There are some ugly truths about weight loss that many dietitians and health coaches avoid discussing. I choose to talk about them because I want people to understand why it’s so damn hard to lose weight and to stop immediately blaming themselves. I know that this sounds depressing to some, but it’s better to understand what is happening so that you can be prepared to take control of your body and life.
- Your resting metabolic rate will drop as you lose weight. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is precisely what it sounds like – it’s how many calories you burn sitting still. This is the energy needed to keep your heart pumping, your lungs working, and every other function necessary for life. Resting metabolic rate accounts for 70-80% of total calorie burn, so it makes a big difference. The average woman’s RMR is 1,400 calories per day, and the average men’s is 1,600. The more weight you’re carrying, the higher your RMR will be. Contestants on The Biggest Loser experienced a significant 30% drop in RMR after the show wrapped! This means that if they started the show with an RMR of 3,000 calories, it was only 2,100 calories after they’d lost weight. You’ll need to keep cutting back on your food intake, or increasing your exercise level, the lower the number on the scale goes. In fact, as we learned from the popular Biggest Loser show, the drop in resting metabolic rate following a weight loss is often more than what the existing calculators would estimate and shocked even the scientists who have devoted their lives to understanding human metabolism.
- Exercise only accounts for about 10-30% of the calories that you burn each day. Unfortunately, research has shown that most of us unconsciously compensate for any increase in physical activity by eating more. Consider that you would have to bike for 1 ½ hour at nine miles per hour to burn off a 620-calorie regular size of Five Guys Fries and you can see how the obesity epidemic began. While there are dozens of excellent reasons to get up and move – unless you change your diet, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to lose weight from your sweat sessions alone. Also, riding a bike is much harder for a 350-pound person compared to a 150-pound person. You burn fewer calories doing the same amount of exercise the smaller that you get. Yes, you burn fewer calories both sitting still and exercising as you lose weight.
- Yes, calories do still matter – just not exclusively. Calories don’t exist in a vacuum, this is true. It does matter to some extent if your calories are coming from fresh fruit or chocolate cake. Whole foods use more calories during digestion, and obviously, there are a lot of reasons to care about the quality of your diet besides weight loss. However, if you’re trying to lose weight, calories still deserve your attention. It doesn’t matter what kind of weight loss diet you follow – be it paleo, keto, vegan, etc. The truth is that weight loss will be mostly the same after a year of starting the diet if calories are cut by the same amount. Some diets do cause more weight loss in the first few months, but those pounds even out after a while.
- In a cruel twist of fate, your hormones make you hungrier when you go on a diet. Leptin and cholecystokinin (CCK) both reduce food intake and body weight. Unfortunately, levels of both leptin and CCK drop when you lose weight, which increases hunger pretty dramatically. Over time, these levels may rise again, but they will never be what they were before you lost weight. Leptin resistance can also occur from eating a diet high in saturated fat, added sugar, and processed foods. Research shows that eating healthful foods, including anti-inflammatory antioxidants and omega-3 fats, can help to overcome this resistance to some degree.
- Your hormones also change so that fatty and sugary foods are more rewarding and pleasurable to eat when you diet. These hormones, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y, also increase if you skip or delay meals. In addition to making you hungry and triggering a preference for fat and sugar, ghrelin also spurs food to move through us more quickly, encourages fat production, and decreases insulin secretion. This decrease in insulin production causes blood glucose levels to rise and stimulates the synthesis and storage of fat.
There are many things that you can do to battle back when your body seems hell-bent on holding on to that extra weight.
- Eating a high protein breakfast will decrease ghrelin and increase leptin levels.
- Exercising turns off the expression of the gene that makes some people have higher than normal levels of ghrelin and lower than normal levels of leptin.
- Research shows that trying to cut back on the amount of food that you’re eating will not work. Instead, you should focus on choosing foods that are lower in calories and high in nutrients so that you can eat the same volume of food as you’re used to and still lose weight.
- Unprocessed carbohydrates that are high in resistant starch boost satiety hormones (hormones that make you feel full and satisfied). Try lentils, oats, or sweet potatoes.
- Adequate sleep is vital for the production of sufficient amounts of ghrelin, and a lack of sleep will have adverse effects on both insulin and leptin levels, as well. Both fatigue and stress also trigger the release of cortisol, which is a potent appetite stimulant.