Maybe you just don’t have the Willpower Gene?


At any given time in America, there are more than 200 million people on a diet. Each one of these people averages 4-5 formal attempts to lose weight each year, and more than 95% of them fail. (1-4) The explanations for this phenomenon? Laziness. Weakness. Lack of Willpower.


Science has shown us, though, that these perpetuated myths are not the cause of diet failures. Weight loss programs are abandoned in a predictable fashion because of known changes that occur in response to calorie restriction and new exercise, including hunger hormone reactions, basal metabolism alterations, and brain signaling modifications. (5-13)


So why does anyone think that “willpower” is the culprit? Because the lean folks do not feel what the overweight dieter feels when faced with the same stressors. As a result, a powerful misconception has been created and sustained over time: Overweight and obese individuals cannot change their positions in life because they are unable to endure exercise and calorie restriction due to the absence of willpower. Conversely, the lean population (including most authors of mainstream diet and exercise programs) have been blessed with strength, perseverance, and excellence – which is why they can follow these same schedules without quitting. False!


The physical cascade responsible for the exhaustion, discomfort, and hopelessness that overweight people feel during the early days of every new diet has been defined, and it has been clearly shown that the idea of making a change is a completely different project than maintaining one’s physique.


So no, your struggles with diet have absolutely nothing to do with “willpower,” or mental fortitude, or perseverance, or inner strength. It has to do with hormone changes, metabolism stubbornness, gut microbiota, and stress rebound – and it is all based in survival. No amount of willpower or mental fortitude can overcome these systems, which is why the failure rate remains at 95%. Your struggle is real, and those with normal or near normal body composition don’t feel it, so they paste you with negative labels.


Don’t lose hope though, the obesity medicine research community has identified ways to mitigate the response you feel. We’ll get you there. And God loves you. So in the meantime please just smile, relax, and know that the help is on the way.


Happy New Year!



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Magic Coins that Keep You on Your Diet

If I had a bucket of magic coins, and each time you felt liking quitting your diet all you had to do was reach in and grab one to get rid of those feelings, would you be interested? Couldn’t you then stay on your diet? Of course you good. Here is the good news, you can do it without the magic. The “coins” that keep you on your diet in real life are called recovery.

When you exercise, it’s like swallowing a stick of dynamite. Wastes build up, muscles are weakened, your nervous system is shocked, you get dehydrated, and stress hormones are produced. (1-8)  The traditional teaching then, is to push through this feeling and swallow some more dynamite on day 2. And 3, and 4, and so on (until you quit). In the 21st century though, science has shown us that this bullheaded approach is neither necessary nor effective.  The road to success is paved with changes harnessed through peaceful, individual recovery from exercise.

Golden background with natural bokeh defocused sparkling lights

These changes occur with a real time feedback loop that lets you know where you are, just like a bar in a video game that tells you how much life your character has left. That is, in many video games the main character runs around trying to beat levels but slowly runs out of energy, or ammo, or whatever. You have to find something to replenish them before you move on. If you just start the game and run your guy forward without paying attention to refuel options, you will pretty quickly die and go back to the beginning. Similarly, most folks mistakenly think that because you miss a workout, eat some cake, or feel like crap, that you should bail and start over some other time – when in fact you just need to find a mushroom or a magic coin to charge up.  These energy sources are available in life by delaying and modifying the next workout and supplementing your diet.  Likewise, if you ignore your recovery signals and hit the gym before these changes occur, you are sealing your own short term fate, and may end up worse off than when you started.

What is this timeline for recovery then? It varies. We know that muscles burn calories and synthesize protein for at least 48 hours after your workout, changes occur in your heart and blood vessels for 48-72 hours, stress hormones are up for 18-24 hours, and that inflammatory changes persist for 24-72 hours.  (6, 7, 9-12) All of these processes give you feelings of soreness, fatigue, motivational drops, or even depression. The key is to recognize this feedback, and time your workouts appropriately. Stop focusing on the undoable – and build a program around recovery.





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