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Weight loss about conquering biological barriers, not mental ones

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Albany/HV: Weight loss about conquering biological barriers, not mental ones
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Despite what many think, losing weight has little to do with losing weight and self-motivation. The science behind obesity is the biggest obstacle to weight loss. YNN's Erin Billups filed the following report.

"I thought I was going to die back then," said Robert Destefano before undergoing bariatric surgery.

Every year Robert Destefano tried new diets, hoping each would be the one that stuck.

"Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach. I wanted to lose 250 pounds, 300 pounds, I could never get down to that weight loss," Destefano said.

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 Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital, says 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, there are biological mechanisms that will adamantly prevent weight loss even if it's healthy weight loss," Ochner said.

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 and then will kick in these same exact biological mechanisms and defend that higher body weight," Ochner said.

Ochner said the only proven, long-term, defense against weight regain, 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 said it feels as if his brain was essentially rebooted.

"I was in love with steak, now I don't want to even look at it. Mentally your mind changes," Destefano said.

Ochner said a big hurdle to combatting the obesity epidemic is the social stigma associated with the disease.

"It's no longer just a matter of moving more and eating less.," Ochner said. "We need biological approaches to addressing this and that's what we don't have. Without that they are truly powerless."

Ochner said more rigorous prevention of obesity, particularly in children, is needed as well as more investment into obesity intervention research.

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