DON’T JUST BLAME WILLPOWER: THE SCIENCE OF WEIGHT REGAIN & KEEPING THE POUNDS OFF FOR GOOD.
DON’T JUST BLAME WILLPOWER:
THE SCIENCE OF WEIGHT REGAIN & KEEPING THE POUNDS OFF FOR GOOD.
Hillary Cecere MS, RDN
Dieting or restricting calories is the most common approach to losing weight. It’s a pretty successful method in the short term, but it’s not always effective in the long term. Most people who lose weight will regain the lost weight back (plus some more) within 3 years. I once had a patient tell me that her body was betraying her and making it impossible to maintain her weight loss. Her feelings weren’t exactly wrong. Our biology literally makes it reallyyy hard to keep weight off.
The human metabolism is complicated. Metabolism (the rate at which the body expends energy) has a genetic component and increases with muscle mass. Women tend to have slower metabolisms because they have less muscle mass (so unfair!). The metabolism is one process that changes in response to weight loss.
Your body is working hard to stay the same. We were evolved this way as a survival mechanism. It’s called metabolic compensation. The only issue is that we evolved for a world that we aren’t currently living in. We don’t have a food shortage – we have plenty of access to very processed, high calorie foods.
Metabolic compensation occurs after weight loss. If you exercise, you will likely feel hungrier and even burn fewer calories from the same activity. If you are restricting calories, your body will burn fewer calories at rest. Because of metabolic compensation, a person that lost 20 pounds and now weighs 140 pounds will burn less calories than a person who is naturally 140 pounds.
Not only does the metabolism change after weight loss, but so do the hormones that control appetite. Leptin is secreted by fat cells and lets your brain know that you are full. Once fat cells shrink, leptin is secreted less, not signaling to your brain that you have had enough to eat. You will need more food to feel full. Gherlin is another hormone that changes after weight loss. It is secreted by the stomach and lets the brain know when it’s time to eat. Gherlin increases after weight loss so you literally feel hungry more often. In other words, after weight loss, hormones make you feel hungrier and less satisfied by food.
The biggest plot twist is that even after weight is regained, it does not appear that the metabolism fully recovers. That means that once you have returned to your starting weight, you now burn less calories than you did before you dieted…. whaaat.
Okay, okay…. Enough of that depressing science-y stuff. Let’s talk about something positive, like what we can control in the weight loss game. I have some tips to help you keep the pounds off for good…. DO NOT GIVE UP YET!
PICK AND STICK TO A REALISTIC EATING PLAN
Crash diets aren’t going to work. The even worse news is that every attempt at weight loss will make the next attempt even harder because your body got smarter. Aim for slow and steady weight loss. This appears to be the better option for maintaining weight compared to rapid to weight loss.
Pick a plan that you can stick to for the long term. As in FOREVER. Think of it as a FOREVER lifestyle. That means a minor calorie deficit, plenty of veggies, lean protein and lots of water. Find healthy foods you enjoy and eat them most of the time.
PROTEIN IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Protein fills you up and helps conserve and build muscle. Aim to get protein in at every single meal and snack. My favorite protein foods are plain nonfat Greek yogurt, chicken breast, natural peanut butter, raw almonds, eggs and edamame.
Exercise has been shown to be the lesser important component to initially lose weight but to maintain weight loss, exercise is super significant. Any type of exercise is great, but strength training has the added benefit of building muscle. More muscle = faster resting metabolism.
FOCUS ON THE HEALTH
Changing your mindset from a specific number on the scale or a clothing size to a focus on health might result in less disappointment and more long-term success. Sometimes, the goal weight you have in mind is just not sustainable for the long term. Set a manageable goal that fits into your lifestyle. Make changes that make you feel good. Reduce stress, sleep more, sit less, eat whole foods.