Why is it so hard to lose weight? Assuming you are carrying a couple extra pounds and understand the health risks of doing so, I am sure this question has come up once or twice (or daily). Everyone I know who has tried to lose weight has experienced great difficulty. In fact, the vast majority of people who try to lose excess fat either fail outright or manage to lose a couple pounds, but gain it back in a relatively short period of time.
So why is losing weight so difficult?
All you have to do is burn more calories than you consume right? Not so fast. I was reading an article published in The New York Times titled, In Obesity Epidemic, What’s One Cookie? It explains how the human body is hardwired to maintain homeostasis.
In other words, each and every one of our bodies is in a constant battle to achieve equilibrium. As a result, it counters small changes and returns to previous points of stability. This means that if you lose a few pounds, your body is naturally inclined to gain them back unless you are able to maintain the new weight long enough for you body to “get set”.
Even this is not an easy task as pointed out by Dr. Jeffrey M. Friedman. He described how despite an individual’s effort to pass on the top piece of bread in a sandwich or a cookie, they may unknowingly compensate for it later in the day with something else. This is all due to brain chemicals and a hormone produced by fat cells called leptin, which regulates food intake and energy expenditure.
He goes on to say, that given the fact that overeating plays a major role in obesity, “the deeper question is why do they (the overweight individual) eat too much? It’s clear now that there are many important drivers to eat and that it is not purely a conscious or higher cognitive decision.” Thus, not only can hormone disorders cause you to store fat, but they can also cause you to overeat.
As for advocates of small lifestyle changes, “studies show that small caloric changes have almost no long term effect on weight”. This means that those extra 100 calories you were thinking about avoiding or burning per day will probably not make a noticeable difference. Also, if hormones are to blame, there is a good chance that any changes not correcting these specific issues will not have a major impact. As we always say, excess fat is the symptom, you have to discover the real problem.
I am absolutely not trying to tell you that small lifestyle changes aren’t a good idea. They have been shown to slow or prevent weight gain and lead to larger improvements, but as Dr. Hill points out, “once you’re trying for weight loss, you’re out of the small-change realm”.
Side Notes: There are a couple elements of this article that I do not fully agree with. They mention the use of “noncaloric sweeteners” as part of a way to facilitate small lifestyle changes. A word of caution, many of these sweetener contain aspartame or similar ingredients which we do not believe anyone should consume. Also, not to get political, but the article suggests eliminating government subsidies that make junk food cheap and profitable. Wow, isn’t that a thought?
The New Your Times – http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/in-obesity-epidemic-whats-one-cookie/#comment-486377