When it comes to weight loss, sustainability in diet and exercise are paramount. It seems like such a simple idea, but when it comes down to it, weight loss challenges wouldn’t even exist if sustainability was practiced. This has been brought to my attention quite a bit within the past couple of weeks. Without consistent practice of healthy exercise and nutrition regimens, we can get stuck
in an ugly cycle of weight loss and weight regain – but much to the harrowing dismay of dieters, this occurs in an upward trajectory.
For instance, let’s say you start at 200 pounds. At some point with optimal dietary and exercise habits, you lose 20 pounds and are now down to 180 pounds. However, these weren’t sustainable changes, and you rebound weight gain – this time to 205 pounds. The next time you lose another 20 pounds and get back down to 185. Then again regain the weight back – this time to 210 pounds – 10 pounds MORE than the weight that you started this journey at. AH!!!
So, what is the science behind these changes?
Your body revolves around set points – set points for things like body temperature, hormonal concentrations, body weight, and more. In regards to body weight and body fatness, your body constantly revolves around a certain weight and body fat percentage. In order to maintain this body weight, you must consume a certain amount of net Calories (consumed – burned). And your body will do ANYTHING to get those Calories in order to maintain that weight.
So, let’s say you are trying to lost weight. At the weight that you are right now, let’s say that your body says that it needs 2,000 Calories per day. In order to lose weight, you restrict your daily Calories to 1,500 Calories and increase your exercise frequency and intensity. Just think about how your body feels for the first week that you are making these changes. I can guarantee that you are feeling hungry, tired, cranky, etc… All of these negative changes are your body’s way of saying “listen, human: I need 2,000 Calories, and you need to give them to me NOW”.
However, your body is an AMAZING machine and can adapt to literally anything. It does this by eventually decreasing your body weight, and therefore, because your body weight is lower, you intrinsically require LESS Calories than when you started. So you feel much LESS hungry, tired, cranky, etc… You may not even feel these things at all! If you maintain this weight for long enough (research varies, but for the sake of this conversation, it should be longer than 3 months), your body will achieve a brand NEW body weight and fatness set point! Let’s say your new Caloric set point is now at 1,500 Calories per day. That’s AWESOME news!
The unfortunate part about this, is that most people can’t figure out how to continue to maintain those lifestyle habits, so they experience rebound weight gain. They eat more than their required 1,500 Calories per day and likely exercise less. So, they gain all the weight back and likely GREATER than where they started. That’s the start of the upward trajectory.
But why do you gain more weight than where you started?
There are quite a bit of changes that occur, but in terms of fat cell morphology, there are specific changes. Your body starts with a certain number and size of fat cells. When you lose weight, those fat cells shrink. It is quite difficult to lose the number of fat cells that you have – unless you get liposuction! However, if you are consistently resistance training, a small portion of these fat cells may morph into a different type of fat cell that is highly metabolic! Great news! When you gain the weight back, those fat cells grow back to their original size.
However, fat cells only have a certain capacity. I like to think of this relationship like getting an Uber cab ride with your friends. Let’s say you have 6 people (including yourself). The Uber that you get only has room for 4 people. So, what do you ultimately have to do??? GET ANOTHER UBER! This happens with fat cells, as well. Once a fat cell has reached capacity, your body thinks that you need more storage, so you begin to grow MORE fat cells.
The bad news here is that these new fat cells means that your body has an even GREATER capacity to store fat. Which is a large part of the reason for the upward trajectory in weight regain. You continue to gain more weight and fat with every cycle because you have a greater CAPACITY to do so with an increase in number of fat cells.
So, what can you do to prevent all of this?
1. Stay consistent, but within reason:
Adopt exercise and nutrition habits NOW that you can see yourself doing in 5 years. This means that they are sustainable! Also, try your best not to go into a drastic Caloric deficit. Anything greater than a 500 Calorie per day restriction, and you will likely see the negative metabolic implications of a restricted diet.
2. Pump some iron!:
Weight training is great to increase muscle mass and jack up your metabolism. That is pretty well known. But like previously mentioned, it may also help convert some of that fat (white adipose) into more metabolic fat (brown adipose). Not to mention, weight training gives you a great physique to show off!
3. Turn those weight-loss challenges into a lifetime change:
No need for conversation here. #dropsmic