Most people in America today have been concerned about their weight at least once in their lives. Millions of men and women have turned to diet and exercise to lose weight, frequently with success. The biggest issue that folks have when trying to maintain a new goal weight is that the human physiology makes it difficult to maintain weight loss.
This is the reason why modern humans have such issues with Weight Cycling—also known as Yo-Yo Dieting. Through effort and conscientiousness, it's a challenge to lose weight, but not impossible. While most people can lose weight, the hardest part is maintaining a healthier weight after reaching a goal weight.
Metabolism Slows Down In Response to Weight Loss
At first, losing weight isn't that hard. Your body reacts to increased activity levels and dietary restriction by burning calories as a response. Over time, however, the body will recognize continued weight loss and register it as a potential threat. In response to that threat, the body slows down metabolism to maintain existing stores of body fat. This also means that if you return to your old habits, you will gain the weight back more quickly. Often, people will achieve their weight loss goals only to return to their former weight, even adding on a couple of extra pounds. How frustrating!
That's because the human body is obsessed with homeostasis. If you've been overweight for a long time, your body is fine-tuned to operate under those conditions. Losing weight causes a strain on that balance, and your body will react against it, attempting to gain the weight back and return to its prior state of (unhealthy) balance. Your body can eventually adapt to your new weight, but it puts up a fight which causes most diets to ultimately be unsuccessful.
Our bodies are designed to store fat and ward off starvation. For millions of years, human beings and their ancestors have dealt with food scarcity, and evolution has not prepared us for the life of nutritional excess that we have achieved in the 21st century. Our bodies are designed to operate under a feast or famine cycle. The human metabolism treats body fat as if it is highly precious because it once was. That's what makes dieting such a struggle—we're literally fighting millions of years of evolutionary programming.
Weight Loss Triggers Hormonal Changes
As you likely know, our Hormones are largely responsible for maintaining physiological balance. As metabolism slows down, it triggers a cascade of hormonal changes. It triggers changes in Digestive Hormones which encourage increased intake of calories. While Serotonin and other hormones play a role in digestion, the two biggest culprits are Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for triggering the feeling of satiation, while Ghrelin activates hunger response. If you've recently lost weight, your body will not produce as much Leptin, which leaves you susceptible to overeating.
Weight Loss also leads to increase production of Ghrelin, which causes you to get hungry more often, and to experience stronger feelings of hunger. There is even evidence that losing weight makes you respond to the sensations of eating more positively. Food just tends to taste better, which further encourages you to overeat and cancel out all that you've achieved with your diet.
Achieving Weight Loss Goals Often Leads to Lax Habits
By their nature, humans are goal-oriented, which is beneficial to weight loss. The problem is that, once we've achieved a goal, the inspiration often fades, which can have consequences for maintaining positive change. It's a lot of work to lose weight, and as we said, the human body doesn't like change. The combination of lack of motivation, slowed metabolism, and hormone imbalance is incredibly difficult to overcome, which has disappointed millions of men and women across the world.
Once you achieve your weight loss goals, your brain remembers your old habits and wants to return to the past, comfortable ways. Maintaining a new goal weight requires hard work and diligence. The National Weight Control Registry follows the lives of individuals that achieved and maintained significant weight loss for more than a year.
By studying the habits of successful dieters, we can help more people achieve their long-term goal of maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers discovered that keeping the weight off actually required more work than losing it in the first place!
What Steps Can I Take To Preserve My Weight Loss Results?
It's important to recognize that good habits and hard work don't end once you've achieved your goal weight. The fight never ends. Acknowledging that fact will arm you for the road ahead. It's essential to maintain an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Let your friends and family hold you accountable for your weight loss. Your loved ones want you to be healthy, and it doesn't take a lot of effort for them to show their support.
You can also look for outside clinical and social support. There are weight loss clinics nationwide that work with patients just like you, as well as nutritionists and dietitians. Consider joining a weight loss support group! Surrounding yourself with other people with the same goals works wonders for long-term success.
Understand that the diet doesn't end when you've lost the weight. Continue to make the concerted effort to live a healthy and conscientious life, and you'll find that keeping the weight off is easier than it seems. It's all about education, psychology, and perseverance!