“I am one of those people who has dieted and gained and dieted and gained, and since I’ve started dieting I’ve gained 70 pounds,” the former talk show host and OWN founder said in a video clip from 1985. “It’s been the battle of my life,” Winfrey said in a voiceover for the video. “It is a battle that I’m still fighting every waking moment of my life.”
Now, she says in a new interview that it’s understandable people may not think her current 42-pound weight loss is for real. “People who say, ‘She’ll put the weight back on’—they’re right,” Winfrey told People. “I will if I don’t manage it. It’s not like I’m home free.”
Winfrey joined Weight Watchers more than a year ago after she purchased stake in the company, and she says she’s finally on a plan that she enjoys. “This has been the easiest process that I’ve ever experienced,” she says.
Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., M.P.H., M.P.A., instructor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF the weight-loss rollercoaster that Winfrey has experienced is “extremely common.”
Part of the reason people have such a hard time losing weight is because there are so many misconceptions about what weight loss is really about. It’s a wildly different process for each person, which is why following a specific eating plan or workout regimen may boost someone’s results while not making a difference for another person. (For some people, such as those who have or are recovering from eating disorders, strict plans aren’t appropriate or healthy.) It also involves much more than just eating and exercise, though those are important components. Losing weight is also dependent on stress, sleep, hormones, and any health conditions that may not even be under your control.
Another reason this often happens is that people typically have a general set point for weight that their body likes to maintain, Stanford explains. “In the efforts to lose weight, their body is going to do what it can to defend its set point,” she says. That’s why someone can lose weight but may struggle to keep it off.
Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF that many people who struggle with weight loss also do so because the way they originally lost the weight wasn’t sustainable. “Once they go back to their ‘regular’ eating, they regain the weight,” she says. “This cycle of yo-yo dieting is very common.”
The mental aspect of weight loss can also be a challenge, and Jessica Cording, a New York-based R.D., tells SELF that this topic comes up a lot for her clients. “Something I hear a lot from people who have struggled to keep weight off is, ‘I know what to do—it’s doing it that’s the hard part,’” she says. “The mental and emotional components to weight loss are so important—I consider them at least as important as the physical.” Cording points out that she can tell people what to eat, but the real work often involves identifying what a person’s barriers are to reaching their weight-loss goals and how they can work through those challenges to establish a stable eating pattern that leads to weight loss that stays off.
Stanford agrees. “The mental aspect is important, and it’s important not to give up,” she says. “In order for this to be continuously successful, people need to continue their efforts.” People often get to a certain point of weight loss and then think their efforts are done, but Stanford says the healthy habits need to be “lifelong.” And, if you find that one method of weight loss isn’t working for you or isn’t sustainable, she says that it’s important to find another.
For most people, baby steps are key for weight loss instead of drastic measures, which are often difficult to maintain. “Focus on small, simple changes to start, and you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to continue those changes for the long term,” Rumsey says.
Cording says it’s also crucial to have a plan for keeping the weight off in addition to getting it off in the first place. “Knowing what your barriers and problem areas are and planning ahead for how to address those can help you avoid falling into the same old traps,” she says.
If you’ve struggled with weight loss in the past and have people in your life who aren’t convinced that you can win this battle, Stanford says it’s important to shut out the criticism and surround yourself with those who will support you. “Having a group of individuals that support you, that’s going to help you eat healthy,” she says. “Surround yourself with those people and drown out all the naysayers.”
Finally, be mindful of what works for you—which may be totally different from what works for a friend. “I’ve worked with plenty of people who eat bread and dairy and drink wine and still lose weight and keep it off successfully,” Cording says. “You don’t have to go all or nothing.”