AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER...

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Since I was a kid (a smaller one), I was slightly puzzled by the same recurring ending in most fantasy animated movies: “…and they lived happily ever after.” It bugged me that it was portrayed as a single moment in the movie! You went through the dark forest, fought underworld minions, reached the dragon, slayed it, kissed the girl, and that was it! You were done, and well off, for the remaining 50 or so years. Only… NOPE! If you have any sense of reality, you know perfectly well that from that point on is when the real trouble begins. Your significant other tires of you; you lose your job; you have unexpected kids; someone gets sick; you struggle financially; you struggle emotionally; you fight; and other countless examples and possibilities. It seems to be pretty clear that the day you stop putting your effort into fixing all forthcoming problems, is the day you start losing whatever you want to keep. So, if you want to live “happily ever after” you’ll likely be slaying dragons and their minions for the rest of your life. That seems pretty self-evident.

So, what does this have to do with exercise? People often start to exercise with a set goal in mind: weight loss, building muscle mass, perform whatever physical prowess. They fixate their journey on a single moment, a product. And then, if you’re lucky enough to be strong willed, you may get there. You lose those 15 kilos. Now what? Well, 5 more… now what? It seems obvious that you cannot continue to come up with such milestones of physical condition because your body has a biological limit. Sure, there are great powerlifters and marathoners (to give diametrically opposite examples) that keep improving their records way after they are 30 and 40. But these people struggle for years to get that extra kilo on the deadlift or shave those 15 seconds of their marathon time. I may be wrong, but I honestly do not believe that that extra 0,01% better is the only thing that drives them. I think they really enjoy what they are doing. They are focused on the process, not on the product.They are concentrated on properly slaying the dragons for the rest of their lives, and that’s what will make them live “happily ever after”. 

On this topic, weight loss is the domain where most scientific research has been done. It suggests that, for the vast majority of the subjects, 50% of the weight lost is regained after the first year and nearly all the remaining lost weight is regained thereafter. In this specific domain, behavioral interventions largely fail. When people try to drastically lose weight, with strategies such as typical miraculous diets or 1-month weight loss workouts, they are not aware that their own body will fight back to regain the weight that is potentially lost. It does this through such mechanisms as a decrease in satiety signals, an increase in hunger signals, and an increase in metabolic efficiency. It’s harder to maintain the lost weight than it is to lose it in the first place. Sounds familiar? However, it’s important to add that inter-individual variability has a strong influence in weight management cases. Meaning that some people may be naturally less prone to resist one of the major epidemics of our time. Therefore “happily ever after”, in this case, may require a reconfiguration of how weight loss and weight maintenance are perceived and addressed. I have a strong belief that if interventions were focused on helping people find something they enjoy doing, something they enjoy being a part of, if there was a shift of focus from the “product” to the “process”, long term results would be better. 

We live in a fortunate world where we hardly need to exert other than for fun. So, let that be your main driver! Go have some fun. Find something you enjoy doing, and people you enjoy doing it with and go do it! Not because you want to lose that extra belly fat, or get those bigger “guns”, that will only work temporarily, but because you actually want to! You’ll feel great, I promise.

See you out there!

André Sousa

16 of April 2019

  • Speakman, J. et al. (2011). Set points, settling points and some alternative models: theoretical options to understand how genes and environments combine to regulate body adiposity. Disease Models & Mechanisms 4, 733-745.

  • Ochner, C. et al. (2013). Biological mechanisms that promote weight regain following weight loss in obese humans. Physiology & Behavior 120, 106-113.

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