exactly, so if they’re so desperate to find the answer to WL, why have they stopped at something that doesn’t work? Why have they given up? I thought science was used to having ideas and notions that didn’t hold up when tested, I thought they just learnt everything they could from and moved on. Imagine my amazement, when they seemingly can’t get over this. Why not, it’s just an idea that doesn’t work, no biggie, why can’t they move on, is a religion, do they love it, do they want to marry it?!!!

  41. Simone Says:

    Wow Zoewinters made some good points, and was not being facetious, and some of you came after the individual with pure vitriol. Don’t say that you can’t lose weight and keep it off. I’ve done it for about 10 years its not that deep. I even had a medical problem that dumped 40lbs on me and I took my time and managed to climb right out that hole and dump that off. Half the sh*t in the supermarket is no use for any one anyway, just keep it clean and light and that’ll do the trick. You really don’t need WW or any other of these gimmiky things either. No one (myself included) is not forcing anyone to do or be what they don’t Everyone in this country needs to do themselves and leave people alone.

  42. Lindsay Says:

    It’s estimated that “one in four adults in the UK are trying to lose weight “most of the time”“. That’s just the UK. “About 45 million Americans diet each year.

    The US population, as per a 2006 estimate, was 299,398,484 (ref). For the sake of my brain, we’ll round that up to 300 million. So that’s what, 15%? One out of six people are on a diet at any given time.

    Now, according to the CDC’s obesity FAQ, “using measured heights and weights, [...] an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese”

    When they say “using measured heights and weights”, that means they’re using the incredibly flawed BMI system. (Which, by the way, was changed in 1998 in such a way that several million people who were “normal” became “overweight”, and even more who were “overweight” became “obese” – without having gained a single pound.) The BMI was originally designed (in the mid/late-1800s, if i recall correctly) for statistical purposes, not medical purposes.

    Here’s another number for you: dieting is a $40 billion [per year] industry. Oh, and that number is from 2003 – no doubt it’s gone up since then. WW alone makes at least $1 billion profit a year.

    If you were on drugs or had a medical condition that put you above your metabolic setpoint, and you found that then losing weight (after you got off the drugs or had your condition resolved) was relatively simple, then it’s less a matter of “which diet/lifesyle-change works” and more a matter of “you can’t make a fat person skinny any more than you can make a skinny person fat“.

  43. Meowser Says:

    Everyone in this country needs to do themselves and leave people alone.

    Which is why you are trolling a fat acceptance blog, because you so deeply believe in the power of “leaving people alone.”

    **eyeroll**

  44. Rose Says:

    Just my two cents on this. I think that human bodies are very unique and should never be lumped into one-size-fits-all categories. Weights don’t usually stay static, they usually go through some amount of change either up or down over the course of our lives. I for one simply don’t care to comment on science that I don’t understand. And why our weights do the things they do is one of those things. I guess I don’t care that much one way or another about weight loss and its sustainability. I consider myself neither anti or pro-diet. Although I would encourage anyone to abandon self-starvation in the name of “health.” Near starvation is never healthy!

    I don’t quite get what makes people so emotional over the statement “Weight loss usually can’t be sustained.” There are thousands of messages every day that say we should try to keep our weight down, FA is a different perspective. But it’s also, much to it’s credit, a HEALTH movement. The message is to take care of yourself, exercise, and lead an active lifestyle without making your goal weight loss. It’s a health-positive message! And yet I hear over and over again that it’s centered on telling people to “give up” on themselves.

    My only guess is that either 1) many people who comment on blogs are lacking the basic reading comprehension skills to understand what the words Health At Every Size means so they insist on saying this a movement devoted to telling it’s followers to be unhealthy or 2) people are scared that sustained weight loss is a futile goal (based on the sheer number of times in their own lives that the weight has come back) but can’t stand seeing their worst fears put into print, on a personal level they see it as an invitation to “slack off” on their diets.

    It’s not surprising that living in this culture, many women would believe that losing weight is the single most important step to “self-improvement” that they can make. And everything else, including taking real care of our emotional and physical health is actually a diversion away from that most important goal.

    For me the FA movement is quite the opposite. Lets take a look at the millions of other things about ourselves that aren’t connected to our weight and take steps to improve them, like our mental health for one thing! And that’s about believing in yourself, loving yourself – it’s not giving up at all. Abandoning your sense of self-worth if you can’t fit into the “right” size jeans – that’s giving up on yourself big time.

  45. Simone Says:

    [snipped]

    Moderator’s (fat fu) Comment –

    Don’t poo all over our blog, Simone. We’re trying to keep it nice.

  46. Ben Says:

    Skinny bastard husband who plays with numbers for fun here. There’s a few points worth mentioning up front.
    A sample size of 187k would put the confidence interval somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4%. Effectively, the .5% success rate for WW is well within the range of statistical anomaly: i.e. even those 2 could be fiction or a goof. This is as close as statistics gets to saying a thing is impossible.

    A sampling of that size WOULD, however, imply a number of things. A statistically significant portion of this sampling {certainly more than .5%} probably:
    – believe in hard work, determination, and commitment
    – have passion, drive, and other qualities worthy of a made for TV movie starring Tori Spelling
    – really, really, REALLY wanted the program to work

    The combination of these factors would incline me to believe that the above virtues have absolutely no impact on the success of the program. There is literally NO GROUNDS to believe that attitude or commitment would change these statistics in any way. The success rate for weightwatchers is lower than inexplicable cancer remission.

    I can’t think of any other way to get this across. These numbers are effectively stating that Weight Watchers does not work. Period. Ever. These are the terms a statistician uses to say that it ain’t gonna happen. Let’s look at some other occurrences that are dismissed as impossible because their documented rate of probability ALSO falls within the range of statistical anomaly:

    -Spontaneous human flight, wherein a person simply zips off into the clouds
    -phasing of solid objects through other solid objects
    -animals using human speech
    -regeneration of lost organs
    …. is the point clear yet?

    I await further comment on how commitment, hard work, and “lifestyle change” will allow THESE events to become predictable, reliable, and above all else, NOT a greivous campaign of disinformation and emotional destruction with a fatuous library of propoganda and transparently cynical focus on milking people for cash.

    So…
    Teach me how to fly?

    Be aware that the term “lifestyle change” is not a euphamism. It is, in terms of its function, a weapon. This term exists for no other reason than to avoid the reactions that the word “diet” evokes while, in the same stroke, implying those reactions to be the product of moral failure.

    FatFu, if this last bit is too vitriolic, feel free to snip it.
    Career writing analogies are, at best, misguided. The success rate is low, yes, but hardly inexplicable. On second thought, it may be a great analogy. Weight loss plans don’t work due to a perfectly obvious reason that many people are happy to overlook in order to keep their worldview intact. Writing careers don’t work due to perfectly obvious reasons that many people are happy to overlook in order to keep their worldview intact. In the former, it’s genetics. In the latter… well… try editing a poetry journal some time. I recommend heavy drinking. It helps. Really.

  47. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    Ben, you’ve said exactly what I was trying to convey – impossibility, the motivational aspect, all of it. Very well done :)

  48. Meowser Says:

    Ben, incidentally, is the husband of Lindsay of Babble fame. I’m so happy to have both of you here!

    And extra points for the Tori Spelling reference, Ben.

    Obviously WW “works” for a few people or they wouldn’t have stayed in business so long. And once in a while someone will manage to get from the “obese” range into the “normal” one using it and stay there for good. But as Fu alludes to, you always have to ask what else might have been helping them along. Maybe not drugs or wasting illness necessarily, but if not that, favorable genetics certainly. Gotta have those.

    And being male helps too, although of course it’s not in itself a determinant.

  49. Marta Says:

    You’re making a common rookie mistake when peoples try and “run the numbers”.

    There aren’t 600k new members every year; some cluster of them are chubbos from previous years. If you want to get an effective rate of how many people on WW achieve their goal weight, you can’t repeatedly count the same core of failures.

    So, for example, if on average 200,000 people join every year, with 400,000 existing members, then the effective rate is ~20%, not 6%.

  50. fatfu Says:

    The chubbo thinks that’s a good observation, Marta. Except you can’t just discount repeat dieters. And exactly how to count them is a judgement call. I was looking at it that if they were returning to WW year after year these were basically new attempts, but there’s validity in looking at it your way.

    It depends on how you define the number you’re looking for. Are you looking for the percentage of people who join Weight Watchers who *ever* reach goal weight and maintain it five years? Or are you looking for the success rate for weight loss attempts? Clearly I was conflating the two. But there’s always going to be fuzziness there.

    And even if we went with your definition and it did turn out to be 20% reaching goal weight, it would still mean that only around 8 in 1,000 were at goal weight at five years. Which is why I said it hardly matters which results I used.

    Unfortunately at running these numbers, we’re all rookies, since nobody’s doing it. It would be nice if Weight Watchers would run the numbers for us themselves so rookies wouldn’t have to try and deduce them.

  51. vesta44 Says:

    But I don’t think Weight Watchers will ever run the numbers, they don’t want us to know just how much “Results Not Typical” applies. They have the numbers, and they know how many people fail, but it’s like HeatherRadish said, it’s a cult-type situation. They suck you in, promising your life will change for the better if you just follow their rules, and if you fail, it’s your fault, you didn’t believe hard enough this time, you didn’t try hard enough this time, but they’ll give you another chance (and take more money from you in the process),. They’ll keep telling you how special you are as a member, and then tear you down and blame you when you don’t meet their expectations (also sounds like a couple of abusive boyfriends I kicked to the curb years and years ago). I would venture to say that the majority of WW members are not noobs, they’re repeat dieters, even if WW wasn’t the first diet they tried. Just because they’ve never been to WW before doesn’t mean they haven’t dieted at all, ever. And a failed diet is a failed is a failed diet, no matter what brand name it carries.

  52. Marta Says:

    I would venture to say that the majority of WW members are not noobs, they’re repeat dieters, even if WW wasn’t the first diet they tried. Just because they’ve never been to WW before doesn’t mean they haven’t dieted at all, ever.

    Actually, the more this is true, the better it makes Weight Watcher’s numbers look!

  53. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    Except not. And really, even if it did work, which it doesn’t except in the short term, who wants to live that way? No one wants to be hungry every single day of their lives. No one. (Although I know the poor folks with anorexia are always hungry – but I daresay they don’t like it either.) I read the other day about how a bunch of WW-freaks in an office were talking about how they could get a taste of something to not be so deprived, but not go over their counts, so they calculated the points in a snickers’ fun size bar, cut it into like 20 pieces, and each had one. What kind of living is that? It’s pathetic. My husband works with a woman who is obsessed with her WW diet, and she loses her mind when he mentions McDonald’s. Thing is, if you just go ahead and EAT the McDonald’s when you want it, you start realizing it’s overall pretty gross, and you stop eating it much anyway. He only stopped there because he was very hungry and needed something quick – he doesn’t even like the crap, and she’s over there dreaming about it and going nuts over it. Same with chocolate – if I don’t deprive myself of it, I find that one piece is usually plenty. Occasionally I’ll have a couple but that is very occasionally. If you think that made me fat, though, you’re so wrong. Not by a longshot.

    Meowser, thanks, this blog is teh awesome.

    Vesta, you’re so right. I gather that WW is more of a financial commitment now; back when I tried it I had been dieting already for years (I’d never gone over 150 lbs and hovered around 140) and it was a week by week thing, only a couple dollars per week. I wasn’t much of a joiner, so I sat through one meeting, saw that weigh-in garbage, saw that these people were obsessed, and said forget it. Of course I took the diet information and used it over the years. Weight Watchers is usually just one more on a long list of diets a person will go on; dieting is a way of life for many people.

    I will add this – I have a neighbor who probably weighs 20 lbs over her “ideal” weight, and she loves her WW meetings. You know what they do in her meetings? They exchange recipes. Recipes for the sweetest, gooiest, most sickening things – some concoction with chocolate syrup, oreos, cookie dough, cream cheese and other syrupy sweet stuff…it sounds awful to me because I eat what I like when I want and don’t get horrible cravings for anything. But if I were on a diet and forever hungry it might sound pretty tempting.

  54. meowser Says:

    Dreaming about McD’s, huh? Hmm, I dunno. If I was going to dream about food, I’d think I’d be going for something a little more luxurious than that. I personally lust after these $21 mashed potatoes I’ve heard they have at El Gaucho, with Maine lobster chunks in them, because I can’t freaking well afford that and a $45 steak too! I’ve just gotten a lot pickier about what food I lust after over the years, I guess.

  55. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what the liquid is that they use in crawfish etouffee at Jose Tejas here so I can make it at home. That would be the one thing I really get cravings for, and I’m so close, but the liquid keeps eluding me :( Their blackened texas ribeye is melt-in-your-mouth awesomeness, and it’s only 16 dollars – woot! (What kind of steak do they charge 45 dollars for? mmmm…steak.)

  56. meowser Says:

    I think their smallest and cheapest steak, a 12-ounce baseball cut, is $38. A NY cut the same size is $46. It escalates rapidly from there. And that’s steak only, nothing on the side. I know this from looking at their menu online. I’ve heard the place is pure awesomeness if you have the money to eat there, but I sure don’t!

  57. SP Says:

    I’ve been to El Gaucho on someone else’s account (it’s wasted on me largely, because I don’t eat meat, but they have a perfectly nice little portobello number that let me eat with a group there without having to draw attention to the meat-not-having thing). I will tell you that the steaks always seem to be appreciated, but people’s eyes aren’t rolling back in their heads from the pleasure, you know? I’ve seen much more visible appreciation in other restaurants. So what the hell, go and order the mashed and another side some night, and skip the $45 steak. (Not that $21 isn’t a lot too, but if it’s $21 of pure pleasure…)

  58. Marta Says:

    Except not.

    Really? When a numerator stays the same and a denominator goes down, the result goes… down?

    …[trolling snipped by moderator]…

    Moderator (fatfu)’s Comment:

    Marta you’re welcome to interrogate the numbers as much as you want. In fact, I encourage it, which why I’m not deleting your comments altogether. But I’m not going to put up with fat-bashing. adolescent snark, or other trolling

  59. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    Marta? I know what numerators and denominators do (and I actually don’t know what the heck that has to do with what vesta said and you answered.) You know what? Diets don’t work, especially long-term. You know who diets sometimes – sometimes – work for? People who’ve never dieted before (which is practically unheard of in this insane culture.) You want to crunch numbers? Let me see, I think I have a nice number-crunching link here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/04/03/the-case-against-weight-loss-dieting/

    Chew on that for a while and get back to me.

    Or don’t, because your infatuation with calories in/calories out doesn’t interest me, and it *doesn’t make fat people thin.* Even if it did it wouldn’t matter, but it doesn’t anyway. Weight Watchers has co-opted the FA language to PRETEND it’s something it’s not, but you know something? “Stop dieting, start living” is actually a huge pearl of wisdom (even though they stole it.) I’m not the only one who will never *again* live by your standards of “when I lose XX amount of weight I can do YY and ZZ but not before.” I don’t know why it is so very threatening to thin people that we’re going to LIVE OUR LIVES but I know that many of us ARE going to, while saying “F*** your fascist beauty standards.” So if it’s so dismaying, tough. You’re gonna have to kill us, I think. Go ahead, make my day ;)

  60. Goodman Says:

    The point of the WW statistics should be that fad diets run by for-profit companies aren’t the way to go. Many here are turning the statistics into evidence that people can’t lose weight at all. That is just not true in the majority of cases. I suggest reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Micheal Pollen for an idea of how messed up of food system is and how far we have to step outside of it to regain out health. Although health care has been come much better in recent decades, we are bombarded with processed foods and desk jobs, making it harder to keep of excess pounds. So yes, the task of losing weight is challenging. In many cases it will involve giving up processed foods, refined sugars, saturated fats, trans-fats, and alcohol and of course adding up to an hour us sustained heart-rate exercise 7 days a week. I know many my be unwilling to take those steps, and a few might be unable, but don’t say it’s impossible for most people to be relatively thin, because the evidence does not support that claim. So-called diets are can damage your health. Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in addition to exercising will make you healthier. I wish everyone well.

  61. Goodman Says:

    In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, another M. Pollan book, also looks great though I haven’t read it yet. If anyone else has, let me know what you thought.

  62. libbyblue Says:

    Arrrrgh. Critics, READ. Calorie-restriction lowers one’s metabolism. The more one tries restricting their caloric intake, the more their body will readjust to compensate, as bodies which typically receive adequate or more than adequate nutrition consider losing weight to be a Bad Thing. When the diet ends, the adjustment does not reset itself. Therefore, the more one diets, the harder it will be for an individual to maintain some arbitrarily-imposed low weight, and the easier it will be to become and remain “overweight.”

    I have a set weight range within which my body is quite happy. The entire thing is above where the BMI says I should be (if ever so slightly). If I try to get below that, I get sick. If I go above that, I am either sick or become so very quickly. No amount of dieting will get me into the recommended BMI range without compromising my health. If I set a “healthy” BMI as my arbitrary goal for success, I will ultimately fail, no matter what I try, and naturally hover at a higher rebound weight for the attempt, ie, trying to match the charts would make me fatter.

    I think that society has done an awful lot to promote overeating, as we are no longer encouraged to listen to our bodies in deciding how to nourish ourselves and are instead told to listen to society, magazines, diet tips, and omnipresent advertising, with higher-profit unhealthy foods being made more readily available than lower-profit, healthier foods. If we could undo these developments, that would be lovely. It also would not put people whose metabolisms and overall bodies have already adjusted to cling to a higher weight on x amount of food into size 6 dresses and slacks. Eating more fruit will not make someone fat become permanently thin.

    I’ve weighed thirty-five pounds more than I do right now. I have weighed thirty-three pounds less. It’s winter. I can’t walk anywhere on many days, which impacts both my weight and my mood. This is the high end of my natural set range. Come July, I fully expect to be at the lower end of the range (twenty-one pounds less), without exerting any kind of special effort — just walking and eating as I see fit. I am not prancing and bragging about how I lost thirty pounds (well, more — I found myself in mid-range at the time) once and have kept it off, because this does not prove that everyone else can do exactly the same. It proves that my body likes this lower range, and that once I’d had my medications adjusted and had the energy to get up and go outdoors again, it was quite happy to plummet to its accustomed territory in just a few months.

    The point to all the things said above is not that people can never lose weight, nor is it that adapting one’s diet will never produce results. The point is that every body is unique, and each body will only lose so much weight willingly — beyond that, it will be a struggle, then impossible, and result in ill-health and a rebound tendency to weigh more. This is why we advocate Health At Every Size. One can be “obese” and still relatively healthy. For many people, unless their body feels their weight is unnatural, efforts to make them meet some particular standard of thinness will be unhealthy, often dangerous, and sometimes impossible.

    People have died from weight-loss surgery, more people than have reported even a moderately improved quality of life as a result. The pressure from all quarters, including ill-informed doctors, to lose weight in order to magically become healthy (falsely equating health with thinness) is psychologically damaging, at the very least, and can lead to unhealthy actions in pursuit of thinness.

    No one is commanding all fatties to become Momma from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. We are saying that Weight Watchers will not give them the magical results it promises. Telling people to pursue thinness, not health, when they are NOT equivalent makes people unhappy and unhealthy. We urge them to stop and readjust their goals.

    Health is good. Weight is an independent neutral.

  63. Liza Says:

    I wrote something to the same effect. It’s on my blog.

  64. Laura Says:

    Wow, this is pretty fascinating. I’m one of those 1 in a thousand, or whatever… have lost 50% of my body weight (yes, really, half!) and kept it off. I used WW, but only for the last 50 lbs (150 lbs lost total). I sort of figured my story wasn’t that special, but reading this I’m all, as the kids say,”WTF??”

    Pretty amazing and sad. I wonder when or if our culture will stop promoting superficial beauty and start focusing on HEALTH. Hmm.

  65. AnnieMcPhee Says:

    Laura, can I ask how long ago you reached your goal weight? Has it been more than five years? (Somehow it doesn’t sound like it, but better to ask than assume.

  66. meowser Says:

    “Not all that special”? Laura, people who lose 150 pounds through diet and exercise alone and keep it off for good almost don’t exist at all. Like Annie, though, I use “five years” as benchmark for “for good” — lots more people than that lose dramatic amounts of weight temporarily.

  67. elentari1 Says:

    I was wondering if anyone else is upset that Queen Latifa has decided to follow other fat celebrities and join Jenny Craig to lose weight. I have always thought she was so beautiful just like she is and now I’m sad that she feels it important to change.

  68. Lillian Mitchell Says:

    I’m a lifetime member. I lost 12 pounds. You heard me 12 pounds on program. Did I keep it off for 5 years? no. I kept it off for 3 years. I’m now about 3 to 5 pounds heavier than my starting weight at WW. Not that I care, I’m working out and much of that weight gain is beautiful muscle.

  69. fatfu Says:

    So, you sound about right. The average WW member who managed to reach goal weight only had about 10 lbs to lose- you had 12 to lose. 96% of lifetime members don’t keep it off for five years. You didn’t either. But you find that exercising you’re healthier, regardless of what the scale says, so congratulations.

  70. Becky Says:

    I know this is an old post so maybe nobody will see this, but I just wanted to point something out in regards to this:

    If you want to get an effective rate of how many people on WW achieve their goal weight, you can’t repeatedly count the same core of failures.

    WW counts them. When they talk about how many people have lost weight on their program, they count people who lost, gained back, and lost again. Someone who lost the same 10 pounds on WW 10 times, is counted as 10 successes, or as a successful weight loss of 100 pounds. So if WW gets to count them as seperate successes, why shouldn’t we get to coun them as seperate failures?

  71. Mickey Says:

    Hey Meowser: Have you considered getting a standing desk instead? I don’t know where you usually write/type from, but if you work in a decent-sized company, you might be able to get them to supply you with an ergonomic desk that can be raised and lowered. Barring that, if it’s from home and economically feasible, you might want to look into one, even though they’re kinda expensive.

  72. bottleman Says:

    Hi fatfu, it’s so refreshing to see someone critically examining a journal article on a popular blog. There are some legitimate tricks you can use to get journal articles without paying the publishers’ crazy pay-per-view prices. My public library for example has subscriptions to databases which include full-text and/or pdf versions of articles. I got the newer version of the article that way. If I can figure out your email address I’ll send it to you. Cheers!

  73. tanya Says:

    Thats why I like using portionpals and eat what I want

  74. You or someone you know « spacedcowgirl Says:

    [...] under Uncategorized   I was reading back the other day on fat fu and saw the January entry on Weight Watchers “success” rates. As you can imagine, based on what fatfu was able to [...]

  75. The Fat Identity. First Attempt: How is Fat Different? « fat fu Says:

    [...] Weight Watchers Works. For Two Out of a Thousand. (And They Probably Weren’t Fat to Begin With) [...]

  76. Debbie Says:

    Guess I’m one of the so-called one-in-a-thousand.

    I’ve kept 70 lbs off 5+ years. I’ve kept 80 lbs off 4+ years. I’m also in no danger of regaining my weight anytime soon.

    I am a WW lifetime member.

    Furthermore, I personally know other WW lifetime members who have lost a significant amount of weight, and kept it off, longer than I have.

    I guess I don’t understand all the anti-fat blogging. Either lose weight, or don’t. Doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I did what I did for my health, and WW (and its principles, which I adapted to my own likes and dislikes) worked for me. I guess I just find it odd to see any weight loss plan railed against . . . as if trying (and actually succeeding) to lose weight was somehow bad.

    Oh, well.

  77. Runcible Says:

    Well, I think part of the problem with WW is they have sometimes an unrealistic weight goal– and what your supposed “ideal weight” might not be what you want to reach. My lowest weight that I would ever want to be is at the very tip top of my range for my height and age, and I don’t even care about getting that low.

    That said, what I DO like about WW– I’ve been on it a few weeks– is that it gives me some help in organizing what I’m eating, and in thinking about what I eat. Many lucky folks can do that on their own, but for me it helps to have their system at hand and the support. I feel much healthier than I did before starting, because I’m making myself get that 48 ounces of water and 5 servings of veggies/fruits, etcetera; my eating habits were horrible before!

    I don’t think WW is for everyone, and I don’t take it to heart nor do I buy into the super-hype about these lofty goals. I just like the help it gives me in being generally healthier because it DOES promote more sensible eating, in my experience, and without telling you to buy their specially-packaged meals (though they do offer meals/foods if someone wants). My personal goal size (I’d rather go by size than weight anyway :D) is 16. I just want to be healthier, more than anything.

  78. Nguma Says:

    I’ve joined Weight Watchers about thirty times or more in my life. Lately I’ve just started rejoining it every six weeks or so to check my “official” weight but not going to the meetings. Even though I have four scales of my own, including one of those doctors-office scales, I still like an “official” weight every now and then. I also go to a clinic where the MD prescribes phentermine or Meridia. With all this assistance, I am slowly losing weight for the millionth time and plan to be below 200 by my birthday in a few weeks. Obesity is, of course, a genetic condition, not a psychological one. Slender people eat for emotional reasons too. Slender people eat because they’re bored.But most overweight people have “delayed satiety” and this is genetically determined. We just don’t feel satisfied and full soon enough to prevent overeating. Researchers just found yet another genetic clue, and someday there will be an effective medical treatment. Meanwhile, we should love ourselves and not limit our lives in any way. This is a lesson I need to keep learning and not an easy one for me. I feel very inferior to thin people. In my professional life, I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I prescribe lots of psych. meds that make people gain weight. Some need to take them to stay sane. Prescribers do the best we can to
    mediate the effects of those meds with other meds that can
    control appetite or promote insulin sensitivity. Thanks for a great discussion and assistance in liking myself.

  79. beth Says:

    Nguma you’re in total denial. Stop making excuses for your unhealthy lifestyle. Obesity is very rarely a result of a genetic disorder or prescribed meds. I also work in the healthcare industry and you should be ashamed of yourself for spreading such BS. Yes, some meds can cause weight gain but that can be taken care of by having the patient alter his diet and add some extra activity.

    Also, as a nurse, you should remind everyone about the effects of obesity on a person’s health: cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, infertility, anxiety and depression, etc.

    Plain and simple, obesity is a result of eating too many calories and living a sedentary lifestyle.

    Also, I have lost over 70 lbs on Weight Watchers. The plan works but it’s up to the individual to make it successful. If you keep quiting the program and refuse to take responsibility for your health, the weight will never come off.

  80. fatfu Says:

    “I also work in the healthcare industry…”

    Specifically doing? Because ordinarily I’d take you on point by point, but in this case – everything you wrote is just wrong. All of it. And if you’re taking care of fat patients in any way, shape or form, if you’re telling them any of this – I think John Stewart said it best: “Stop…. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.”

  81. Melissa Says:

    Sweet Post! I never realized that whole WW thing. I myself am more satisfied with just accepting myself for the way I am and enjoying wonderful blogs like yours. I have learned some great attitude lifters from a wonderful and empowering book titled, “Embracing Your Big Fat Ass” by Laura Banks and Janette Barber. I read EBFAand for the first time I am not waking up in the morning devastated and calling myself names.

  82. corey Says:

    Wow, Beth. It takes a special kind of person to respond to a comment that ends with someone thanking others for helping to like herself more with “you should be ashamed of yourself.” Kudos.

  83. Joselle Palacios Says:

    I did WW in 2005. I lost 46 pounds in nine months. I cried the first week, I was so hungry. But I did it. And I was happy. I felt proud that I could do it and even to this day, I learned a lot from it and don’t regret. However…

    3 years later, I’ve gained about 20 pounds back all while still counting points and working out regularly. The pounds just crept on while I went about my life. No binging or inactivity. Just life. Granted I now eat over the points allotment (and do so even when I was “on” the program)because, according to WW, I get 22 points a day, which is about 1200-1400 calories/day. F that! I hit 22 points after lunch and that’s after a healthful breakfast of oatmeal and soy milk and fruit (can easily just be 8 points for that).

    After restarting WW again last week, vowing to stay within the 22 points range even though I knew I would be starving, I stopped. I just couldn’t.

    Reading this made me realize WW is just a very restrictive diet, no matter how joyous the commercials are, and how my being fat (since I was about 7 or 8) has very little to do with calories. It plays a part for sure. I had a terrible binge eating disorder in high school and college that I’ve kicked. But without starving, I cannot be thin. It’s just not possible. In terms of BMI, I went from obese to “normal” to now overweight. And I think now I just have to learn to live with that. My bloodwork and blood pressure are phenomenally low, I workout, I feel fine (except when I’m dieting!), so what exactly am I trying to lose at this point? To what end?

    Thanks for being a voice of reason.

  84. Mare Says:

    Weight lose to some is a journey and long process. I had over 173lbs to lose and would dread losing that much weight fast. Just imagine how much skin and fold that have no place to go. The reason why so many people fail these programs is patience. Everyone wants a quick fix. It did not take six months for me to gain this weight, so it’s not going to take six months to lose it.

    For me, I love WW because they look at the whole person rather than only what the person eats. They deal with why we eat, when, where and how much. This is important because during the process of losing weight, we see and understand things about ourselves and the reasons why we became obese.

    Wow, I can tell you all somethings that I discovered about myself…..

    Don’t knock WW, there are a lot of us out their that got a lot of weight to lose and it needs to be done gradually.

  85. Laura Says:

    Meowser & AnnieMcPhee:

    Sorry I didn’t see your comments earlier! Here’s how mine went… I lost 125 lbs and kept it off for four years. Then recently lost another 25 lbs (total of 150) and have kept that off for a year on August 27th! So, I guess I’ve kept the 125 off for five years, yes! And the extra 25 only for one year.

    It’s pretty mind-boggling. I just read this article again and I’m still stunned!

  86. Denise Says:

    I have seen over the years so many overweight women at work, about 50 or more pounds, join WW and loose alot of weight, to only regain and return to their original size. I have joined and rejoined to lose 10 – 20 pounds and always regained. If you do not go to the weekly meetings to get weighed and write down every point…you will gain your weight back. Cmon, who can live like this. Who wants to throw their money away each week.

  87. Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » 95% of diets fail? More like 99%. Or maybe 99.8%. Says:

    [...] studies of weight loss diets have extremely forgiving definitions of “success.” Fatfu, in a terrific post that I only just now read (although it’s almost a year old), has a similar complaint. But she [...]

  88. cggirl Says:

    I totally agree. Except for this statement is wrong and inconsistent:

    “By my calculations that means 3.9%*6.3% = 0.24% or about two out of a thousand Weight Watchers participants who reached goal weight stayed there for more than five years.”

    Actually, those calculations show that about 4 out of a hundred WW participants WHO REACH THEIR GOAL WEIGHT stay there for more than five years. (You know, the 3.9 percent OF the 6.3% that did reach goal. I’m assuming you are correct about that part.)
    And they show that about two out of a thousand WW participants IN GENERAL reach their goal weight and stay there for more than 5 years. (the 0.024 is out of EVERYONE not out of the 6.3 percent that already reached goal.)

    You see what i’m saying? That just bugged me. Still grim statistics of course.

  89. returnofconky Says:

    So, with statistics like these, remind me again why my employer thinks this is the answer to any and all health problems? I HATE that WW is covered and encouraged by our insurance. It’s just criminal.

  90. Paul PJ James – Fat or Fiction? « RandomQuorum Says:

    [...] failures, since its almost impossible to actually lose weight and keep it off (hmm where have I heard that before?). Kudos to him for pointing it out, although I doubt anyone will have heard the real [...]

  91. Weight Watchers: 2 out of 1,000 success rate | Marissa Bracke Says:

    [...] Read it and weep (if you’re shelling out your money to WW, anyway). [...]

  92. bluebonnet Says:

    I tried WW once. I only went to two meetings, at the second one the leader told us all about how she either takes her own food to parties–not a dish to share, but her own, personal food–or at least brings a sectioned plate so she can measure out half veggies, 1/4 carbs, 1/4 protein. That sounds easy enough to eyeball, unless her vision is blurry from hunger.

    I didn’t want to become a diet zombie like her, so I never went back.

  93. April Says:

    That’s my whole problem. I just love food and I want to eat what I want, when I want. I can’t imagine measuring every bit of food I want to eat. It’s nice to know this info.

  94. lahgibbs Says:

    2 in a thousand. Unbelievable. How do they make money with statistics like that?

  95. La Says:

    Now this is a topic I know something about!!!!!

    I started Weight Watchers in 1998 at 345 pounds. I lost 152 pounds and made it down to 193 at which time my weight loss came to a screeching halt. Now, I’m a 5’7″ woman and my “ideal” weight is around 135-140. So, I had a good bit to go.

    So, for the next two years following the 152 pound loss, I continued with WW, cut my points down and kicked up the exercise to the point that I wore all the cartilege out of both of my knees (I now have double knee replacements). My weight didn’t budge below 193 no matter what I did!!

    Guess what folks – wait for it, it’s good!!!! ALL OF THE WEIGHT I LOST CAME BACK!!!!!! Talk about wanting to jump off a cliff!

    I absolutely refuse to go back on a diet of any kind. I am striving to eat intuitively and give my poor body a break.

    I have dieted and exercised for the past 40+ years and I am fatter now than ever. What does this tell you, research gurus? Let me answer the utmost of scientific questions for you……dieting doesn’t work and, in fact, eventually makes you fatter! Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.

  96. sharioni1 Says:

    Absolutely spot on. I worked as a consultant for a very well known slimming club here in the UK and I was amazed at how few members managed to lose – and keep off – any weight. The problem was that, because clients lost a few pounds initially, they thought that they were to blame when the loss stopped. But it`s not the dieters fault – it`s the way these organisations work. If their customers lost all their weight, they would be out of business. Simple as!!

  97. Sefi Says:

    Love.

    Even though I have lost a lot of weight, and so far kept it off (only 2 years), I still see dieting as crap. It also seems to bring out horrible attitudes and warps peoples thinking a bit.

    Such as thinking…
    – you should drive around doing errands instead of doing them in one place so you can walk back and forth to you car more. The size of your stomach is more important than the planet.
    – it’s perfectly normal to take chewable fiber pills to a party so you can snack on those instead of eating any food.
    – it isn’t okay to eat and do whatever you want because that instantly means junk food and getting every disease people link to being fat.

    Things like that made me stop trying to lose weight and start reading FA blogs. I’m a lot happier now and I think I’ll be okay if (probably when) I start to gain the weight back.


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