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Why Is Weight Loss So Hard?

Why Is Weight Loss So Hard? by IntlAssnWomenRunners

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD August 2011
(part 1 of 2)

How to lose weight is the number one reason runners choose to make a nutrition appointment with me. They express frustration they “cannot do something as simple as lose a few pounds.” While none of these runners are obese, their frustrations match those of dieters in the general population.  

At a conference presented by Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center (July 13-14, 2011), researchers addressed some of the issues that contribute to difficulty losing weight. Perhaps the following highlights might offer insights if you are among the many runners who struggle with shedding some unwanted body fat.


Why gaining weight is easy

  • To the detriment of our health, we are living in a food carnival. No wonder today's kids enter adulthood 20 pounds heavier than in 1960! By the time kids are 4 to 5 years old, 60% of them have lost the ability to self-regulate food intake.
  • Most people believe that obesity is a matter of will power, but it's not that simple. For example, in obese people, the brain's response to food odors and flavors is often blunted. Compared to lean people, they need more of a food to experience a positive brain response.
  • When stressed, obese people (more so than their lean counterparts) seek high fat foods. Chips, ice cream, fries...
  • Impulsivity, a genetic trait, is a risk factor for obesity. That is, obese people (more than their lean counterparts) tend to impulsively eat, let's say, the whole plate of cookies.
  • Food advertisements are designed to encourage impulsive consumption.
  • Food advertisers know that marketing “works”—and kids who watch TV are a prime target. The average child sees an average of 13 food ads a day on TV; most of these foods are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
  • Research with children who watched TV with four ads for food ate 45% more Goldfish Crackers (100 calories more) when exposed to the ads for food as compared to when they watched four ads for games. The kids who liked the taste of Goldfish ate even more calories!
  • Foods marketed with a character (such as Scooby-Doo) sell better. Fifty-two percent of pre-schoolers said the character-food tasted better (as opposed to 38% who said it tasted the same, and 10% who said food without the character tasted better).
  • The standard supermarket diet is rich in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. It causes obesity in rats. That is, rats fed standard rat chow maintained a normal weight. But rats fed a standard supermarket diet ended up overweight—until researchers took away that food. The rats then lost weight when they returned to eating rat chow. There's little doubt that fats, sugar, and salt stimulate us to eat more than we need!
  • When the calories are listed near a food, as is happening in many fast food restaurants, some people choose the foods with higher calories, believing it will be yummier. That response certainly negates the intention of the calorie campaign!
  • People make an average of 200 food choices in a day; all these decisions can deplete our limited mental “resources” that govern self-regulation. That's one reason why, at the end of a hectic day, you can more easily overeat. You lack the mental resources to say “no” to that tempting cookie…
  • The food industry's bottom line is always profits. When Pepsi started marketing more of its healthy products, sales of the unhealthy products dropped. The stockholders complained—and that puts the food industry in a bind.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes. Her office is at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners, and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at See also


Bennett Cohen (the Savvy Runner) and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners (IAWR). To learn more about this global community of women who share a passion for running, visit

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Posted by: IntlAssnWomenRunners on Aug 24, 2011 | Comments: 2 | Visits: 1213 | Posted in: Train


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Traxee user bmoore Yes! I was thinking the same thing as I read this article! I think that the issue of true obesity is a much smaller percentage of the problem - its more about people not understanding how packaged and processed foods are addictive and truly make most of us incapable of seeing food as fuel. The other thing I don't like is the fact that this article kind of lets the large food companies off the hook. As a multinational food corporation, Pepsi - as well as any number of our large food manufacturers, have a moral imperative to stop poisoning us. I don't buy the stockholder bit anymore. The stockholders don't care what gets sold as long as it turns a profit. Think things can't change? Look what happened to our large cigarette manufacturers. With enough public pressure (voted through the dollars we spend) things can change. I'm just saying.
Posted by: bmoore on Aug 28, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Traxee user MMarie Does it bother anyone else that this article uses the words "obese people" or "obesity" to describe people who overeat, even though lots of obese people don't overeat, and lots of overeaters aren't obese? It would be so simple to just switch around a few words in order to make the article accurate, and stop reinforcing the harmful idea that all fat people got that way by overeating and not exercising!
Posted by: MMarie on Aug 28, 2011 at 07:07 AM
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