It’s time to stop the finger wagging and snide comments directed at those who lose massive amounts of weight, only to put it back on again.
According to Tuesday night’s Ask the Doctor on the ABC, it’s hormonally and physiologically almost impossible for our bodies to sustain massive weight loss.
Only a tiny minority will do so because it involves extraordinary effort.
Sharon Basset came third on the ninth season of Channel 10 show The Biggest Loser, when the series went to Ararat, then known as the country’s fattest town.
She lost more than 50 kilograms (over 40 per cent of her body weight) but now has to spend up to three hours a day exercising just to keep it off.
She starts her day at 5am with a walk (“I try to jog but I’m not very good at it”). She goes to the gym after work for an hour and, after dinner with the family (“we try to eat healthily”), she usually does one more workout.
Show presenter Dr Renee Lim says Sharon is a “miracle” because the body’s hormones are working overtime to get that weight back.
Why? Endocrinologist Professor Joe Proietto says it’s because people who diet trigger a famine response in their bodies. When the diet stops, the hormones trigger the feast response and the weight comes back on.
“People who have lost a greater amount of weight are simply hungrier than the rest of us,” he says.
Sharon needs to burn 300 calories more every day than someone who hasn’t lost so much weight.
“I knew it was going to be hard but I didn’t think it was going to be this hard. I thought over time it might settle down, that it might get a little bit easier, but it’s not. It’s constant,” Sharon says.
I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.
“My body is saying: ‘This is not your size. I want to be 50 kilos heavier and I’m going to push your body to make me this size’. I’m fighting this constant battle.”
The program suggests the answer is not to put the weight on in the first place but, as 63 per cent of Australians are overweight or obese, it’s time to stop blaming individuals and look at how to fix it.
Only 5 per cent of healthy children grow up to be obese, while 79 per cent of obese youngsters will become overweight adults. Ask the Doctor argues the problem could be fixed in a generation by tackling junk food, advertising and urban planning.
Until then, there needs to be a focus on how to keep the weight off.
Even though the post-show experience has been tortuous, Sharon would do it all again.
“They taught me how to eat properly, they taught me how to keep the weight off and I use that every day,” she said.
“It really changed my life for good.”