The world of weight loss and nutrition is filled with an array of diets that when followed diligently promise to produce the best results. Recently, contestants of The Biggest Loser have physically shown that by following a stringent diet regime, it is humanly possible to reverse the scales towards a healthier weight. However, studies have found that the downside of this quick loss is that it is often short-lived. The 239 pounds that Season 8 winner, Danny Cahill lost in 2009 was put back with over 100 pounds in the years that followed. This makes us wonder why diets fail and one cannot keep weight off for long after losing a significant amount.
To better understand this, we should first understand the biology that affects weight loss. The body needs energy for carrying out various bodily functions such as breathing, circulation of blood and cell repair as well as our day-to-day activities. This is achieved by a process called metabolism, where the calories in the food that we eat are converted into energy. When you follow a rigorous diet as a part of your weight loss regime, your total intake of calories is much less. Acknowledging this deficit, your body makes certain metabolic adaptations in preparation for the sudden “famine” that it mistakenly foresees:
- It produces the same amount of energy with the available calories.
- It lowers the expenditure of energy to account for the assumed shortage of food.
- It increases the levels of hormones that breakdown of food and promotes hunger, and decreases hormones that initiate expenditure of energy and a feeling of fullness, alerting the body that there is a requirement for more food intake.
With a reduced need to spend energy and an increase in your hunger, these adaptations contradict all the goals of an ideal weight loss regime, and tamper with all the effort put into losing those extra pounds. This metabolic adaptation explains the weight regained after sudden loss. This phenomenon has been found to last for many years after weight loss, and the extent of adaptation correlates with the extent of weight regained.
This study shows that we can only achieve that much with willpower and hard work as an individual’s metabolism plays a major role in determining body weight. Having said this, we do not intend to discourage the need for weight loss, as the health consequences of obesity are severe, but there is more to weight loss than just numbers on the scale. Even small amounts of weight loss can benefit in a much healthier lifestyle.