If it’s not your own story, it’s probably someone you know. He or she has had a successful period of weight loss. Everyone has to admit that they are thinner, completely transformed, making everyone admire.
But then those glorious years did not last too long. After a while, it seems that they have gained weight again.
An analysis published in the journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows: More than half of the weight that fat people lose goes back to their own bodies within 2 years. After 5 years, that number is 80%.
A 121 kg man shared in the study that three years ago he had lost 39 kg. But it only took three short years for his weight to increase again, from 83 kg to 111 kg.
Despite trying to maintain the slimming guidelines, dieting with a 1,500 kcal/day menu and working out 6 days a week, the man was still powerless to maintain the best weight he had ever achieved.
“I’ve been trying non-stop“, he said.But the weight kept coming back… Clearly something was wrong here. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
No one’s story: Our bodies are all programmed to keep a fixed weight
When it comes to weight loss, we’ve all had short-term successes. Remember, you have also tried to meet the weight loss deadline at least once in your life. Whether it’s six months before you want to confess to your crush, three months before beach season, or a month before your own wedding…
Many people simply lose weight reluctantly, such as after a major illness.
But regardless of the cause, our weight tends to go back to the same old number. Scientists call this the weight set point.
According to set point theory, each of us has a predetermined weight – a fixed number that the body will do whatever it takes to protect. That’s the weight you’ll remember for most of your youth. From the age of 20 to the age of 30, every time you climb the scale, you will see that number.
The roots of this weight setting are evolutionary: For most of human history, our ancestors were constantly faced with starvation. Food was not available during the hunter-gatherer period. Agricultural societies are threatened by natural disasters, pests, and crop failures.
Hunger puts our body into a state where it has to burn what it has to use, from stored fat to muscle. Burning fat and muscle will make us thin and weak. To make sure this doesn’t happen too quickly (causing us to die too quickly) your body will slow down your metabolism every time you feel hungry.
In this way, our ancestors survived until they found their next meal and waited for a good harvest. As soon as they have calories to load back into the body, they must quickly regain fat to store energy, preparing immediately for the next possible hunger.
Your destiny of fat or thin has been determined in the first 2,000 days of age
While the weight set point is the number you’ll notice in adulthood, research shows it’s actually established very early on, around the first 2,000 days of age.
It is the time from the time you conceive until you are 5 years old. Many people would call it part of the “locus”. Geography determines why some people are born thin, no matter what they eat, they can’t gain weight in their whole life. And in the opposite direction it is also true, people who are already fat are really hard to get rid of fat.
But why is it not fixed at birth but wait a period of up to 2,000 days?
Just like your DNA determines how tall or short you are, genes inherited from your father and mother certainly play an important role in setting the weight set point. But it’s not all.
Weight setpoints are also influenced by environmental factors to which genes may be exposed during pregnancy and the early years of life.
It explains why some children who are fed a nutrient-poor but high-calorie diet are prone to unhealthy weight gain. Research shows that unhealthy weight gain in the early years of life persists through adolescence into adulthood.
Finally, our body weight is influenced by the environment itself. For example, an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, and insufficient sleep will cause your weight to increase over time.
Many people start playing champions in middle age, because their weighting point gradually changes. Research shows that this process can happen at a rate of 0.5 kg per year. That means each year, your weight set point will inched up a little bit.
Can we “hack” into evolution to establish a new set of weights?
Back to the typical story of people who lose weight. We know the weight set point that will pull us back to gaining weight. But specifically, how did those biochemical processes take place?
By understanding these processes, you will be able to “hack” into the evolutionary mechanism to set yourself new weight set points, and lose weight sustainably.
First, let’s talk about metabolic rate. Our metabolic rate – the amount of energy we burn at rest – is determined by the amount of muscle and fat we have. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which means it burns more calories.
Normally, when we diet to lose weight, we lose both fat and muscle, and the loss of muscle mass slows down our metabolism. Ironically, it also slows down your weight loss rate.
A study published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that our metabolic rate drops by 15% during the diet, and it doesn’t even recover even if you return to the same weight.
To combat this metabolic drop, scientists recommend increasing exercise intensity. Exercise strengthens your muscles, increasing your muscle/fat ratio. So it will help you burn more calories, regain your metabolic rate and thereby maintain the lost weight.
When do you need to take weight loss pills?
The second evolutionary mechanism that is causing you to gain weight back is from the body’s hormones. When we’re hungry, the stomach secretes a hormone called ghrelin to tell the brain it’s time to eat.
When you eat it, normal ghrelin drops. But if you’re dieting to restrict calories or working out to burn more calories, ghrelin becomes extremely sensitive.
Your body will secrete a lot of this hormone making you always feel hungry and want to eat more.
In the opposite direction, our gut and adipose tissue release leptin, a hormone that signals satiety. Leptin tells your brain it’s time to stop eating.
However, like ghrelin, leptin’s activity is also affected during your weight loss. It will usually be released more slowly and the result is again causing us to eat more.
Thyroid and adrenal hormones are the next factors involved in your weight gain.
The thyroid gland is known as the gatekeeper of our metabolism. When the thyroid gland is working properly, it makes important hormones that control energy levels and metabolism.
But when you diet to limit your food intake, the thyroid gland makes fewer hormones, reducing the energy we burn at rest.
The adrenal glands are where you manage cortisol, a hormone released when you encounter stressful situations. Losing weight whether through diet or rigorous exercise is recognized by your body as a very stressful situation.
Excess production of cortisol and its presence in the blood leads to weight gain because this hormone plays an important role in how our bodies process, store and burn fat.
To regulate hormone changes in the body, doctors often prescribe obesity patients a number of drugs. But these drugs are only prescribed for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or a BMI greater than 27 with a medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or joint pain.
Talk to your doctor if you find you need them.
Keeping weight requires a stronger will than losing weight
This comes from an evolutionary mechanism that ultimately makes it difficult to establish new weights for your body. It happens right inside your brain.
Research shows that during weight loss, the mesocorticolimbic circuit (the reward system in our brain) becomes more active than usual. It prompts us to seek out high-calorie food sources, such as sugar and sweets.
Whenever you fall into the mesocorticolimbic trap, it sends you into a vicious circle. High-calorie foods stimulate the mesocorticolimbic circuitry to release more endorphins and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that make you feel good. Therefore, you will tend to eat them more to feel more satisfied.
The dual effect is triggered by the depletion of the hypothalamus. This is the area responsible for your reason, which helps you control your eating behavior and keep your diet.
When your body is pushed into a state below its old weight set point, the hypothalamus becomes less efficient. It makes you more inclined to break discipline and trigger a psychological loop that makes you eat out of control:
To combat this vicious cycle, research in the Medical Clinics of North America suggests that you must devote a greater amount of motivation and willpower to your weight loss process. For example, if you start to lose weight because of a certain motivation A, then in the process of keeping the weight, you need more motivation B than A.
“External, superficial motivations are unlikely to support the long-term endurance needed to maintain weight“, the study wrote.
Extrinsic motivation is one that is determined by extrinsic results and rewards. It can be tangible, like you set a specific milestone, lose 10 kg, for example. Then after reaching that milestone, you no longer have the motivation to keep it.
There are also invisible extrinsic motivations, such as compliments and a feeling of recognition. You lose weight because you want to go to the beach this summer to have beautiful photos posted on social networks, then after you do that, you also lose all motivation.
So the motivation to keep weight should come from within, the researchers say. It’s an intrinsic drive that makes you enjoy losing weight instead of chasing an obvious reward.
For example, losing weight to be the healthiest and most confident version of yourself is an intrinsic motivator – regardless of whether you receive compliments or post pictures on social media.
Even the behavior of weight loss itself should be motivated by intrinsic motivation. For example, following a regimen prescribed by a doctor is an extrinsic motivation, but a Buddhist vegan diet is an intrinsic motivation.
Similarly, reluctance to work out on a weight loss schedule may not be as effective as running or playing a sport because they are fun in themselves.
The recipe for inner motivation is to ask yourself what makes you self-satisfied, see it as an opportunity to discover, learn, and realize your potential. Only those motivations are what will help you establish a new weight setting on your sustainable weight loss journey.
Reference: Theconversation, WebMD, Psychologytoday, Frontiersin, Clevelandclinic, NCBI