You’ve heard the statistic: 90% of people who lose weight will regain it, plus more. That’s a pretty discouraging idea. What about that 10% that keep the weight off? How do they do it?
Now that way more than half of Americans are overweight, there has finally been some attention to what makes those people who do not regain different from almost everyone else. It turns out they are not genetically different, they are not special in any way– except that they pay attention.
They watch the scale, they are alert to how they feel in their clothes, and they do not tolerate more than a few pounds creeping back on, before they return to weight loss behaviors, and re-lose that little bit. Here’s why that sensitivity to re-gain, and repeating weight loss behaviors makes such a big difference-
Whenever you let go of fat (AKA using up your stored energy) by reducing your calorie intake, a primitive protective mechanism in your brain kicks in. Your basic metabolic rate starts to slow down to protect you from what your ancient brain thinks is starvation. For your ancestors, an unreliable food supply made this feature essential for survival.
When you choose to limit your calories and you have stressful work and family demands and an exercise routine is hard to stick with, it’s a lot like your ancestors being trapped in a cave by a harsh winter, or prowling tigers - they had to hunker down, a little anxiously, and live off their fat till the situation changed.
Then they had to get out of the ave and take on a bunch more fat, as much as they could, before the next time they were in starvation mode. The human brain has the ability to slow down all your body processes and actually make it harder to use up fat. Even if you have 100 extra pounds on you, your body will conserve that fuel if your calorie intake drops below a certain point. This is what sets you for the well established pattern of yo-yo bouncing up and down with weight loss efforts almost always followed by regain.
Just a few key behaviors can change how you go about losing fat and make sure you keep it off forever. The key points are:
- EXERCISE WHILE DIETING TO LOSE FAT
- CONTINUE TO EXERCISE, LIFE LONG
- STAY ALERT TO THE SMALLEST INCREASE IN YOUR WEIGHT AND RETURN TO WEIGHT LOSS BEHAVIORS IMMEDIATELY WHEN YOU SEE THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE GOING UP
Studies show that people will lose about the same amount of weight whether they exercise or not while dieting. You have to read these studies carefully to understand that they are all very short term, maybe up to 3 months, and they do not follow the people into the weeks after their weight loss is finished. Those studies that do follow people longer term show that exercise while dieting and for long term afterward makes the difference between those who regain and those who keep the weight off.
The reason is this - you need muscle to burn up the energy you have stored as fat. You have to be using the muscle to call out the energy from your fat cells. The more muscle you have and the busier you keep it, the quicker you will use up the fat. Also, very importantly, if you exercise while you are losing, your brain will not turn down your metabolic rate quite as much. Aerobic exercise revs up your metabolic rate and keeps it up for hours after your workout; exercise will not allow your metabolic rate to fall so low that you can’t help but regain weight when you stop dieting to lose fat.
You will still have some metabolic slow down however, no matter what, so there is a second step you have to do to maintain your fat loss. You have to stay right on top of that scale. You have to be aware of the smallest amounts of weight re-gained. When you add food back to your diet after having reached the weight you want to be, you WILL re-gain. It’s ok. You have to train your brain to accept the new you. The way you do it is like this:
- Weigh yourself every morning throughout your weight loss process. You will learn so much very important information this way- including things like how your menstrual cycle effects the rate you lose (or even gain!) weight while following your fat loss diet; or how not drinking enough water in one day shows up in your weight the next day. All kinds of fascinating things will make that number go up and down day to day. What matters is what it does over the long term, and that you learn what effects that number, even when you are following your fat loss plan perfectly.
- Understand that when you begin to eat a more varied diet, after you have lost what you want to, that your body will want to conserve it as fat. Train your body to increase it’s metabolic rate at your new weight by reverting to your weight loss plan whenever you see you have gained 3 to 5 pounds. Never gain more than 5 pounds. Always go back to eating and exercising in the way you have proven to yourself works for you. Lose that 5 pounds again, then, expand your diet again. You will regain again, but each time it will take a little bit longer, as your brain gets used to your new arrangement of fat and muscle tissue
Eventually, as long as you maintain essentially healthy habits, including your best food choices and exercise levels, the episodes of re-gain will slow down and stop and you stabilize at your new weight. It can take months of close attention; this is not a quick fix, but it is what works. people who lose large amounts of fat and keep it off for the rest of their lives do it by paying close attention and maintaining their weight loss within just a few pounds of where they are at their best. They don’t let themselves re-gain more than 5 pounds and they use what they know works to lose extra weight as m]needed, after a vacation or a holiday or an extra stressful period. And, they exercise, most days of the week, to maintain their fat burning muscle.
Remember: there is one way you need to eat to get fat, another way you eat to lose fat, and then another, more generous and complex way you can eat once your goal is attained. The way you transition from eating to lose fat then expanding out to a healthy life long diet is essential to long term success.