By Barbara Berkeley, MD
New weight maintainers frequently propose using a favorite strategy: eating at will on some days (usually the weekends) while sticking to a healthier plan during the rest of the week. It sounds good, but in my experience, it's a losing proposition for most. Why?
As my blog and facebook readers know, I am increasingly fascinated by the suggestion that our gut micro-organisms (the microbiome) might dictate our size and metabolic health. New data to support this theory is being generated daily. Here is one example, a study that transplants the microflora of lean humans into obese mice and generates weight loss. For more on gut bacteria and fecal transplants, see this earlier post. While most of would cringe at the idea of ingesting or receiving an enema full of someone else's bacteria, we should think about the larger concept at play. It seems very possible that what we eat dictates the type of bacteria we develop. After years of ingesting the SAD, we have some pretty pathetic bacteria; perhaps a slew of micro-organisms which process way too much of what we eat and generate metabolic illness.
There are many reasons why on and off eating plans don't work for long term maintenance, but I would suggest that one of them may be that we never give our microbiome a chance to remodel. Such a biological turn-around may be crucial for cementing a new weight.
On and off diets are the quintissential expression of wishful thinking. They represent a longing for the SAD and an inability to separate from it. But the SAD (standard American diet) is addictive and is thus almost impossible to manage episodically. In addition, the metabolic state of those who have recently lost weight is such that their bodies are looking for weight regain. Weekly deviations can quickly overwhelm any attempts at being "good" the rest of the time because of the rapidity of regain on uncontrolled days.
As I always say, strategies that work for you as an individual are good strategies. I realize that there are some people reading this who probably have success with on and off plans. But I am willing to bet that the majority of you have failed with this technique.
When I was a kid, most people ate SAD and processed foods in lesser amounts than we do today, and they did just fine. Why can't we just cut back and do that now? I'm not sure. But it's my current belief that we have undergone some kind of metabolic change that makes this impossible. Whether this is the fatigue of our insulin systems after years of consuming sugars and starches, some essential change in our gut flora, or the influence of environmental toxins remains unknown and unproven. Only the observable facts remain. It seems to me inescapable that POWs (previously overweight people) must create brand new lifestyles that exist outside of the SAD. In order to learn to prefer these eating styles, they must be faithful to them 90 percent of the time---meaning with only occasional deviation.
Let me know your thoughts.