It’s an unlikely analogy but weight loss success stories are just like happy love stories in the way they are portrayed in the media today. Just as a love story ends with the couple tying the knot and living ‘happily ever after’, the weight loss story ends with everyone applauding the individual’s hard work in shedding those excess kilos. While the fact of the matter is that much like a marriage heralds a new chapter of life that requires commitment and (oodles of) patience to make it work, maintaining weight loss is a long-term journey that requires you to work on yourself every day. Take your eyes of the ball, fall off the wagon, and you can end up right where you started: with the kilos piled back on. A general estimate touted around is that only 20% of people who have lost weight manage to keep it off for more than a year.
In May 2016, research journal Obesity carried the results of a study done by researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) in Maryland, US, on the winners of the 8th season of The Biggest Loser, a popular American reality show that centered on obese participants who had to lose the maximum number of kilos to win prize money. The research followed 14 of the 16 participants in 2016, six years after they had taken part in the show in 2009. 13 of the 14 participants regained weight in the interim years. Not just that, four of them weighed more than they did before the competition.
Our bodies, as the researchers led by Dr. Kevin Hall discovered, have a tendency to fight back weight loss. In the case of the participants, this reflected in the way their metabolism significantly slowed down after the show and body weight reverting close to their initial weight in 2009.
A customised diet and exercise plan
When it comes to weight loss management, Delhi-based professional body builder and home personal trainer Chitharesh Natesan believes that any loss achieved by following quick weight loss programmes and crash diets is short-lived.
“I see people aiming to lose 24-30kg in three-four months by following different diets and working out excessively in the gym. I understand that there may be occasions when you need to do something this rigorous to attain quick results but you’ve got to know that you won’t be able to sustain that weight loss for long. It’s unhealthy as well,” explains Natesan, who won the Mr. Universe title in the 11th World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship in 2019.
So what should one do to keep the kilos that have been lost with such effort off for longer, if not forever? Natesan suggests going for a weight loss management programme that is customized. His reasoning is simple: No two bodies are the same. “Get yourself a personal trainer who will sit with you to plan a programme that factors in a diet and exercise regimen that will work specifically for your body,” advises Natesan.
In his two-decade-long career as a wellness expert with leading resorts in the world, Dr. Narendra Shetty has seen many cases of people opting for weight loss programmes to lose 10s of kilos only to gain them back within months. That, he says, is mainly because it’s difficult for people to replicate the lifestyle followed during retreats in real life. This is also why when he decided to start Kshemavana, a luxury wellness and yoga retreat in Neelasandra, Bengaluru, one of the guidelines put in place was to ensure that clients who signed up for the 15-day naturopathy programme would continue the recommended diet plan once they returned to their homes. Centred on principles of naturopathy, the diet plan Dr Shetty focuses on ensuring good gut health.
“In naturopathy we believe that the root of almost all diseases lies in the digestive system. Pet saaf hain toh sab kuch saaf hain (if the stomach is clean and healthy, so is the body),” he says. And so when it comes to helping his patients stay on the weight loss wagon, Dr Shetty advises them to follow a diet that is low on carbohydrates and high on proteins and good fats like ghee. “People tend to have a misconception that reducing the quantity of food by removing a particular food group is the way to go. Instead, it is the quality of food that they need to focus on,” he says.
Habits for success
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) was established in 1994 by Rena Wing, Ph.D. from Brown Medical School, and James O. Hill, Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in the US to investigate long-term successful weight loss maintenance. With the universal belief being that long-term weight loss is difficult, the study sought to identify and investigate the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at it.
The ongoing project has been tracking more than 10,000 individuals using detailed questionnaires and annual follow up surveys. Over the years, it has thrown up illuminating findings. As the much-publicized results of the study reveal, habits of successful weight loss maintainers include: eating breakfast regularly, engaging in high levels of physical activity for at least an hour daily, eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet, maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends, and self-monitoring weight.
Anirrban Mukherjii, a general manager with Reliance Retail in Bengaluru, isn’t a participant in the NWCR study, but these uncannily were some of the steps he followed, in order to drop from 120kg to 77 kg in the past year. Echoing Natesan’s advice of getting a personalized plan, Mukherjii, once he decided to step on the weight loss wagon, signed up with a local gym in his neighbourhood and got himself a trainer to plan his exercise regime. Next, he worked with a nutritionist to work out a diet plan. And then, beginning in September 2022, he diligently began self-monitoring his weight—recording the numbers on his phone every day.
Today, having achieved his ideal weight range, Mukherjii can go easy but he doesn’t want to. Instead, he continues with his daily routine of hitting the gym in the morning before heading to work, and ends the day by clocking in 18,000 steps. He exercises while travelling for work and on holiday, as well.
The motivation to keep showing up, Mukherjii says, comes from internal validation. “As a high performer at work, there was a time when I used to place a lot of importance on external validation. When I didn’t get that at my workplace, it acted as a trigger for me to pile on the pounds. Today, I understand that my work may not always get me appreciation but by starting my day with a workout, I know I have showed up for myself. And that is enough,” he explains.
Mukherjii says that self-awareness, kindness and patience towards oneself are of critical important while one is on a weight loss management journey. “You have got to know the triggers that can cause you to spiral so that when such a situation arises you know what not to do,” he says before candidly sharing, “I continue to feel fat in the head and on some days, I have to consciously remember that my shirt size has dropped from 4XL to L. It is going to take time for my mind to accept my current size but looking at my journey this far, I know I will get there, slowly but surely.”
Have a diet and exercise plan tailored to your body
Weigh yourself regularly
Follow a wholesome diet that doesn’t cut out any nutrients
Make weight loss maintenance an ongoing goal, not a one-time goal
Don’t make external validation as your motivation to lose weight
Validate yourself and show up consistently
Be kind and patient with yourself