Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce your risk of chronic illness, helps you maintain an active lifestyle and is recommended by all health experts. So, why is it that dieting is so often linked to regaining the weight you've lost and then finding some more? Research is coming out now saying that the standard recommendation to lose weight by eating less and exercising more, could actually be damaging to our abilities to maintain a healthy weight long term.
The drastic weight loss attained by the contestants on controversial reality tv show, The Biggest Loser, is an example of the results that can be achieved through this type of diet and exercise regime. However, in research published in The New York Times, suggests that the US contestants who lose weight in this way are up against some major metabolic hurdles to maintain their ideal weight. In fact, the question could be posed, does this type of weight loss regime result in permanent injury to your ability to maintain weight?
It has to do with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. When the show began, the contestants, though hugely overweight, had normal metabolisms for their size, meaning they were burning a normal number of calories for people of their weight. When it ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically and their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner sizes.
Read more about the experience of The Biggest Loser contestants here: After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight – The New York Times
Experts such as Dr Jade Tata, talk about the metabolism being like a thermostat. It strives to become more efficient in the face of scarcity, which in an eat less, exercise more environment, is exactly what your thermostat is sensing. The trouble seems to be that your thermostat resets to maintain your body functions on less food. Approaching weight loss with an eat less, exercise more approach, which is the most common regime followed, resulted in their contestants finishing The Biggest Loser program with a resting metabolism of between 250-800 calories (1,050-3,350 kilojoules) less, than a person of the same size who has not dieted in this way. It's not all about willpower keeping weight off, there are powerful metabolic compensations making regaining weight almost certain to occur.
The answer? The old approach isn't working, let's try something new.