Weight Loss Maintenance Takes Grit?

Today’s post comes from Melissa Fernandez. Melissa is a registered dietitian with a Masters in nutrition at McGill University. She is currently completing her PhD at Université Laval and is also the Vice Chair of the CON-SNP National Executive. You can find more about Melissa here



I have been fascinated with the concept of grit since I came across Angela Lee Duckworthy’s Ted Talk “The key to success? Grit”. Duckworth’s research has shown that in various contexts, from military academy to spelling bees, regardless of IQ, grit is a strong predictor of success. Essentially, according to Duckworth:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  

You can imagine my surprise when I came across a blog that applied grit theory to success in health matters, specifically weight loss maintenance.

Applying components of grit to weight loss maintenance is quite original and interesting, but, in my opinion, thoroughly flawed. Needless to say, completely inappropriate. For one, maintaining significant amounts of weight loss over years and decades should not be compared to professional success. Society is obsessed with attributing value and idolizing people who lose weight, seeing them as “success” stories and glorifying them as healthy heroes. Need I mention the “Biggest looser” TV reality show? In real-life “reality”, 95% of people who lose weight end up regaining it, and often more. People who can’t or don’t lose weight are often seen as failures and as having no self-control. The large majority of people who regain their weight are not “failures” at weight maintenance. In fact, losing large amounts of weight is likely to slow metabolism, essentially making it impossible to eat normal quantities of food without regaining weight. The odds and human biology are simply stacked against the maintenance of losing large amounts of weight.

Weight gain is not failure. It is biology. It is heavily influenced by factors that are not within our control such as the environment and genetics, rather than personal factors such as grit, self-control or discipline. Applying grit theory to weight related issues is entirely counterproductive as there is absolutely no value in persevering towards an unattainable goal. In fact, maintaining weight loss against our biological mechanisms requires never-ending daily control over ones diet and exercise, behaviours essentially comparable to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. In other words, an unpleasant lifestyle to strive towards attaining.

Brian Erickson

It is true that grittier people must overcome multiple challenges, failures, and adversity to achieve their goals, which may be akin to weight loss. However, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say that maintaining weight loss takes grit, because all weight loss and weight loss maintenance efforts go against our natural biological mechanisms, particularly dietary restriction. I think we are better off leaving grit theory to professional achievements, because, to quote Dr. Sharma, “successful weight management starts with limiting further weight gain”.

Melissa Fernandez, M.Sc, RD