Updated: Jul 31
Around here, we talk a lot about living a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, exercise, lose excess weight – but it’s not always that easy. For many people, eating well and exercising doesn’t seem to cut it. Or maybe a strict diet and exercise routine does yield the results you were hoping for, only to have weight pile back on with even the thought of having a donut. It’s probably left you wondering, why can’t I lose weight and keep it off?
Unfortunately, your body is working against you on this one.
NPR discussed this with Kevin Hall, senior scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Here are four ways your biology could be making it hard to shed some pounds.
1. Slowing Metabolism
Metabolism is the process of our bodies turning food into energy. It may sound counter-intuitive, but your metabolism actually slows when you lose weight. This is partially due to physics – the heavier you are, the more energy it takes to move around. The other part of this has to do with muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism. Losing weight often results in a loss of muscle mass, contributing to a slowing of your metabolism.
If you’ve ever felt a “plateau” during a weight loss program, this could be what’s happening. Think of it like you’re building up your exercise tolerance. Experts suggest that to combat this plateau, you’ll need to increase your physical activity.
2. There’s No Quick Fix
If you’ve ever tried a fad diet you probably noticed quick results that just as quickly unraveled as soon as the diet stopped. It’s because your metabolism acts kind of like a rubber band. Exercising once a week stretches the elastic a bit; exercising 4 days a week stretches it more. Exercising 7 days a week with intense dieting stretches it out further. So that now, when you go back to exercising once a week and eating the occasional dessert, it’s like the elastic snaps back into its original state.
Unfortunately, the only way to fight this is to keep up the habits that helped you lose weight. That’s why it’s best to find a routine that you enjoy and can maintain. This also may mean re-evaluating your goals. Sure, you can cut out all refined sugar, carbs, and alcohol and you’ll see changes in your body. But really ask yourself if that’s a diet you can maintain for the long haul. If not, all of your hard work could be lost.
3. Hormones Are Working Against You
You may have heard of leptin – a hormone produced in our brains that helps regulate appetite. Our lifestyles can impact leptin production and when leptin levels change, your appetite changes along with it.
Weight loss can trigger a drop in leptin. This drop can be interpreted by our bodies to mean that we need food asap. It’s like our brains think we’re starving. So, don’t beat yourself up if it’s particularly difficult to limit your portion size when you’re losing weight. You’re not weak, your hormones are fighting against you.
4. “Working Off” Your Food Doesn’t Really Work
It’s common for people to think, “I worked out, so I earned a cookie.” In theory, this train of thought should work. But in reality, a lot of us are pretty bad at estimating calories, both burned and consumed.
A light, half-hour jog will burn around 300 calories. But 300 calories worth of “junk food” isn’t a whole lot. Some fast food places offer chocolate chip cookies that are over 400 calories alone. And a single slice of pepperoni pizza can run you roughly 300 calories, depending on crust type. This isn’t a reason to not exercise, though – exercise is great for your brain and body. Just make sure your mindset is set on overall health as a lifestyle – not just exercising as a way to “earn” unhealthy food.
RELATED: How Walking Helps Your Brain
Understanding what’s going on in your body may be helpful when trying to get healthier. If you’re thinking about making a shift towards a healthier lifestyle, just remember to be patient with yourself. You may need to revisit your goals, but exercising regularly and eating well is never a bad idea.
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Godoy, Maria. (2019, May 1). “Biology’s a B*tch: 5 Reasons It’s So Hard To Keep Weight Off.” Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/04/25/717058877/the-biology-of-weight-loss
Roth, Ian. (2018, June 7). “Mayo Clinic Minute: Why losing weight can slow your metabolism.” Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-why-losing-weight-can-slow-your-metabolism/