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Published: Sunday, 2/9/2003

Success stories: Scaling Down 6 have ended their year healthier

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

(Last of a Series)

They did not achieve all their goals, but the Blade's Scaling Down Six had a successful year anyway.

During the past 12 months, each has overcome obstacles to lose pounds, fat, and inches - 140 pounds among the six - and, more importantly, developed a new attitude toward dieting, and the persistence to see long-term changes through.

“I would say their results were definitely a success,” said Robert Carels, an obesity researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “Each participant should be very proud of their accomplishments.

“Even though they didn't lose as much as they wanted, they got more muscular and leaner.”

“They all have had the plateau or the downfalls, but the important thing is that they've kept going,” said Kate Yarbrough, a YMCA program director for corporate and community health promotions coordinator. She weighed and measured the six each month.

“That's the important part: You're going to have things in your life that set you back. You have to get back on track,” she added.

No studies show how many people stick with a diet once they start one - after all, many diets die quick, secret deaths - but in Ms. Yarbrough's experience, the number is about one in four. Dr. Carels said formal weight-loss programs in university settings usually lose one in five dieters over the course of a program. By those estimates alone, the six did well - no one dropped out, although several were tempted at various points.

“All of us felt let down and depressed at times - like saying, `Let's go to an ice cream buffet,'” said Lisa Otting, who acted as the group's main cheerleader from the start.

At the start of the series, each person named a goal he or she wanted to reach in a year. Only one, Diana Gaillardetz, achieved her goal - she even overshot it by four pounds. But she also named the most modest goal - she wanted to lose 29 pounds in year, as opposed to the goal losses of between 40 and 80 pounds named by the others.

Obesity studies indicate those goals were at least somewhat improbable.

“The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institute of Health suggests that people can lose about nine percent of total body weight in six months,” Dr. Carels said. “Given that most weight loss slows down drastically after six months of trying to lose, I would guess that 12 to 13 percent might be a good 12-month goal.

“Your participants wanted to lose about 22 percent of their total weight. Even though that might have seemed like a reasonable goal, research suggests that they might have been a little unrealistic, but not totally out of the ballpark.”

The fact that each person lost some weight is important, Ms. Yarbrough and Dr. Carels said. But even more telling are the other numbers - the inches lost and the lower body fat percentages, which plunged by 10 percent or more for five of the six. Both point toward less fat and more muscle.

In fact, Ms. Yarbrough said she tried to keep the group's sights more on how they felt and how their clothes fit than the scale's readings.

“I would give them the numbers, and they didn't always like the numbers I gave them, but then I'd say, `How do you feel? How do your clothes feel?' and they would get so excited talking about it. I would try to keep them focused on how they feel versus the numbers.”

And in the end, even a modest loss is enough to have real benefits.

“Not counting what was gained back, the participants lost, on average, about 10 to 12 percent of their body weight,” Dr. Carels said.

“Also, they lost many inches from their waist and hips. They are probably in much better shape and benefited in numerous other ways - more energy, improved mood, increased self-esteem, overall health improvements, such as lower risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension.”



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