A recent study suggests that losing weight for obese adults is much, much harder than most realize. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Every year, Robert Destefano tried new diets, hoping that each would be the one that stuck.
"Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach," he says. "I wanted to lose 250 pounds, 300 pounds. I could never get down to that weight loss."
He would lose 100 pounds. Then, once off the diet, he would gain it all back. He was 528 pounds at his heaviest.
Researcher Christopher Ochner of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital says that despite what many may think, it has little to do with motivation and self-control.
"Once an individual has been obese for a certain period of time, essentially, biology has completely taken over," Ochner says. "There are biological mechanisms that will adamantly prevent weight loss, even if it's healthy."
In his study published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior, Ochner and his colleagues looked at the results of 155 studies dealing with different areas of weight loss and obesity, and found that obesity triggers a biological response, a relic of mankind's fight to prevent starvation.
"The body actually adapts to that higher body weight and then will kick in these same exact biological mechanisms and defend that higher body weight," Ochner says.
Ochner says that the only proven long-term defense against weight re-gain, so far, is bariatric surgery.
Destefano's girlfriend, Stefanie, lost 200 pounds after a gastric bypass, inspiring him to undergo a similar procedure a year ago. So far, he's lost 228 pounds, and says that it feels as if his brain was essentially re-booted.
"I was in love with steak. Now, I don't even really want to look at it," he says. "Mentally, your mind changes."
Ochner says that a big hurdle to combating the obesity epidemic is the social stigma associated with the disease.
"It's no longer just a matter of moving more and eating less," he says. "We need biological approaches to addressing this, and that's what we don't have. Without that, they are truly powerless."
Ochner says that more rigorous prevention of obesity, particularly in children, is needed, as well as more investment into obesity intervention research.