As anyone who has dieted knows, after losing weight, it is incredibly easy to regain weight. Studies show that greater than 80% of people who lose weight will regain weight. If you look at the studies that follow people 5 years after completing a diet, the numbers are even more more shocking: 95% of dieters will regain most of the weight they have lost and many of them will gain back even more weight than originally lost.
So let’s start this conversation about this problem by looking at why this happens? The simple answer is:
OUR BODIES ARE PROGRAMMED TO REGAIN WEIGHT.
Let’s go back in time. We don’t even have to go back that long, but we need to understand that for most of human history the ability to be overweight was rare, and in some circumstances virtually impossible. Humans have been on the earth for somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 years and for almost all of that time we lived as hunter gatherers. We have only had an abundance of calories and a sedentary lifestyle for less than 100 years. So for 99.9995% of human history we have lived in a world of food scarcity, where we had to work very hard regularly to feed, clothe and house ourselves. And then suddenly in our modern environment a human body, which is used to dealing with low food availability, starvation, hard physical labor and harsh environmental conditions gets to sit all day in temperature controlled rooms, hardly having to lift a finger to prepare food or keep ourselves comfortable. Our bodies don’t really have the genetic language to manage this new and uncharted territory. It still responds to weight loss as if you lived on the Savannah and were starving to death because you couldn’t kill a gazelle. It shifts itself into “self-preservation” mode, ramping down multiple metabolic processes that subconsciously cause us to become more efficient, burn less calories, be less active, hold on to body fat and encourage behaviors that help put the weight back on ASAP BECAUSE OUR BODIES THINK WE ARE STARVING TO DEATH (even if we know that we aren’t and could stand to lose a few more pounds).
Graph showing how metabolism recovers very slowly after a diet and weight regain occurs. If another diet is started too soon, this leads to a slower and slower metabolism.
Let me give you an example. Let’s take a 5’5” 150 pound female. At 150 pounds a normal baseline metabolic rate for her (otherwise know at basal metabolic rate) would be calculated to be around 1,500 calories. This means that if this woman woke up in the morning and did nothing but lay down all day she would burn about 1,500 calories that day. Then let’s say she gained weight up to 200 pounds. Then she started a diet and she got back to 150 pounds. Ideally we would like for her baseline metabolic rate to return to 1,500 calories. However, if she lost weight to get back down to 150 pounds, her new baseline metabolic rate would be closer to 1,200 calories or 1,300 calories (cruel right?)(see table above). This means that at the same weight that she was in the past she would have to eat even fewer calories to maintain that 150 pounds! And on top of that, her body, noticing that she had lost a lot of weight would be sending her strong signals to be hungry, to eat more, to move less, to be less aggressive during a work out…making it even easier for her to regain the weight that she had lost! Then if she restarts a diet again sooner than her metabolism has time to recover this will just lead to a slower and slower metabolism over time.
EASY WEIGHT REGAIN
So your body is sending very strong signals to do all the things that you were trying so hard to avoid like eating more calories, eating unhealthy foods, moving less, exercising less! All the while we are having to consciously fight our own body’s signals to regain the weight. This can be exhausting and based on the statistics most people lose this battle and start to regain some if not all of the weight. This explains why so many people fail and also why yo-yo dieting is so common. The good new is that there are things you can do to avoid the weight regain which I will save for my next blog…