Fighting Every Pound: An Endocrinologist Gets Candid About Her Own Struggle With Weight Issues

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By Anisha Gupta, MD
Dr. Anisha Gupta

In today’s world, I find that everyone has weight on their mind, whether thinner folks who can’t seem to put on pounds or those of us who can’t shed a single digit on that scale, no matter how much we try.

As someone who has struggled with weight all of my adulthood, I used to fall into that second category. I’d think, how do people do it? They keep a fantastic physique and eat it all, while I watched what I ate and still put on 30 pounds before even realizing it!

Despite going through medical school and intensive training to learn what affects metabolism, it has taken me until now to realize one important fact: weight loss is not a formula, it is not an algorithm. It takes an individualized approach to achieve success.

My story might be a very different one than yours…or maybe not.

I am an endocrinologist in Houston, Texas, but it has taken me five years of training and then some to learn a few important rules about weight loss. When it comes to losing weight, the key is to find something that works for YOU and to stick to it. Studies have shown that dieting is successful, but those studies don’t show which diet to follow for the “best” results.

I found that starting with simple calorie counting was a big eye-opener. I mentioned that I considered myself a healthy eater, yet I did not realize what I was putting into my body! Simply putting it down on paper (or, in my case, the free My Fitness Pal app) was the best thing I could have done to start identifying my “problem foods.” Chai lattes are not worth the hundreds of calories when a tea bag with honey does the job. I didn’t need mayonnaise on my sandwich, but instead maybe a handful of my favorite chips were worth the tradeoff.

Making these small changes, I started to see a difference. And really, that was what it took. I think years of running into the weight-loss wall of no pounds lost was taking its toll on me. I was fit, I exercised at least three times per week, was active at work and was eating healthy. Yet, I had seen no results. Now this seemingly little change of calorie awareness was making such a big difference. It was incredible! I realize now that it was simply putting control into my hands and not into the hands of my yoga teacher or my barista. I was controlling my food, I was feeling confident that I was making a positive change, and I felt like I could do more than ever before.

So, it was then that I finally tried one of the fad diets, Whole 30, just to see what it could do for me. And, not to my surprise, it was the hardest thing I have done for myself. Ever. But again, because of this newfound feeling of self-control, I stuck to it more than 90 percent of the days in the month. I also did not monitor my weight (the diet does not allow it), and at the end of 30 grueling days, I had lost 15 pounds! It was fantastic, people were noticing at work and asking ME what my story was. I was shocked!

"When it comes to losing weight, the key is to find something that works for YOU and to stick to it."

I tried sharing my secret, but soon realized that people did not want to count calories or restrict five major food groups from their diet. It was just too hard. So, they juiced, or they fasted intermittently, or they cut carbs completely (ketogenic diet). But as I came across more and more success stories, I realized that they, too, were losing weight, toning their body, or maybe just feeling better in their own skin. And for me, that is what is important. I would love to lose another 10 pounds, but in the past 24 months, the scale has not moved. Still, I feel more fabulous now than before.

The other biggest learning point for me was that weight maintenance is much harder than losing the weight itself. Yes, I can juice or fast and lose 10 pounds quickly. But that is all water weight. Although that will make me look great in a dress two sizes smaller, I risk fainting and it just won’t last. The problem with fad diets is not that they don’t work. They do. It’s that they are near impossible to stick to. People love to chew their food and they love to taste it. Even if you are not a foodie as I am, it’s just a basic need. So eventually a fad diet will always fail. It doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up and lose the weight again after a short break, but wouldn’t it be better to take an approach to food that can be sustainable?

The first basic principle in losing weight is less calories in than out. Now, this is easier said than done by diet alone. But diet is where you should start. Making those changes in your meal choices means first recognizing from where you’re starting. There are many apps that can be helpful – My Fitness Pal, Loose it, CalorieKing. Check them out.

I mentioned that I like tea in the morning. I now choose a bag of breakfast tea with honey (22 calories) rather than my previous choice of a store-bought Chai latte (190 calories). For yogurt, avoid the “Fruit on the Bottom” variety and opt for the original flavor, but add your own honey or brown sugar with fresh fruit to save yourself another 100 calories. And for a heartier meal, go for breakfast tacos, but switch your tortilla out for lettuce. It still gives you the taco feel, with a little crunch and a whole bunch of saved calories. What a difference for the same delicious food!

In addition to diet, exercise should be a very important part of your lifestyle to protect your heart, muscles and overall health. You may find yourself feeling less fatigued, discover you have much more energy, and even have a better mood! Exercise also relieves stress, improves memory and helps you sleep better. So, find physical activities that you enjoy and commit to them.

Often varying the daily activity makes it more interesting. I’ve found a partner system works best for me. That might mean that you take walks during your lunch break with a coworker or colleague. For those of us who cannot find motivators at work to spare the shared time, find them among your friends and family who are struggling to do the same. For me, that looks like sending a text to my workout buddy after each activity, knowing that if she gets to her exercise first, it will only push me harder to do something as well. I know the biggest challenge of the gym is just getting there. It is so easy to make an excuse, so sometimes knowing that you just need to get it done no matter what can be the perfect amount of motivation.

So, if the weather is too rainy, too cold or too hot (as it often is here in Texas), find a nearby mall or storefront that can provide a comfortable place to do your daily walk. No stopping at those bargain sales bins, though!

As a busy physician, I understand that sometimes making time outside of work is, in itself, not possible. But I do find that making my health a priority makes it easier. If I can speed walk around the parking lot for exercise at least three days out of the week, that’s 5,000 steps!

Finally, and most important of all, be kind to yourself. Some days will be more successful than others as you work towards a healthy lifestyle. There will be those “cheat meals” that seem to sabotage all your efforts. Those meals should not be pizza and ice cream every time – we all know that. We can’t lose weight or become a healthier person that way. But it will happen from time to time. And that’s okay.

If you can keep it to healthy, “off-program” choices for 20 percent or less of your week, with full dedication to your program the other 80 percent of the time, I know you will find success and, more importantly, you will maintain it!

As for exercise, I do my best, but on those inevitable days where I finish work late and can’t even think about any sort of activity, I allow myself permission to target the next day as an “absolute, must-do” and take the night off. I understand that life does not always stick to a schedule, so to be successful I must find positive solutions instead of only worrying about the problems.

Regardless of how much weight you want to lose, or to keep off, set a realistic goal, contact your health care provider to make a plan, and stick to it. If your plan doesn’t work after a few weeks or you just can’t keep up, rethink your plan and try again. I have. Trust me, I am in the trenches with you!