Why do I find it difficult to lose weight?
Hey, this is normal! Let’s start with some truths.
- ‘Healthy eating choices’ is nothing but a sound bite. We don’t chose to be overweight. Automatic actions are wired into our brain. Conscious choices require effort that is simply not sustainable 100% of the time.
- High calories Foods surround us. Just look at the ‘Supermarket Specials’ with their discounts for large quantities. Increased weight can feel like a battle where the ‘two sides’ are the brain-gut interface, and the ‘obesogenic environment.’
- The environment requires less physical activity than than in the past. Cars, lifts & gadgets reduce the need for us to be moving.
Genes play an important role in a whole host of different factors – our metabolic rate, how much we fidget, how much energy we use to control our posture, and how we respond to different diets. Our genes have evolved to prevent weight loss, not to prevent weight gain.
Hormones play a key role in regulating metabolism and hunger. These hormones act like a thermostat – except that we have little control over the setting. In this way, the body ‘remembers’ what its Basal metabolic rate ‘should be.’ This ‘metabolic memory’ may even start before we are born, and explains why our body wants to ‘be’ at a certain weight.
Let’s get into the science.
How our body ‘wants’ us to regain the weight we have lost
Weight loss Science isn’t Sexy but it is empowering.
The metabolic rate of people who have lost a lot of weight is around 500 calories lower than their baseline – even many years later.
The metabolic rate drops around 100-200 calories more than is explained by the lower body weight. Why is this?
Fat cells send the hormone ‘Leptin’ to the brain. Leptin increases energy expenditure. Weight Loss results in lower leptin levels which reduces our metabolic rate. Ouch.
Let’s check out the really important gut hormones that also send messages to the hypothalamus in the gase of the brain:
- Ghrelin – produced by the stomach and makes us feel hungry. Levels increase after weight loss.
- CCK, Peptide YY, GLP-1, PP, all hormones make us feel full. Levels reduce after weight loss. Leptin also goes down after weight loss.
Weight loss through diets will lower your metabolic rate and increase your drive to eat.
Weight and Our Brain
Cravings are the elephant in the room when it comes to weight loss. Food cravings are a ‘conditioned response’ to a situation. Chocolate is the most common craving. If you always eat chocolate when you watch a movie then your cravings will increase when you put on a flick. Perhaps you crave a snack in the middle of the afternoon? The trigger for mid-afternoon cravings is usually work.
Try to identify your triggers for ‘automatic eating’ – perhaps fatigue, bordeom, or stress. You can then put in some strategies to over-ride our instinctive behaviours.
What happens if you try to resist a craving and eventually give in to it? You’ll feel a sense of failure that in turn increases the cravings! Don’t beat yourself up if you ‘give in’ to your cravings sometimes. Overall, however, you should simply try to cut out that food that you crave for. Use mindfulness techniques & try to ride the wave of the craving. Cravings do go within around 30 minutes. A useful rule of thumb is that it takes around two months of conscious effort for the cravings to pretty much disappear. Keep your partner on board and tell him or her not to buy you that food again!
There are important Psychological issues that affect us all:
- We tend to make choices that sort out the current situation (relieve of hunger) than help the long term issues (our weight).
- We all tend to make the same choices we’ve made in the past: the so-called status quo bias. Make consistently different choices than we’ve made in the past takes gets easier with time
Long term weight loss is possible. It helps, though, to be aware of the multiple factors that make sustained weight loss so challenging – so that you can develop helpful long term strategies and make informed choices.
The end result is that weight is like an elastic band. Efforts to reduce weight are often very difficult to maintain over time so that the weight springs back up (again).
What should be my target weight?
- Aim for sustained weight loss. The health benefits of a 5 to 10% loss of weight are considerable.
- Set a realistic goal eg. 5 to 10% weight loss.
- Aim for a reduction of 0.5 to 1Kg per week.
Major Medical Guidelines regard a 5% weight loss as successful.
Many clients will lose, say, 15Kg or more but the priority is to keep the weight off.
There is no doubt at all that weight reduction methods have to be sustained over many years.