Excerpt: Khaliah Ali's 'Fighting Weight'

How bad can it get? Ninety percent of human beings have the potential to become obese or morbidly obese. Only about 10 percent are resistant to all the extra calories available. Those lucky 10 percent ?t into one of two analogies. Either they're like Toyotas in a gasoline crisis, getting by perfectly ?ne on less, while the rest of us are like SUVs, guzzling fuel (that happens to be much cheaper than the fuel for our vehicles, a lethal bargain). Or they have SUV appetites but burn their food calories so fast they have Toyota ?gures.

Okay, you might say, some people, maybe even most people, are more vulnerable to becoming very overweight. But why can't obese people diet off the excess pounds? (Or, as I've heard expressed behind my back in audible, disgusted stage whispers, "She could at least lose ?fty pounds.") The answer is not clear-cut and not yet well understood. But the research community is making inroads. One thing that seems apparent is that the threshold for hunger resets once someone becomes very overweight, so the body needs more food more frequently to feel sated. It could also be that the gastrointestinal tract becomes less sensitive to hormones that regulate appetite. Perhaps there's some other biological explanation that's waiting to be discovered. In the meantime, what's known for certain is that while someone who is moderately overweight can successfully shed twenty, thirty, even sometimes forty or ?fty pounds, chasing away seventy, eighty, a hundred or more pounds -- and keeping them off -- is virtually impossible.

That's not to say it never happens. It does. But the success stories are phenomenally rare, much more rare than even many in the medical community are willing to admit. Those photos on magazines at the supermarket checkout of people who have shed a hundred pounds -- it's a statistical fact that only 2 percent of them are able to keep off the weight. And the constant hunger and deprivation those successful 2 percent must put themselves through are often more than anyone should have to bear. It's like living with another kind of eating disorder. Those photos actually do a great disservice, because they only fuel the false notion that if obese people just tried hard enough, they could take off the weight. I know they used to get me down -- after the initial, short-lived spiral into "hopeful."

Whatever weight I lost always came back, whatever effort I put into it always back?red. Even the most extraordinary effort was no match for the tenacity of my obese body. The hunger my body engendered was like the subject in Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. It was constant; it was maddening; it always got the better of me.


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