Why it is difficult to maintain weight loss

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About 70% of American adults are trying to lose weight. However, as a result of the evolutionary pressures that go back to our more distant ancestors, our bodies are programmed to resist weight loss.

“We’re well-endowed with genes that advocate calorie storage as fat,” says Michael Rosenbaum, MD, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who studies how our bodies fight weight loss.

Early humans were subject to frequent periods of poor access to nutrition. People who better store fat calories when food was available and keep it when it was not, were more likely to survive and reproduce. “Evolutionary pressures favor genes that improve reproductive capacity, and the ability to store calories would clearly meet that criterion,” says Rosenbaum. “The tendency to gain weight and the difficulty of losing it and keeping it off is primarily a biological problem, not a reflection of laziness and gluttony.”

The battle of your body weight loss

Rosenbaum’s research with his Columbia colleague Rudolph Leibel, MD, and many others, has shown that losing weight and keeping it off are different. And maintaining weight is harder, often requiring a lifetime of attention. Contrary to popular belief, obese people generally have as little difficulty maintaining a small degree of weight loss as obese people with even greater degrees of weight loss.

During weight loss (usually through diet) and maintaining weight loss, multiple biological systems “conspire” to return us to our previous levels of fat stores to maintain the transmission of genes that store calories. After losing weight, your metabolism is likely to be slower and your appetite higher and will probably stay that way if you maintain your weight.

To maintain weight, you need to work hard to address, and hopefully reverse, the biological changes induced by weight loss. But what is the best way to do it?

Rosenbaum is currently trying to figure it out by looking at the regulation of body weight from “the low fat cell to the higher 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, says Rosenbaum. By looking for genes, biological markers, and behaviors that have the greatest effects on each person, researchers can design more focused interventions to address individual differences. “There are no assumptions that one approach works for everyone, but there are many reasons to believe that we can design the best approach for anyone,” he says.

Body weight is important for health

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

Healthy weight-reducing habits

The national weight control registry tracks more than 10,000 people who have lost weight sustainably. In this group of people who maintain successful weight loss: 78% have breakfast every day; 75% are weighed at least once a week; 62% watch less than 10 hours of television a week; and 90% exercise, on average, 1 hour a day. That said, there is no single program. “If there were universal things to make work for everyone, we would do them,” says Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum recommends:

  • Find what works for you. Some people do better with a low-fat diet, others with a low-carb diet, others with an intermittent fast, and some will need to change regularly.
  • In general, diets should be balanced and healthy, minimizing overprocessed foods and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Exercise regularly. It aims for less time in front of the screen and more time to “move”, 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 tips for losing weight are: eat less and move more. However, Rosenbaum points out, just stating the laws of thermodynamics ignores the enormous physiological opposition to doing so. Some people may lose weight and maintain weight loss with exercise, but most of the weight recovery is due to eating more, rather than moving less, so diet should be a major goal.

Do what you do, says Rosenbaum, do it safely and with the input of a healthcare professional.


Diet tips that go beyond reducing calories


Provided by Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Citation: Why It’s Hard to Keep Weight Loss (2022, May 2) Recovered on May 3, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-05-hard-weight-loss.html

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