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Why It's So Hard to Maintain Weight Loss

by Dr. Ken Fujioka, Endocrinologist

by Dr. Ken Fujioka, Endocrinologist

Losing weight is hard work. It throws us off our routine, forces us into choices we don’t want to make and can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. But the reward is seeing the numbers drop on the scale until we finally achieve that ideal weight.

Weight loss challenges

Then what? We have to maintain it. For most people, this is the trickiest part of all. While it’s relatively easy to modify our lifestyles for a short period to achieve a specific goal, making more permanent changes to simply maintain what we have can often be more challenging. To put it bluntly, maintenance just isn’t sexy.

Then, of course, there’s the problem of biology. Remember, we’re not just hungry because our stomachs are empty; we’re hungry because complex hormones are telling us to be hungry. And those hormones are responding to more than just the relative emptiness of our stomachs.

For example, a study conducted in Australia followed a group of overweight or obese people as they lost 10 percent of their body weight. As expected, participants’ metabolisms slowed and appetites increased. However, surprisingly, these changes weren’t short-lived, persisting for a year. In addition, participants were putting the weight back on, despite a strict diet to maintain their losses. No wonder weight loss is such a difficult road.

Exercising self-control

From an evolutionary standpoint, these results make perfect sense. Our ancestors had to endure many famines, and the body evolved to compensate. In other words, we’re programmed to eat when there’s food around. Of course, in the United States and other industrial nations, food is almost always available, making it difficult to exercise self-control. To make matters worse, the only hunting and gathering we’re doing involves shopping or ordering for the right entrée. Eventually, we may develop different survival traits, but that doesn’t help us now.

It’s also worth noting that the same hormonal, metabolic and neurological changes that make it difficult to maintain weight loss from dieting also apply to bariatric surgery.

Counting calories

Another issue is how many calories we need to maintain the new weight. As the weight goes down, so do the caloric needs. In other words, the calories required to maintain weight at 170 will be lower at 150. This makes keeping the weight off even more difficult, as it’s easy to go back to the pre-diet food plan

How your body responds to workouts can change as well. As our bodies grow accustomed to a certain routine, we start to burn fewer calories. That’s why it’s a good idea to switch up workouts, both in duration and intensity.

Sticking to a weight loss plan

You can look at this information in two ways. You can wrestle with dieting and just decide to throw in the towel in the end. Or, you can accept these biological realities and modify your diet and maintenance plan accordingly. Remember, a good diet is not a short-term effort to lose weight. It is a lifelong plan to maintain optimal health.

This health and wellness tip was provided by Ken Fujioka, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management.