Can I Really Lose Weight and Keep It OFF?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I got this from MSN Health & Fitness and thought it was pretty interesting.
Can I Really Lose Weight and Keep It Off?
I lose and regain, so I seem to be stuck at a set point.
By Martica Heaner, Ph.D., M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Health & Fitness
Q. I find it so hard to lose weight, and when I do, I seem to gain it right back. Is it true that the body has a set point when it comes to weight? Am I fighting a losing battle?
A. It seems that there is a fairly stable weight range where the body tends to hover. But “set point” is not the preferred term in scientific circles because it implies that there is a gauge or mechanism somewhere in the brain or body that is responsible for maintaining weight at a specific point on the scale. While research has identified a number of mechanisms that kick in to regain lost fat, there is no specific area that has been identified that determines a certain set point. So the concept is usually discussed in terms of the body’s ability to regulate its weight or, specifically, fat mass, around a fixed level, give or take a few pounds.
While it seems that this body-weight or body-fat regulation keeps fat mass stable in both directions, there are stronger mechanisms for protecting against weight or fat loss than against weight gain. So it’s easier to regain weight you lose from dieting and harder to take pounds off. In theory, the body’s ability to regulate a stable supply of fat is a good thing, since fat is the body’s main energy source. A resistance to permanent weight or fat loss is a way to ward off starvation by keeping energy ready in times of famine.
The set point isn’t necessarily permanent, however. That’s because if you do get heavier, new fat cells can develop. Once fat cells exist, you can’t get rid of them and they have a biological need to be filled. So, a higher weight or level of fat mass becomes the new “normal.“
Body weight and body fat mass are used a bit interchangeably here. It’s true that body “weight” represents more than just body fat mass and fluctuations on the scale can represent differences in the different components that constitute body weight—such as fluids, fat and muscle. But there is a relationship between increased fat mass and increased body weight. It appears that it’s the amount of fat mass that is preserved rather than the scale weight changes, although scale weight is likely to be a reflection in fat weight changes—especially when the pounds are higher in number. For example, if someone gains 15 or 30 pounds, chances are that the increases are mostly fat tissue, as opposed to water or muscle weight.
Obesity researchers aren’t sure exactly when a modified set point, or fat mass range, is triggered, and there appear to be individual variations—some people might gain more fat and do so more quickly. But the more you gain and the longer you are at the higher weight or, more precisely, increased fat mass, the more likely you are to create a higher regulated bodyweight or a higher set point. That’s why public health efforts in combating obesity address not only weight loss, but the prevention of weight gain. For many people who find themselves on a weight gain trajectory, often the first step is do what it takes to stop gaining, and then to think about losing.
It would be convenient for those trying to lose, if a new lower set point could also be established. That appears to be less likely, probably because of the body’s survival mode. Preserving fat makes more sense than wasting it. But data from the National Weight Control Registry suggests that the longer one maintains weight loss, the easier it becomes. Whether this is because the healthier lifestyles become a habit after a while or the body puts up less of a fight to regain the weight over time, is unclear.
OK, so that’s the bad news. But can you overcome your set point? Yes!
Many people have successfully lost weight and kept it off for years. It’s true that many people lose weight and gain it back, but it is possible to become a successful loser. It requires dedication and discipline, but it can be done.
Dieting alone is not the only way to lose weight or to keep it off since you can eat less and decrease fat from the cells, but a variety of biological mechanisms kick in to encourage the fat regain. What’s interesting is that energy-preserving mechanisms kick in whether you’re a lean person trying to lose 5 pounds or you’re overweight and trying to drop 50. Successful “losers” adopt longterm lifestyle strategies to keep weight down including:
* Work out every day. Exercise guidelines suggest that those trying to manage their weight need to fit in at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate and/or vigorous exercise on most days of the week. Although even 30 minutes of exercise is helpful, very few people who have lost weight are able to maintain it without doing significant amounts of daily exercise. Although any kind of cardio workout counts, walking is the most common.
* Focus on fiber. Eat a high-fiber diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables. Overweight and formerly-obese people may have defective satiety mechanisms—it takes more volume to feel full and satisfied from a meal. Eating lots of plant foods allows one to fill up with fewer calories.
* Watch the dietary fat. Consume good fats found in foods such as avocados, nuts and oils, but keep your diet low fat. People who have higher-fat diets tend to consume more calories.
* Keep a food and exercise diary. Write down your daily meals and bouts of activity. This helps keep you on track by identifying when you’ve diverged from your plan. If you get super busy, it’s easy to go several days without exercising or to skip meals and fall into unfavorable eating patterns. Keeping a log keeps you focused.
* Weigh on a regular basis. There is some debate about this practice because some people believe that body-weight numbers on a scale are less important than body composition or that regular weighing leads to obsessive fixations on body weight that can lead to disordered eating or exercise behaviors. There is some truth to both of these perspectives; however, research suggests that those who do weigh are better able to keep their weight in check. Just like the food log, it’s a gauge by which a person can detect wild fluctuations. Since body weight can vary daily by as much as five pounds simply from fluids shifts, one or two days of dramatically different weights aren’t as important as the trends in weight over time. So if you do weigh, keep track and compare over days and weeks. If two weeks from now you are consistently three to five pounds heavier for another few weeks, and your food log shows an increase in fast-food eating and a decrease in working out, you can assume that you have gained more fat and adjust your behaviors accordingly.