We came across an interesting article this week at the NY Times website called “The Fat Trap.” In some ways it’s a depressing article, as it is meant to shed light on why so many people who lose weight ultimately gain it back. (So, if your weight loss motivation is teetering on the edge, maybe you would prefer not to read it, or even the rest of this post! Go ahead, we won’t be upset if you click away.)
But, beyond its depressing aspect, I was somewhat encouraged to finally hear some confirmation of something that has been in the back of my mind for a long time.
A brief, simplified summary is that when a person loses weight, the body believes that it is in “starvation mode” and hormone levels adjust, encouraging him or her to crave/eat higher-calorie foods and have less impulse control over the cravings. The result is that the dieter often spends more time thinking about food and feeling hungrier. Even worse, muscle fibers change so that doing the same amount of exercise burns less calories than a person who was never overweight (Oh no!). Essentially, the body “believes” that it needs to get back to its normal (heavier) weight and pursues several different paths to try to get there.
The protagonists of the story (the Bridge family) take an incredibly proactive approach to maintaining their weight loss of over 100 pounds, including detailed food logs, lots of exercise, and perhaps most importantly, always keeping healthy eating habits at least in the back of their minds. A quote from the article:
“Based on metabolism data she collected from the weight-loss clinic and her own calculations, Janice [Bridge] has discovered that to keep her current weight of 195 pounds, she can eat 2,000 calories a day as long as she burns 500 calories in exercise, such as water aerobics.”
As a comparison, the author mentions that a woman of similar size and activity level should be able to eat 2,300 calories or so. Although usually it’s good to be more efficient, I think this is an area where we’d all like to be less efficient!
Here is a link to the photos of the Bridge family and their daily routine. Another couple of shocking quotes:
“Adam is a committed exerciser as well, riding his bike at least two hours a day, five days a week.”
“Janice, who has regained 30 pounds since her lightest, exercises from 100 to 120 minutes a day, six or seven days a week, often by riding her bicycle to the gym.”
And I thought Eyegirl and I were active people!
Some more bummer math:
“The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight — 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there. “
Another interesting angle that the article pursues is that preliminary research regarding leptin, a hormone made by fat and associated with appetite, found that injecting the hormone was able essentially “trick” the body into believing it was fat again and thus let go of the need to conserve energy and regain fat. Maybe something promising for the future, at least.
I wonder how the tried and true fitness and weight loss tips that are always floating around would fit into this model, such as: boosting metabolism by building muscle, eating regularly with high protein snacks, etc?
Something interesting to think about at least! If anything, maybe it can serve as ammunition in achieving your fitness goals. (“I’m not really hungry, it’s just the hormones trying to trick me into being fat!”)
Hopefully this topic hasn’t made you too depressed!