For me, and I’d love to know whether this goes for other maintainers, one of the things that keeps me from eating with abandon during the holiday season is the impending spring survey from the National Weight Control Registry. Once a year, Aprilish, we know we’ll be called to account. (Question: Since accountability is a recognized precept of weight loss and maintenance, does the implied accountability of the NWCR process corrupt the organization’s own data? Hmmmmm. A ponderable for another day.)
Most years it’s the short form: Have you gained? Have you lost? Have you maintained? How do you feel about that on a scale of one to five (or is it ten)? The scientists define “maintaining” as not gaining more than five pounds in a single year. I have ranked their highest success category for all the five years I have participated. I have been “maintaining” loss for more than seven years and regained ten pounds in that time, but never a full five in one year. So, with mixed feelings, I accept their mantle and call myself a “success,” though some days I question that.
Some years, it’s the long form where we fill in pages of ovals with a number two pencil and try to break down our weekly food intake into the scientists’ categories. We try our best to parse the soups and stir fries we’ve eaten into their component parts. The scientists don’t ask us about the quality of our food – how much is organic, etc. – just the quantity. We also quantify and categorize our exercise routines. We tell them how often we weigh ourselves and that, yes, we still eat breakfast, and at what time. Then we answer true/false to an array of confusing “psychological” questions. This section makes me feel horribly guilty, because I find I must answer “false” to questions that are half true and “true” to questions that are half false. Most just don’t lend themselves to simple true or false answers, so I resign myself to how I think I think “mostly.” Mostly? Depends on the day. They appear to be trying to figure out whether we’re disordered. If they’d just ask, “Are you disordered?” – I’d tell them: probably, some days.
The scientists do NOT ask our input as to what WE think they should be studying, so I take it upon myself to be, er, helpful. Sometimes I include my suggestions in hand-written notes with the survey. Other times, I believe three times now, I have been possessed to write letters. If you were to hand an NWCR scientist a #2 pencil, no doubt he or she would burn a hole in the “true” oval next to “Debra Sapp-Yarwood is a flaming, fuming crackpot.” (Then I hope he or she would feel a bit guilty, since those adjectives may only be half true.)
Well, I missed the one year anniversary of last year’s letter to the NWCR. It was dated November 5th, 2009, and it is the only letter I’ve sent that was summarily ignored. In one letter I’d requested a blog where NWCR participants might support one another. Paraphrased answer: We cannot provide you a blog; that would corrupt our data. Why don’t you start one of your own. (Good idea!) In another I asked for more precise data regarding the long-term success rate of diets, something that spans outward more than five years and is empirical in nature. Those of us past the five-year point could benefit from that data. Answer: That would be good information to have. Our work supports that. (No commitments.) Last year, I got a little more wordy, but every word was heart-felt.
Maybe you can tell me why they didn’t respond. I addressed the letter to a scientist by name, it got passed to another (I was told in a nonresponse type response), then it died. I followed up by phone a few months later. Still no response. I followed up recently by email, and after some exchange, the scientist abruptly cut off email replies to me. I will protect that scientist’s identity. I suspect he was instructed by a supervisor NOT to respond. But why? What do you think?
Dear Specific Scientist at the National Weight Control Registry:
The developed world owes the NWCR a debt. It has been no mean feat to describe, quantitatively, the behavior of the winners in our society’s most poignant struggle. Thank you. However, I suspect the most significant fact about me as a weight-loss maintainer is not that I eat breakfast or weigh myself daily. Recently you have started using an MRI machine to look at the brains of maintainers, and I think that’s a step in the right direction. My plea, this year, is that you explore other empirical measurements, and consider asking us more pressing questions. Hire additional scientists, if necessary.
For example, ascertain what KIND of fat loss we are maintaining. Ask about the shape of our bodies before we lost the weight. I’m willing to bet that apple, pear, cello-shaped and inverted triangle people are on unequal footing. I, by the way, was a cello, evenly fatted. Ask about the quality of the food we now eat – ask about which processed foods we have eliminated, whether we avoid hormones in our milk and meat, whether we have eliminated other common toxins that have increased in our society in the three-decade period that so ominously corresponds with the increase in our society’s average weight. In addition to “would you please put your head in this MRI machine,” consider asking other important questions:
- “Would you mind submitting a tube of your blood?”
- “Would you kindly pee in a cup?”
- “May we analyze a strand of your hair?”
- “May we swab the inside of your mouth?”
- “Would you mind submitting to a series of metabolic breath tests?”
- “Would you consider donating your body to the NWCR upon your death?”
I know I have cleaned up my diet a lot, but I also know it isn’t perfect. I’m curious whether I have created a chemical profile that helps me maintain a 27% loss from my all-time high. On the other hand, I wonder whether something I have done differently from other maintainers may have contributed to my weight’s upward creep of ten pounds in six-and-a-half years? Is it strictly quantitative: I haven’t increased my exercise to match the slowing of my metabolism from aging? Or is it qualitative: I’ve consumed too much of a particular endocrine disruptor?
If growing your program is a matter of fundraising, I would be happy to help you to the best of my abilities. In fifteen years of not-for-profit development, I became a competent proposal writer and fundraising strategist. And there is NO cause that interests me more than that of weight-loss maintenance. (I bet you’ve figured that out.) There is nothing I want more than a sense of sanity in this field that may spring from scientific disinterest, which, sadly, is sorely lacking. It seems this is the only area of inquiry where scientists, medical doctors and other intelligent people may refer to a theory as a “revolution,” “breakthrough,” “the ultimate solution” or “the end of overeating.”*
This insanity among the intelligentsia begets crazy policies and behavior in the lay world. Employers, including whole state-sized systems, and insurance companies, charge fat people more money, then assess additional fees, with the rationale that they are encouraging them to lose weight, which is assumed to be routinely permanent. In January, the Boy Scouts will begin requiring their boys and leaders to attain a particular BMI before they are allowed to participate in the organization’s most treasured camping and hiking experiences. I wait in fear: will my son, when he comes of age, use dangerous fasting and sweat-room techniques to “make weight” for Philmont? We live in crazy times: doctors perform risky and invasive weight-loss surgery on increasingly thinner overweight people, fat people beg their doctors for diet drugs and buy unregulated supplements, they crash diet, smoke, engage in diabulimia, other eating disorders and other extreme weight-control measures. Weight cycling increases, year after year, and with it gall bladder failure, lowered immune function, compromised heart health and clinical depression triggered by failure. Our society grows less healthy and ever fatter, despite a zeitgeist of weight-loss desperation.
I have tried to use my status as a maintainer to educate my own physicians and others I see in social situations to the complexity of the problem, to little avail. They think they know how complex it is, because they know it entails diet, exercise and overcoming psychological obstacles. I roll my eyes at how they’ve oversimplified it, and they roll their eyes at me – obviously an egotist, since I think I’m so extraordinary. Good Lord. You people know, I am. But I’m not bragging; I’m struggling. And I certainly don’t want to be held up as some kind of example that “it can be done” if you “just get serious” (my internist’s words). Some days I feel like the title character from the movie Charly (the book Flowers for Algernon) in the scene where he watches with despair as a mentally disabled man takes abuse. I see fat people taking abuse – the butt of jokes, headless bodies in the daily news – and I know, that’s where I come from, and someday, for whatever reason, that’s where I’ll end up, though I keep postponing with my mostly meticulous diet, my long, hard daily exercise and my attention to my body’s signals.
There are a few of us who beat the odds, and only you know our names. Please ramp up your efforts, or consider sharing your precious database with scientists whose mission will allow them to look beyond our behavior and analyze us chemically, physically, empirically. Please lose some sleep. I know I am. Feel free to call me if I can be of help.
(Phone number provided here)
*Can you believe David Kessler? An unimpeachable résumé, and yet he proposes “the end of overeating,” which, it turns out, is anorexic and orthorexic ideation with a few tired old “tips and tricks” thrown in. Yeesh. But of course, it will work this time because we’re more knowledgeable about the restaurant industry and its addictive foods. Yeesh, again.
So, folks: what do you think? Why didn’t they respond? I extend a special invitation to any NWCR scientists to respond at this time.