(otherwise known as “why is it so hard to lose weight?”)
As you may know, science is always studying fat, fat metabolism, diets, losing fat, and how our environment is making some of us fat. It’s an on-going process that is continually providing us with more insights.
And I am sure some of you have heard the global stats on obesity. According to the World Health Organization, global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975. In fact, the American Medical Association has now declared it a “disease” because of the many medical, psychological, and functional problems associated with it.
The message here is that either you or someone you know is probably fighting the battle of the bulge. Or, you/they have given up.
Why is it so hard to maintain weight or lose it?
Part of the problem is the concept of dieting. Scientific studies have shown a couple of remarkable things about it.
- Many times the message in a diet is that certain foods or food groups are making us fat. The diet industry seems to be focused on which foods to eat, and which to restrict, sometimes to a ridiculous degree.
- Other research has shown that dieters often have an “all or nothing” way of thinking. Note that this type of thinking is reinforced by #1, that some foods are good, and others are bad.
On the other hand, there are some fascinating findings that have come to light. (this is the cutting edge part).
DIETING AS A PROCESS
Those who manage to lose weight and keep it off tend to think about dieting as a process where there are a series of changes that take place.
LOWERING CALORIE INTAKE
These changes are all focused on lowering calorie intake, not especially restricting certain foods. There is an awareness that a person who eats and drinks too much will gain weight, and in order to lose that weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you use on a daily basis.
There is strong evidence that the “small changes” approach is much more effective for long-term weight loss than dieting. Indeed, the Joint Task Force of the American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists, and the International Food Information Council came to the conclusion that small changes in energy intake (food) and increases in physical activity can be and effective way to lose or maintain weight.
EMBRACING NEW HABITS
There are interesting reports from the National Weight Control Registry. This agency follows people who have lost anywhere from 30 to 300 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. There are over 10,000 people in this registry. One of the most telling findings was that it took an average of two years for the individuals to develop the skills and to start finding it easier to keep the weight off. In other words, they began to embrace the new habits that they had slowly acquired.
Lastly, in the physiology department, there has been another key discovery. There is a protein called lipo-protein lipase (LPL) that is involved with laying down fat in our bodies. Turns out that this is a protein/enzyme that actually gets more abundant (“up-regulated”) when you gain weight. In other words, your body gets better at laying down fat.
Here’s the kicker: if you lose weight, it can take 6 months to a year for that protein/enzyme to get back to pre-weight gain levels. Meaning, if you have been overweight for some time, your body will tend to lay down fat more easily even though you are restricting calories. This is one reason why most people who diet for a few months can easily gain back the weight. (Another one is that they give up and go back to their “normal” eating patterns after dieting, but that’s a different story.)
A quick and easy take-home? Not exactly. But here goes:
- Weight gain and loss is complicated.
- There’s lots of reasons why losing weight is very difficult.
- What seems to be the most effective is to expect it to be a gradual, long-term process of slow changes that lead to lower calorie intake.
PS. Perhaps you are curious about what else the people in the National Weight Control Registry are doing. What habits are also working for them?
Here’s a few: They are consistent with their new habits even on weekends. They are consistent with diet and exercise logs. They have become mindful of emotional eating. And they limited TV watching to 10 hours/week or less. That’s just part of the picture.
But as you can see, the process covers many areas of their lives. Actually, that should be the 4th takeaway above.
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