Right now, there are a lot of people who are almost a month into their new year’s resolution to lose a certain amount of weight. Or maybe they are a lot further into their weight loss journey. Something that we know for sure, is that there are many different ways that people will try to achieve that goal. Speaking from personal experience and the experiences of many of my friends, family, acquaintances, & patients, one of the most frustrating aspects of diet & exercise is the controversy and conflicting information that surrounds diet and exercise. You could speak to 10 different experts in the field and receive 10 different “best” plans to lose a lot of weight.
No matter how you choose to lose weight, a common problem with most of them is that keeping the weight off permanently is very difficult. One study suggested that almost 70% of people who lost a significant amount of weight were unable to maintain the weight loss for 2 years. Going through all the hard work to shed those pounds for it to come back can be very discouraging.
So why is it so hard for us to keep the weight off permanently? Basically, it comes down to how our own body adapts to us losing weight. The adaptability of the human body is incredible and is one of the most important reasons it is so durable. But when it comes to weight loss, our own bodies can be working against us. What I mean by this, is that the human body is made to hold on to fat for future energy use. This is a mechanic done by the human body to survive. To put it into perspective, think about humans who lived over a thousand years ago. They did not have an unlimited amount of food that could be easily accessed from a grocery store or restaurant year-round for 3 meals per day. Perishable food could not be frozen or canned and stored year around. Our ancestors had to eat food when it was available to them. Sure, there were primitive ways of food storage, but they didn’t have access to 3 full meals a day even in the winter when plants were out of season. Today, we even have the luxury to eat meat with every single meal if we want to. They did not have that option. To survive through harsh winters or famines, the body had to store any excess calories as fat for those leaner times.
What does this mean for us today? Basically, when we are dieting and are on a calorie restriction our body interprets this as a sign of distress or famine. The human body regulates this through our metabolism. The faster your metabolism is, the more calories you burn per day even when at rest. When we start to lose weight, our metabolism slows down in order to preserve more calories, likely in the form of fat, because it thinks that there is a shortage of food. It’s not our body’s fault that it acts this way, but it does make weight loss a lot more difficult in these times of food abundance. Yes, even if the aisles at Kroger are pretty bare due to supply shortages, we still have it made. I didn’t talk about all of this to make it seem like long-term weight loss is hopeless, but to hopefully provide some insight on how our body interprets weight loss so that we can understand how to work around it. Next week, I will be talking about some other mechanisms behind weight loss and some tips on how to achieve your goals permanently.
– Joshua White PA-C