Your body is going to fight you on this

I know if I could just get on the treadmill (which, by the way is making a fantastic clothes hanger currently), I would lose the weight I want to. So why can’t I?

My problem is, I can’t stick to a diet. I like food too much.

I don’t have enough discipline.

I don’t have enough willpower. 

Any of these sound familiar? I know there are a lot of other reasons that lead to weight loss failure over and over again. But the above are not valid. In fact, they are just different versions of you blaming yourself and beating yourself up for a physiological response that frankly, you have zero control over. What angers me though, is that the dieting industry capitalizes on this and continues to throw it in your face with more programs, gimmicks, books, pills, exercise equipment, blenders, vitamins, injections, and lies to make you think it’s easy, if you’d just have enough willpower and get over yourself.

Here’s why I’m calling them out:

Our bodies are uniquely designed to promote weight stabilization. This means even though our food intake may vary from day to day, generally speaking, our weight does not vary widely on a day to day basis. Thus, in times of extreme calorie deprivation (i.e. meal skipping), our body will compensate by slowing down the metabolic rate to conserve calorie expenditure. This is why skipping meals are usually ineffective at causing weight loss. But our body also signals us with hormones to tell us when it is time to eat and when we’ve had enough at each meal. These hormones, called ghrelin and leptin, are responsible for appetite regulation. When we override our body’s signals (i.e. leptin is produced to tell us we are full) because a food is tasty by overeating, that’s when weight gain occurs. Especially when we are doing nothing to burn off the extra calories consumed.

But here’s the thing. In several studies, including one in 2002, when blood plasma levels of ghrelin were taken in obese subjects after a 17% initial weight loss, they found a 24% increase in ghrelin levels. Translation: they were HUNGRY. Hungrier than when they started. Why? Because their body was fighting them to put all that hard earned weight loss back on!! What’s even more disheartening, when you lose weight, there is less of you to maintain, and this means a slower metabolism (i.e. you are burning less calories in spite of feeling like you are starving to death.) So if you feel like you gain weight just by LOOKING at that slice of pizza, you probably are.

Sounds crappy, huh? Because it is. The world of weight loss is very grim. To date, weight loss surgery is the only long term strategy that yields weight loss even close to what most people have set for their goal. This includes not only a number on the scale (when asked, most people desire to lose around 50% of their initial body weight), but also health-related such as resolution of diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. For someone who has these serious health issues and their body mass index is above 35 and especially if their body mass index is above 40, it is something to seriously consider. Weight loss surgery usually results in a 25-35% initial weight loss that stays off long term. Why? One reason was demonstrated in the same study referenced above. Gastric Bypass resulted in a 77% reduction of ghrelin production. Translation: they weren’t hungry!! While the study didn’t include those who had Sleeve Gastrectomy, the results are similar as it does remove the part of the stomach that produces ghrelin. (As a side note, the laparoscopic adjustable band does not have this affect at all as the stomach remains in tact.)

But what if you’re not a candidate for surgery? Or you aren’t ready to take that step in your life yet? It changes every aspect of your life, after all. You could go on a crash diet, you’ve probably done it before. I’ve met many of you who have lost at least 50-100lbs at one time or another in your lifetime. But how are you going to keep yourself from gaining it all back this time? Biology is not on your side.

For starters, get a plan to fight back when your body starts resisting your efforts. It’s going to fight you every step of the way. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to find people who are in places of life that I want to be in and do what they do. For the person wanting to maintain significant weight loss off long term, the ones to follow have registered themselves on the National Weight Control Registry and recorded their daily habits. YES, it’s that easy for you to see what they are doing!!  Here are some common behaviors, according to the registry findings:

  • 78% eat breakfast every day
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week
  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day

Second, don’t be afraid of appetite suppressants. But I’m going to suggest if you choose to use some of the synthetic ones available on the market, that you choose one that can be recommended and prescribed by your doctor who is knowledgeable in this subject AND you use them sparingly during the weight loss phase. You will need them more during your weight maintenance phase when your ghrelin levels are in overproduction and you are starving. If you use them too early on, you risk becoming tolerant of them and then they are useless to you when you really need them.

If you are interested in a natural option that can be used during and after, I have seen amazing results with the use of essential oils such as grapefruit, peppermint, lemon, ginger, and cinnamon in combination with each other. The benefit of natural options is that they work to bring the body into balance and are always working with the body in it’s ever changing state, something you need during times of significant weight loss. For more information, be sure to contact me and I would be happy to discuss more with you to see if it’s a right fit for your goals.

Lastly, realize that this is a journey and you need to be flexible with not only your expectations, but yourself. Weight loss is challenging and the dieting industry capitalizes on the self doubt and guilty feelings that many of you feel. In short, it actually doesn’t matter how you lose the weight. What matters is that you have a good plan in place to keep it off.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN