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Why is it so hard to lose weight?

Are you ready for installment two of my short version of HBO's "Weight of the Nation TV" documentary? I can hear the by: SUBMITTED - For a healthy chance of pace, add artichokes to your menu. There's a recipe below for artichokes with a vinaigrette.grumbling: "Ugh... She's writing about losing weight. Why can't she write about something fun? It's summer - she should be talking about making homemade ice cream or how to make the flakiest crust for strawberry pies."

Believe me, I would much rather keep going on my own blissful path of eating what I please. It's only because I care about you and the health of our nation that I will continue to bombard you with information about this less-than-pleasant topic. Change won't come easy - in fact, that is our topic today: Why is it so darned hard to lose weight?

According to "Weight of the Nation," this is how it works: When we gain weight we're taking in more calories than we burn - that part isn't rocket science. We know that even a surplus of 100 calories can make a difference. So, if I eat the same way every day, but quit taking my dog, Daisy, on her daily walk, I'll gain weight. Or, if I add a glass of wine at approximately 100 calories to my daily diet but don't increase my level of physical activity, boom! Same thing.

So, when we lose weight, we are either:

1) Taking in fewer calories than we're burning by controlling portions and eating less or

2) Burning more calories than we're taking in by exercising more - and it has to be a lot more.

According to the information shared in "Weight of the Nation," your body's energy requirements don't stay the same throughout your adult life. Dr. Rudolph Leibel, co-director of the New York Obesity Research Center at Columbia University, explains in "Weight of the Nation" that, after we gain weight, our bodies get used to being at a higher weight and our set point gets stuck at the higher level established when we were heavy. For some people, gaining weight also means adding more fat cells. As we lose weight - and dip below our set point - our bodies fight us to stay at that set point.

According to this theory, as we consume fewer calories in an effort to lose weight, our body interprets the change as a signal that fat stores are getting depleted and our brain sends out hunger signals to urge us to maintain our current weight. Dr. Leibel believes that our bodies might also react by slowing down our metabolism, making it harder to lose weight.

Scientists do not fully understand why or how the body makes it hard for us to lose weight. We might need fewer calories to maintain our new, lower weight because we are out of sync with our set point (which some believe goes up when we gain weight but does not go back down when we lose weight). Or we simply need fewer calories to maintain our lower weight because we have less metabolically active tissue, including muscle, than we had when we were heavy. Some scientists agree that people who have gained and then lost excess weight may need to consume fewer calories and be more physically active to stay at their new lower weight than people who have always been at that same weight.

The difficulties people face in losing and maintaining weight once they are overweight or obese is why it is very important for most people who are currently at a healthy weight (as well as those who are overweight and obese) to avoid additional weight gain. It's also one more reason why it's so crucial to help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Dr. Leibel's research has contributed to scientist's understanding that maintaining weight loss is about more than willpower - there are physiological reasons that make it difficult. Whether the set point of people who have gained weight can be lowered after they lose weight is still being debated. What scientists do agree on, however, is that maintaining weight loss is achievable for many people, but it requires a long-term commitment to lifestyle changes.

According to Dr. Leibel, if you lose 10 percent of your body weight, you will need to consume 22 percent fewer calories than you were consuming previously in order to maintain that new lower weight.

And, people who have maintained weight loss of 30 pounds or more tend to eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves at least once a week, watch less than 10 hours of TV each week and exercise about one hour a day.

A section of the documentary focused on what you can do at work to improve your health, where people tend to spend long periods sitting at a desk and are subject to increased stress (and may respond by eating). I am pleased to report that employees at the city of Lake Oswego have been working since January on weight loss programs, some through Weight Watchers and others on their own. I'll check in with them to learn how they are doing and report back.

In this section of "Weight of the Nation," it is apparent that it is hard work to shed significant amounts of weight and keep it off. But the documentary also communicated the power and rewards of doing so. The stories included in the film of successful losers showed how they are constantly retuning and refining their healthy habits and rededicating themselves daily to maintaining their new weights.

The National Weight Control Registry has been tracking more than 5,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for more than a year. Of these registry participants:

- 62 percent watch fewer than 10 hours of TV per week.

- 78 weigh themselves at least once a week, many daily.

- 78 percent eat breakfast every day.

- 90 percent exercise about an hour a day on average.

- 98 percent continue to eat a healthier diet.

- 100 percent say their quality of life is higher.

Re-read those bullet points. Let's turn off the TV and take the dog for a walk. Today you get a recipe for preparing artichokes. They are readily available at the farmers' market, so go grab a few and dig in!

Bon Appetit! Eat something healthy!

Artichokes with Scallion Tomato Vinaigrette

Serves 2

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Makes use of the microwave oven.

2 1/2-pound artichokes

1/2 lemon

1/2 cup water

4 teaspoons white-wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons minced scallion greens

1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Preparation: Cut off and discard the stems of the artichokes with a stainless-steel knife, break off the tough outer leaves and cut off the top fourth of the artichokes. Snip off the tips of the artichoke leaves with scissors and rub the cut edges with the lemon half. In a 3-quart microwave-safe casserole with a lid combine the water and the artichokes, microwave the artichokes, covered, at high power (100 percent) for 15 minutes, or until the bases are tender, and let them stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, the oil and salt and pepper to taste, whisking the dressing until it is emulsified, and whisk in the scallion greens and the tomato. Arrange the artichokes on two plates, spoon the dressing over them and serve the artichokes at room temperature.

From Gourmet, April 1992

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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