Why it’s hard to maintain weight loss

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About 70% of American adults are trying to lose weight. However, due to evolutionary pressures dating back to our earliest ancestors, our bodies are hardwired to resist weight loss.

“We are richly endowed with genes that prohibit the storage of calories as fat,” says Michael Rosenbaum, MD, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who studies how our bodies fight against weight loss.

Early humans were subject to frequent periods of poor access to nutrition. People best able to store fat calories when food was available, and retain them when they were not, were the most likely to survive and reproduce. “Evolutionary pressures favor genes that enhance reproductive ability, and the ability to store calories would clearly meet that criterion,” Rosenbaum says. “The tendency to gain weight and the difficulty in losing it and keeping it off is primarily a biological problem, not a reflection of laziness and greed.”

Your Body’s Weight Loss Battle

Rosenbaum’s research with Columbia colleague Rudolph Leibel, MD, and many others has shown that losing weight and keeping it off are different. And keeping the weight off is more difficult, often requiring a lifetime of attention. Contrary to popular opinion, people without obesity generally have as much difficulty maintaining a slight degree of weight loss as obese people with even greater degrees of weight reduction.

During weight loss (usually through diet) and weight loss maintenance, several biological systems “conspire” to bring us back to our previous levels of fat stores in order to maintain the transmission of calorie storage genes. After losing weight, your metabolism is probably slower and your appetite is probably greater and will likely remain so if you don’t lose weight.

To maintain your weight, you must actively work to address and hopefully reverse the biological changes induced by weight loss. But what’s the best way to do it?

Rosenbaum is currently trying to find out by examining the regulation of body weight from “the lower fat cell to the highest cortical centers of the brain” in a much more meticulous way than previous studies.

The key question is: Can we identify the reasons that make weight loss difficult for each individual and design personalized approaches that make it easier?

Each person has different degrees of slower metabolism and increased appetite and different reasons that make it difficult to maintain weight loss, Rosenbaum says. By looking for the genes, biomarkers and behaviors that have the greatest effects on each person, researchers can design more targeted interventions to treat individual differences. “There’s no assumption that one approach will work for everyone, but there’s plenty of reason to believe we can design the best approach for anyone,” he says.

Body weight is important for health

Many people are concerned about weight. Unfortunately, says Rosenbaum, we tend to define successful weight management by looks, not health. “Even a small amount of sustained weight loss can have huge health benefits, and anyone who achieves this should be supported and admired,” he says.

Healthy habits that maintain weight

The National Weight Control Registry tracks over 10,000 people who have experienced weight loss. In this group of people who managed to maintain weight loss: 78% eat breakfast every day; 75% weigh themselves at least once a week; 62% watch less than 10 hours of television per week; and 90% exercise, on average, 1 hour a day. That said, there is no single program. “If there were universal things to do that worked for everyone, we would do them,” Rosenbaum says.

Rosenbaum recommends:

  • Find what works for you. Some people do better with a low fat dietsome on a low carb diet, some on intermittent fasting, and some will need to change regularly.
  • In general, diets should be balanced and healthy, minimizing ultra-processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Regular exercise. Aim for less screen time and more “moving” time, even if it’s just walking around the room while watching TV.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others or what works for them.

The only scientifically proven weight loss tips are: eat less and move more. However, Rosenbaum notes, simply stating the laws of thermodynamics ignores the enormous physiological opposition to doing so. Some people may be able to lose weight and maintain weightloss with exercise, but most mass the recovery is attributable to eating more, rather than moving less, so diet should be a priority.

Whatever you do, says Rosenbaum, do it safely and with the help of a medical professional.


Diet tips that go beyond cutting calories


Quote: Why Maintaining Weight Loss Is Hard (2022, May 2) Retrieved May 3, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-05-hard-weight-loss.html

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