Losing weight and keeping it off can seem impossible. And according to a growing body of research, there’s a reason. The New York Times Magazine recently published an article on why it’s so hard to keep weight off after a significant drop.
It has to do with your body’s desire to return to the weight it’s used to. Your body does everything it can to get you back to where it thinks you should be—your muscles stop burning calories as efficiently, the hormones that are swirling through your system demand more food, all in attempts to get you back to the number on the scale that you strived to reduce.
Dr. Aaron Cypess, M.D., Ph.D., and Certified Diabetes Educator Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E., answer some questions about what this biological override might mean for you, and how to move past it in your weight-loss plan.
What does this mean for weight loss and my diabetes?
Aaron Cypess: It means that the people should work very hard on not gaining weight, and when they do, to try to reverse the weight gain through portion control and exercise as soon as possible. The research indicates that there is a window of time after weight gain where it is possible—in fact the body WANTS—to get back to a lower weight. It is also very clear from the research that even if weight loss isn’t substantial, portion control and exercise can really help control diabetes.
Should I even bother trying to lose weight?
AC: Yes, it’s still worth trying to lose weight, but other considerations are needed. What is your goal for weight loss? For how long has your weight been above target? What kind of exercise program can you start to accompany your weight loss? What doesn’t seem to work, long-term, are those crash diets.
Nora Saul: Sometimes focusing on a more healthful lifestyle including regular physical activity and nutritious food choices that you can sustain over time is better than endlessly chasing a number on the scale.
What if I gain the weight back? How would that affect my diabetes?
AC: Gaining the weight back often happens. Each person is different in terms of how the diabetes will be affected.
NS: It is important to know that exercise and better diet choices along with medication (if needed) can control your diabetes even if you are unable to lose weight.
The diets in the article seemed like crash diets. What would happen on a slow-and-steady-type diet?
AC: A slow-and-steady diet probably is more likely to be effective than a crash diet, but we don’t know yet for sure. A slow-and-steady diet is certainly easier for most people to start and stay with.
NS: The problem with most crash diets is that people can’t wait to get off them. Finding a meal plan and an exercise regimen that you enjoy and makes you feel good about yourself and how you are treating your body is the key for long-term success.
What should the take-away point be from this article for someone trying to lose weight?
AC: The take-away point is that you shouldn’t burden yourself with the feeling that being overweight is your “fault” and that your inability to keep the weight off means you’re a “failure”. Rather, you need to work with supportive, knowledgeable people (such as the team at Joslin Diabetes Center) to learn how to keep from gaining any more weight and to institute a meal plan and exercise program to stay healthy at whatever weight you are right now.
NS: I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Cypess
So you shouldn’t concede defeat in the battle for a fit, healthier body. You just need to construct a smart weight-loss plan that will help you to overcome these unique obstacles.