The Hunger Games (part I) – is weight REgain a problem for you?…

Losing weight is one thing – the hard part is keeping it off” – One of the biggest problems faced by people who have successfully lost weight is the reported stats that 80 per cent of these people will have put at least the same amount back on, or more in the first 2 years.

A popular name for this, coined in the 1980’s is ‘yo-yo dieting’ – literally your weight going up and down and there are plenty of high profile people we know have had this happen… for example Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson, Kirstie Alley, and younger ones like Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson.

But why does this happen and is there anything you can do to stop it?

Well, lets see… for example:-

  • Energy imbalance (food in-exercise out)
  • Maintenance of exercise regime
  • Metabolism
  • Emotional eating / your mindset
  • Lack of motivational goals
  • Falling back to old habits
  • Biology (& the link between our genes, DNA, and current environment)

The reasons can be as varied as the reasons for gaining weight in the first place, but one of the causes may be how you actually lost the weight in the first place. A good example can be that of the ‘Biggest Loser’ TV show, there has been widespread reporting of how many of the contestants have not managed to maintain their weight loss after the show stopped filming. Here is an example of rapid weight loss, basically from drastically reducing calorie intake combined with a massive increase in physical activity. Going with the principles that weight is due to energy in / energy out you can see why weight loss would be quick. The question is – is this sustainable? Answer, No, not really – for most people. Who can afford to watch precisely what they eat day in day out and spend 5-6 hours per day exercising? – not many! So once the cameras stop shooting, contestants would undoubtedly consume more calories and not be able to maintain the strict exercise regime, resulting in weight gain.

The problem here is that we have a society that is geared toward instant gratification and losing weight as quickly as possible, often on low calorie diets which are too restricted, so once you inevitably increase your calorie intake you also increase the weight. For many exercise has not played a big enough role in the weight loss procedure in the first place and the energy in/out balance is put out of whack, including possibly your metabolism, so by reducing weight too quickly you may reduce your metabolism by too much making it harder to keep losing weight or maintaining the loss.

People who put the weight back on after dieting, will often blame themselves for the regain of weight – maybe they did slip back into old habits, started emotional eating again or didn’t have the willpower to stick to their goals or let their exercising routine slip – all valid reasons why you may pile the weight back on…but researchers from Australia last year discovered that it may not be all their fault…

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, they addressed the theory that the reason obese people who lost weight but then put it all back on again, (members lost 10% of their body weight in 10 weeks) – is due to hormonal imbalances.  Their metabolism slowed and appetite increased after they stopped dieting (past its original point). What they did indeed find is that the metabolism and hormone levels did not return to their normal levels after being on a strict restrictive diet. (However, this was only a small study on 50 people, so by no means is conclusive).

The hormones we are talking about here are Leptin, (secreted from fat cells, and which effect appetite, metabolism and body fat distribution) – they ‘tell’ the brain how much body fat is present and act as an appetite suppressant  so when leptin levels fall (after weight loss) the appetite will increase, the problem here the study found, is that these leptin levels remained low a year after the initial weight loss, so the appetite remained high leading to more eating and more weight gain. There is also a theory that obese people may be resistant to Leptin, meaning they would have a higher appetite than other people, therefore more likely to be overweight.

Similary with the hormone Ghrelin, this hormone is produced in the stomach and tells the brain when it is time to be fed, too much of this and you will be wanting to eat too much. It has been found that this hormone can increase after weight loss This hormone also encourages the accumulation of lipids (fats) in visceral fatty tissue around the abdomen, in turn contributing to other diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes (and a beer belly!)

There is also research being done to look at the possibility that the central nervous system may affect weight gain/regain by interpreting messages from the intestines regarding fat stores and fighting to prevent weight loss/promote weight gain. This may actually change how our bodies use and store fuel and fat conversion.

This all shows how complex the human body is and that we have many mechanisms working simultaneously for and against us in our quest to lose weight and keep it off. We are not all the same however, and our DNS make up will account for many reasons beyond our control as to why we are susceptible to weight gain/regain. – but the question now is – “What can we do about it?

….Find out in the next blog…

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