If you follow weight loss research, like we do, chances are you’ve seen the news stories, like the The NY Times’ article last week about the research in the scientific journal Obesity that revealed the metabolic and hormonal changes among contestants in Season 8 of “The Biggest Loser.”
Of the 14 contestants, researchers found that the vast majority have regained much of the weight that they lost some six years previously. Only one has continued to lose weight and now weighs significantly less than when the show ended.
The researchers revealed that the resting metabolic rates (how much energy the body needs to sustain itself at rest) was lower among the Losers. In fact, their resting metabolic rates were about 500 calories less per day than what would be considered normal. What’s more, the contestants also has markedly lower levels of leptin, also referred to as a “starvation” hormone that, when it drops below an individual’s threshold, hunger and intense cravings for food result. This is why so many people who lose weight complain that they’re always hungry, and it’s why you need to take strategies to combat hunger via food choices and exercise.
The lowering of the Losers metabolism combined with the drop in leptin show just how hard the body works to maintain a specific weight (often referred to as a set point). While the results are really discouraging, I think there’s something we can all learn from this. Here’s what other research suggests we can do to help maintain weight loss and breakthrough weight loss plateaus:
- Learn to love exercise. I don’t mean you need to spend hours in the gym, but rather, develop a lifestyle that promotes plenty of daily movement coupled with strength training. One way that we know is effective for keeping metabolism high is building lean muscle tissue. In addition, mounting research suggest that those with healthy muscle have better control of hunger hormones.
- Lose weight in a “sustainable” way. If you lose weight through a fad diet or through extremes, like those on The Biggest Loser, and you can’t sustain the “program” for the rest of your life, don’t bother. The idea is to not go on the diet but rather, to change your lifestyle into healthy eating and exercise patterns that you can sustain for the rest of your life. Those on The Biggest Loser exercised for hours ever day and had all their meals prepared. Once they returned home, they didn’t follow that lifestyle and they gained weight. That’s considered normal. Here are three behaviors known to be associated with the vast majority of those who are overweight or obese.
- Understand that losing weight is different from keeping it off. While losing weight is pretty straight-forward, keeping it off is much harder. Studies show daily exercise is critical as well as approaches to keep monitoring your behaviors (like daily weigh-ins and tracking food intake). We find many clients whose diet success essentially ruins their diet because they lose 5 or 10 pounds then think it’s time to celebrate and they immediately start gaining back the pounds. Here’s one of our articles about weight maintenance.
- Eat a healthy, primarily plant-based diet. To keep the pounds off, stick with a very healthy, balanced diet of mostly plant-based foods like fruits and veggies. You will also want to limit or avoid alcohol, as it also stimulates appetite and avoid eating out as much as you can. You also want lean protein at each meal to help keep you satisfied. Diets rich in fiber and protein are more likely to keep you feeling satisfied compared to diets rich in added sugars and other low-quality foods.