A Realistic Weight Loss Calendar
Quantifiably speaking, losing weight is easy. If you expend more calories than you consume, the number on the scale will go down. However, our bodies are not as simple to figure out over time. There are factors that keep us from losing weight at the same rate as we did when we first started. It isn’t just about muscle burn or a faster metabolism. It’s the fact that our bodies’ ability to adapt is a constant factor in reaching and maintaining our goal weight. Here are the challenges that time will not allow us to forget.
If you’re starting from scratch so-to-speak, your body is primed to lose weight. You have hundreds of calories to “lose” through eating better every day. Adding regular exercise will burn even more calories. Because a heavier you burns more calories at rest, that first month of weight loss could be a boon to your motivation. If you start moving and eat a little less, the scale will be your friend. But after a month, you may see a slowdown in your pounds lost. All else equal, when a 200-pound, 30 year-old woman loses ten pounds, her body requires 441 less calories a week to maintain that lower weight. Continuing to lose means putting in more effort than was first exerted at the outset. With a lower caloric intake and less weight, your body needs less calories to carry out it’s daily functions and also burns less calories doing the same exercise than it did at the higher weight. Unless more time and effort is put in, either by exercising harder or more often or consuming less calories a day, losing more pounds is bound to slow down.
Even if you periodically change your workouts to increase the effort and time you put in to continue to get results, as well as modify your caloric intake to the appropriate level for your ever-decreasing weight, your hunger hormones will not help you continue to lose. Unlike extreme weight loss programs that can help you lose 30 pounds in 3 months or less, hunger hormones don’t adjust quickly. Your body may keep you wanting more over a year after you reach your goal weight. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed participants who lost 10% of their weight during a 10-week weight loss program had increased levels of hunger hormones that stimulate hunger 12 months after their initial weight loss. An obesity expert, Dr. Rudolph Leibel, of Columbia University in New York said the study’s findings suggest a permanent response, saying it‘s not surprising that our body “fights back“ beyond a year after major weight loss. With a bigger appetite and a body that burns less calories, maintaining a lower weight is a challenge that is just beginning a year after you reach your goal weight.
As if out-of-whack hunger wasn’t enough, there’s this thing called equilibrium that is reached that spells trouble for extreme calorie-restricted diets. After continually lowering calories you consume, your metabolism may have slowed to the point where losing weight may reach a stand still. Exercising more may help burn more calories, but if calories are too restricted, the ability to work harder on less calories may be too much for your body to take. This point is reportedly due to the three-year rule. Carson C. Chow, an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, says, “It actually takes about three years for a dieter to reach their new “steady state.” In addition to a calorie-restricted diet, one study puts weight-loss maintenance as requiring an even higher activity level than done during weight loss, at 90 to 120 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. That said, science shows that maintaining weight loss really is harder than losing weight. This is one reason nutritionists advise not to lose weight at a rate higher than 1 to 2 pounds a week. The key word is sustainability. You should never have to do something so drastic that you can’t maintain it over time. That goes for diet and exercise. In essence, the slow pace of losing weight is just the warm-up for the real task at hand. Maintaining your weight loss will require even more of your time and effort, for the rest of your life. However, there is good news just down the road. According to the National Weight Control Registry, after maintaining weight loss for more than 5 years, the chances of long-term success greatly increases.
For those who have maintained weight loss more than three years, what has been your key to success?