Why is Weight Loss So Difficult?
Have you ever tried to lose weight only to regain most of it back?
If so, you are not alone!
Did you feel like a failure after regaining the weight?
Please don’t! It’s not your fault.
Please let me try to explain why.
How the brain and weight loss interconnect
Everyone has a genetic blueprint of where their weight likes to be, called your set point.
Our brain likes to keep our weight within range of this predetermined set point. The hypothalamus is our weight regulator. You can think of it like a thermostat. If you open a window in your house to cool it off the thermostat will kick on the furnace to warm it back up to room temperature.
There are numerous chemicals in the brain that tell our body to gain or lose weight. These chemicals stimulate hunger, activity and metabolism to help regulate weight. If you lose a lot of weight your brain will trigger starvation mode.
The hypothalamus (thermostat) kicks in and sends chemical signals to stimulate hunger and suppresses your metabolism so your muscles burn less energy. This means you will burn less calories and feel like you are constantly starving.
Participants from “The Biggest Loser” TV show were a prime example of this. Researchers studied participants for 6 years after the show. They found that participants resting metabolic rate was ~500kcal/day lower than expected after losing a substantial amount of weight. Their resting metabolic rate did not increase 6 years later. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21538).
What does this mean? Participant’s metabolism was much slower and weight regain was inevitable. They were eating less, always hungry and still regaining weight. Keep in mind that this is an extreme case of weight loss over a short period of time. The impact of weight loss on metabolism will not be as extreme in most cases.
From an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense.
If you think back to the days when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers they would go days without eating. If the body didn’t have internal mechanisms to regulate weight they would have starved to death much quicker. Instead the body becomes very efficient at using every calorie. Hunters and gatherers likely thought about food constantly when deprived to give them more determination to seek out food. In developed countries we have the luxury of having access to food regularly, and often more food than we require. The body doesn’t know this. So if you lose weight, the body thinks you are starving and sends off a series of chemicals to maintain your weight.
The unfortunate part is that your weight set point can go up but it doesn’t like to go down. Again, this makes sense. A little extra weight would keep our ancestors from starving during the harder times when no food was available. If you remain at a higher weight for too long your body may make that your new set point.
One of the hardest parts about being overweight in today’s society is that North Americans value thinness. Everyone feels pressured to look a certain way and when they can’t achieve the ridiculous standards we have created, they feel like failures.
Our mental health is suffering. We go to extremes to be thin. We go on diets to lose weight which most of the time fails us.
People often think they have no will power when they succumb to the intense food cravings they are having. This is your body’s way of telling you to eat!
If we put less focus on weight and more focus on other factors that are important to us such as; exercise/movement, intuitive/mindful eating, smoking cessation, minimal alcohol consumption, adequate sleep and improving mental health, we could be healthier and happier (https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9).
If you have spent your life chasing the scale and it’s not making you happy than perhaps it’s time to re-shift your focus to something that will.
Live a life that makes YOU happy.
If you are tired of focusing on weight loss and want to have a healthier relationship with food contact me to see how I can help you.