Why Can’t I Keep Weight off?

It’s the age-old problem. You lose weight, successfully, on [insert diet of choice] and a few months down the line you’re right back where you started (or heavier) thinking why can’t I keep weight off.  Frustrating, right? Here’s the thing: it’s not you. I can almost guarantee you’re not eating too much. This situation – one of the commonest I see in clinic – has little to do with “compliance” or “willpower” and everything to do with physiology. Our bodies are sneakier than we realise!

It’s Not You, It’s Evolution!

When you lose a clinically significant amount of weight (think 3-5kg or just 3% of your body weight – yep, not that much!), your body goes into panic mode. A cascade of physiological processes is set in motion, the aim of which is – quite simply – to make you regain the weigt you’ve lost until you’re back where you started.  It’s your body saying, “Wait, we’re losing too much weight here. We must be starving! Lets protect our resources at all costs and cling to fat.” This is why diets always fail – in the end. Yes, even the newest and trendiest (other health benefits aside, the evidence is showing us intermittent fasting is no different here).

It Gets Worse

Not only do dieters invariably regain the weight they’ve lost by the 12-month mark, most put on extra to boot. We’ve always observed this effect, but now research in identical twins (which takes genetics out of the equation) shows that intentional weight loss does indeed lead to MORE weight gain over time. Yes, you read that right. Talk about a boomerang effect! You see, we all have a “set point”: a weight we are naturally supposed to be and healthiest at. Your body will do everything in its power to protect & return to that set point. And dieting drives UP that set point over time. Rapid weight loss and yo-yoing is the most harmful.

How does this happen?

Your body has a bunch of tricks up its sleeve to get you back to what it believes is your “normal” weight:

  1. Slow-Mo Metabolism: Your basal metabolic rate goes down which means you burn fewer calories just being alive
  2. Hungry Hormones: We see big surges in hunger hormone ghrelin, while hormones like CCK, GLP-1 and leptin – that are meant to tell us we’re full up – are suppressed. Result: you’re always ravenous
  3. Thyroid Takedown: Think of your thyroid as the gatekeeper to your metabolism: it gives permission to use energy. Dieting can reduce levels of thyroid hormones.
  4. Cortisol Chaos: Weight loss is a big stress on the body. Your adrenals pump out stress hormone cortisol, which dumps sugar into the bloodstream leading to fat storage and weight gain
  5. Brain Changes: Your brain forces you to seek out high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods. Hello cravings and bingeing!
  6. Appetite Anarchy: Many of these reasons combine to wave bye-bye to any kind of appetite regulation whatsoever.

What is the Solution?

Before you resolve to give up and raid the biscuit tin because, well, what’s the point, read on. You can lose weight, absolutely you can, there just isn’t a quick-fix diet that’ll get you there – and keep you there. Anyone who says otherwise is a charlatan. These are the rules for healthy, sustainable weight loss:

Exercise: Your Best Bet

Exercise won’t make you lose weight. There are a bunch of reasons for this, beyond the scope of this blog post. BUT it will preserve and increase your muscle mass, which increases basal metabolic rate, so you burn more calories at rest. It is the best way to get rid of visceral fat – the dangerous fat we can’t see around our organs. It boosts energy, lifts mood and supports sleep. If exercise was a pill, you’d want one wouldn’t you?! You don’t need a fancy gym – just do move your body every day in a way you enjoy. Mix it up with a mix of cardio (like brisk walking or running), HIIT, yoga, and resistance training.

Ditch the ‘Quick Fix’ Diets

Diets that tell you to cut out whole food groups are a big no-no. Many of these foods are important for our health e.g. whole grains and fruit which often get a bad rap. Deprivation is almost never sustainable long term.

Un-process your Diet

While some processed foods are perfectly healthy, and a necessity in today’s fast-paced society, the sad fact is that 60% of our diet in the UK consists of ultra-processed foods (“UPF”).  Think breakfast cereals, long life bread, ready meals, packaged snacks, jarred sauces, takeaways, sweets and soft drinks.  Higher UPF consumption is strongly associated with weight gain and associated health risks. Eating as close to nature as possible an loading up on real, whole foods is key.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Think of weight loss as a marathon, not a sprint. Aim for small, steady losses every second month (interval weight loss) over a year or more. A damaged metabolism (from chronic, yo-yo dieting) takes times to address BUT your health will benefit from day one. A registered nutritional therapist can walk you through this process safely and effectively.

Sleep: The Unsung Hero

Sleep deprived mums of little ones, skip this part! Getting enough sleep helps us maintain a healthy weight – fact. Not getting enough is associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, and lower levels leptin, which can mean we struggle to feel satisfied. More sleep makes us more alert, energised, and happier, which makes us more likely to exercise or just stay active. We’re more likely to make better food choices and less likely to give in to cravings for a “pick-me-up” when we’re well rested.

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day

Eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism. We use calories 2.5X more efficiently at this time of day. A balanced breakfast focussing on protein, fibre and healthy fats helps balance blood sugar and insulin levels, reducing the likelihood of giving in to cravings later.

Macros: Don’t Sweat It

There really is no need to obsess over macros. We need to ditch the refined carbs as much as possible but beyond that, we want a good mix of protein, fibre, and good fats for our health. Low carb diets often produce rapid weight loss early on, but this is misleading. We store carbohydrate as glycogen in our bodies, and glycogen is bound to a LOT of water. So when we cut carbs, the number on the scale guess down rapidly – but it’s just water weight.

The Calorie Conundrum

Yes, calories are important, but they don’t tell the whole story (far from it!). Not all calories are created equal, and the energy content of a food tells us nothing about its nutritional value. A slice of pizza and a bunch of broccoli just don’t have the same effect on your body! The number of calories on the packet is often incorrect (studies show wide variation in values) but even if that number is right, that doesn’t mean our bodies can actually access all the calories.

Control Your Environment

We’re all slaves to dopamine hits from yummy foods. The solution? Don’t keep them in the house! Nature’s goodies like sweet roasted root veggies, creamy avocadoes, fatty fish, sweet berries and a couple squares of dark chocolate can do just as well to light up those reward centres in the brain.

So you finally have an answer to the question why can’t I can’t keep weight off. Losing weight and keeping it off is a marathon not a sprint. It involves education and getting the right support from someone with the right experience and training. If you’re ready to un-do a lifetime of metabolic sabotage, and make lasting change, we’d love to support you. BOOK YOUR FREE DISCOVERY CALL here


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