For most people, it's a good idea to stop trying to lose weight.
If you are a mid-sized person who believes you'd look better, feel better, be more successful and finally find the love of a lifetime if only you could lose a few pounds, forget it.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says those pounds are probably yours forever.
And if you are overweight to the point where it affects your health, a weight loss of 10 percent (only 30 pounds if you tip the scales at 300) is usually enough. You'll see improvements such as reduced blood pressure, lowered cholesterol and control of diabetes.
But maintenance of even that small loss will be a lifelong challenge.
At a recent conference on Methods for Voluntary Weight Loss and Control, NIH brought together experts in obesity, nutrition, metabolism, behavior and exercise physiology. An expert panel considered evidence on the safety and effectiveness of diet, exercise, behavior modification and drug treatment.
They heard testimony from the diet industry. They even listened to public opinion.
Among their conclusions:
* The underlying causes of overweight are unknown.
* Some attempts (to lose weight) may be successful in the short term, but most often the weight lost is regained.
* Repeated weight gain and loss may have adverse psychological and physical effects.
* These facts should help one recognize that, for most people, achieving body weights and shapes presented to us in the media is not a reasonable, appropriate or achievable goal, and thus the failure to do so does not represent a weakness of willpower or character.
If you've been a lifelong dieter, this comes as no surprise to you.
But it's still hard to swallow.
We do so want to be thin.
The good news is, you can stop stuffing and starving and suffering now.
You can give your body a break.
You can like yourself the way you are.
You can help re-set the American standard for beauty.
You can show this article to the doctor, spouse or friend who has been hassling you to lose weight.
And you can give new meaning to the word "diet."
The NIH findings should come as a relief and serve as a springboard for saner, healthier, happier lifestyles.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Clinic in Baltimore.