Doing Life Together

belly-2354_1280Sue lost 80 pounds. After months of dieting, she has seen tremendous success. Now her concern is keeping that weight off. She is beginning to see a slow, but steady increase in pounds. Her question to me is why is it so difficult to keep that weight off?

Sue is not the only person asking this question. So many people struggle to keep the weight off once it has been lost. One reason weight loss maintenance is so difficulty has to do with biology, not willpower.

After significant weight loss, biologically, your body wants to defend fat storage. In a nutshell, several biological processes are at work when a person loses weight. Fat deposits decrease. The hormone, leptin, which impacts hunger, falls to lower levels. When leptin is low, it fails to tell your body that you are satisfied with what you ate. You need more food to feel full.

In addition, the brain’s reward system becomes more activated and creates craving. Less resistance developes and your metabolism slows down. To keep weight off after a significant amount of weight loss, you have to learn to basically ignore body cues of hunger and restrict calories. This is no easy task!

This combination of slowing metabolism and hunger has much to do with why its hard to maintain weight loss after a few months. To add to this, you have to learn to respond to environmental cues that have triggered you to eat in the past. What cognitive and emotional cues lead you to eat? This could mean changing your thoughts around food and the way you relate to food. This means not using food as comfort, for reward, to socialize, to destress, or even to celebrate happy feelings.

Exercise also helps with weight maintenance. It doesn’t result in massive weight loss, but improves overall fitness. Part of changing to a healthy lifestyle is to get up and move as often as you can. Incorporate more movement into your life along with regular exercise.

In all, weight maintenance takes a lot of intention and lifestyle changes that recognize how your genetics and biology may fight this process, how your relationship with food must change, and how environmental cues can trick you to eat. To work on all of this requires support, accountability and persistence to make necessary changes. While it may seem difficult, it can be done. Don’t give up. Even a 5% reduction in body fat can reduce risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

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