Taking care of your weight is an important part of living a healthy life. Many people can keep their weight in a healthy range by eating well and staying active, but weight loss can be important for the 71 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese. But there’s more to losing weight than just eating fewer calories than you burn. This is especially true for losing a lot of weight. People who have lost a lot of weight will gain it back in as many as 90% of cases.
It is possible to maintain a healthy weight, and knowing how your body reacts to weight loss efforts can help you set realistic goals for your journey.
Here are 8 things about your body and losing weight that you might not know.
1. To store fat, your metabolism will slow down:
The more you try to lose weight by working out or watching what you eat, the more your metabolism wants to slow down to keep you at the same weight. Metabolic compensation kicks in to keep and store fat as energy for the future. Some doctors think this is because the human body has changed over time to store fat and energy and to see a lack of calories as a sign of trouble or famine.
2. Your hormones will make you want to eat more:
Unfortunately, metabolic compensation isn’t the only thing your body does to keep you from losing weight or make you gain weight. Leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that control hunger, also play a role. Leptin is made by fat cells, and it tells your brain when you’re full. When you lose weight, your fat cells shrink, making less leptin. This makes you feel less full. Strike one. The stomach makes Ghrelin, which tells the brain it’s time to eat. When you lose weight, your ghrelin levels go up, making you feel hungry more often. Strike two. Research shows that it takes at least a year for both leptin and ghrelin levels to go back to where they should be.
3. Your brain won’t keep track of how much you eat:
In addition to your metabolism and hormones, the way your brain works also makes it hard for you to lose weight. After you lose weight, food becomes a bigger reward, and the part of your brain that controls how much you eat becomes less active. This means that while leptin makes you eat more to feel full, you’re also less aware of how much you’re eating.
4. Your genes could be helping or not:
More than 400 genes have been linked to obesity and weight gain. These genes can affect appetite, metabolism, cravings, and where body fat is stored. It’s not clear exactly how much your genes can make you more likely to gain weight or become obese, but genes have been linked to it being hard to lose weight even if you exercise more or eat less. As with weight management in general, it’s much easier to deal with a genetic tendency toward obesity if you do something about it before you need to.
5. Your body is more ready for the second time around:
When you get sick, your body makes antibodies against the illness so that it will be ready the next time. Unfortunately, it does the same thing when you lose weight. If you’ve lost weight in the past through exercise or diet changes and try to use the same methods to lose weight again, your body, especially your hormones and metabolism, will change to keep you from getting hurt again, and you’ll lose less weight.
6. There’s a favourite number for your weight:
Some scientists believe that your body has a set weight, and that your metabolism, hormones, and brain will all change to keep you at that weight. The theory is that some people have set weights that are naturally higher or lower than others. Your set weight can be affected by your genes, your age, your history of losing weight, and other hormonal changes. Also, set points can go up, but they rarely go down. In the same way, they are much easier to keep than to lose, because your body wants to keep them. This is why it is easier to keep a healthy weight than to lose weight.
7. You might not lose weight the way you thought you would:
Even if you lose weight successfully, especially if you lose a lot of weight, life isn’t always easy after that. Your body may not look the way you thought it would. Stretch marks and loose skin are common, and many people have to deal with the emotional effects of having a body that doesn’t look like the ideal they had in mind.
8. Your emotional health isn’t affected by how much you weigh:
Because of this, people tend to link their happiness and emotional health to losing weight. When they lose the weight but are still unhappy with other parts of their lives, they fall into a cycle of being unhappy. Guilt about not being happy after losing weight can also play a role, as can the desire to eat to make these feelings go away. Also, some people may not know what to do after losing a lot of weight if that was their main goal.
What You Can Do:
Some simple things you can do to help you reach your weight loss goals are to eat protein at every meal and snack or to start a weight loss routine with cardio and then switch to weight training and resistance training later on. Many people find it helpful to work on their emotional health and weight loss by setting small, doable lifestyle goals. For instance, instead of trying to get a low number on the scale, you might try to get to a weight where you feel comfortable playing sports or going to a group fitness class. In the same way, setting small goals that can lead to bigger changes over time can help you avoid the problems with quick fixes.
“Both medical and surgical weight loss programmes have been shown to work well, but the key is you,” says Matthew R. Pittman, MD, director of bariatric surgery at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group. “To lose weight and keep it off, you must fully commit to the changes in behaviour and lifestyle that are needed.”
If you want to lose weight, working with a professional in lifestyle medicine can also help you manage your expectations, set reasonable goals, and respond to your body’s changes. You might also want to think about whether you need a nutritionist. The team at the Northwestern Medicine Center for Lifestyle Medicine focuses on setting goals that can be reached. These goals can be anything from comprehensive weight-loss treatment and management for adults who are overweight or obese to educational strategies that help people lose weight. They can also be things like reducing risk factors and giving people tools to get more active and eat healthier.