As a pollster who frequently appears on TV, Frank Luntz is a familiar face to many viewers, but his appearance has noticeably changed over the past year after he lost 60 pounds.
Motivated by a stroke he suffered in early 2020, Luntz said he got his act together and slimmed down. But he's found maintaining that weight loss to be “impossible.”
Late one night this month, he woke up so famished and miserable that he decided to share his frustration with the world.
“I can’t do it anymore,” Luntz, 59, tweeted. “I can’t be this hungry every hour of every day. I truly appreciate the compliments, but I appreciate food even more. I can tolerate the fat insults better than the hunger.”
He hit a nerve. The tweet generated thousands of likes and comments, with many people offering encouragement and advice. Luntz’s frustration is relatable: Successful weight loss stories abound, but maintaining that weight loss is notoriously hard, with studies estimating that one-third to two-thirds of dieters regain more pounds than they lost on their diets.
“I look much different and everyone has been complimentary and I appreciate it, but I've been so weak and so unhappy that I've just had enough,” Luntz, who is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, told TODAY.
“I really don't want to gain the weight back. I worked so hard to lose it… (but) I'm going to be fat again, I know it. I can't help it. I can't be this miserable. I’d rather be embarrassed about my weight than hungry and exhausted.”
Nutritionists said it doesn’t have to be that way and offered advice on how to eat for weight maintenance. First, Luntz’s story:
‘I was a mess’
Luntz was underweight as a child, but said he gained “a ton of weight” in his late 20s.
“I ate whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted to eat it. So if I wanted an ice cream cone, I had; if I wanted cake, I had it. If I wanted a second plate of spaghetti, why not?” he recalled. “By the way, let me emphasize, I was happy.”
At 5 feet, 9 inches tall, Luntz reached his maximum weight of 238 pounds just before his stroke in January 2020. His BMI was in the obese category and he had dangerously high blood pressure. A brain scan indicated he’d also been having mini-strokes.
“I was a mess. I had to just get my act together or I was going to die,” Luntz said.
He usually traveled for work, but the coronavirus lockdown last spring meant he had to stay put in Los Angeles. To lose weight, he sought the advice of a chef and dietitian, who began providing tasty, calorie-controlled meals. Luntz cut out diet sodas, drinking only water, and eliminated cookies, cakes, ice cream and any other sweets.
Luntz also tried intermittent fasting, eating during a narrower time window during the day, and focused on eating more plant-based protein and salads. He aimed to walk 10,000 steps a day and weighed himself regularly to stay motivated.
It all worked. He lost 60 pounds between March and September, dropping to his ideal weight of about 170.
But as he began traveling more last fall, Luntz departed the West Coast and left behind his chef and dietitian. Travel made dieting absolutely impossible, he said.
By January of this year, his weight crept back up into the 190s. Frustrated, Luntz decided to eat only “a meal-and-a-half a day” — often not eating anything until 3 p.m. — and go to sleep early if he was hungry.
Earlier this month, he went to bed around 7 p.m., woke up hungry at 11 p.m. and had had it. That’s when he sent the tweet. He’s been overwhelmed by the response since.
“It was the most wonderful outpouring of support and concern I've ever seen,” he said.
Body fights back:
Losing weight is hard, but keeping it off is often harder, nutritionists agree.
“Your body doesn’t care that you want thinner thighs; your body wants to make sure you don’t starve to death,” said Traci Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, and founder of the school’s Health and Eating Lab.
Given less food, the body undergoes physical, metabolic and hormonal changes to fight back — increasing appetite and hunger, while slowing weight loss — so it's not just a matter of willpower for dieters.
“Having a combination of fiber, protein and healthy fats really is the key to being satisfied,” she said.
Protein includes chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy like Greek yogurt.
Good fat means nuts, olive oil and avocado. It’s filling so a little goes a long way. Stick with a quarter to a third of an avocado or a handful of nuts.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or a slice of whole-wheat bread.
Young, who is not treating Luntz, was concerned about his one-meal-a-day routine: “You don't have to eat the second you wake up if you're not a breakfast person, but you don't want to let hours and hours go by… You’re starving and then when you eat that one meal, you don't even know when to stop,” she said.
Her menu suggestions for weight maintenance included:
Breakfast: A hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole wheat toast with some avocado.
Lunch: Salad with grilled chicken, with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil-based dressing, plus some quinoa or beans.
Afternoon snack: Apple with peanut butter.
Dinner: Grilled salmon with sautéed vegetables and a healthy starch such as brown rice, wild rice or a baked sweet potato.
When on the road, she advised travelers to bring or purchase healthy snacks, like a small bag of nuts, a container of Greek yogurt or whole-grain crackers with hummus or guacamole. If relying on hotel room service, choose a salad with a piece of grilled chicken or fish.
If a person is still hungry all the time, his or her body is fighting so hard that it may not be worth being at that weight, Young said. For someone who lost 60 pounds, it’s OK to regain 5-10 of them — he’d still be down 50 pounds from where he started, she added.