Well done to all you amazing people out there who were overweight and then managed to diet and loose a few pounds and are now a healthy weight! Your reward is that you now have to keep dieting for the rest of your life. You’re welcome.
Bit of a blow isn’t it? You assume that after you have put in so much hard work for months and months, even years for some people, that once the agonising slog of loosing pound after pound is over, you can go back to a normal-ish diet (obviously not the one you were on before) and not have to worry so much. In reality this unfortunately isn’t the case.
After undergoing a major diet where you loose more than 10% of your body weight, studies have shown that this effects various hormone levels including leptin (the satiety hormone) and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) semi-permanently into a hunger-inducing state (reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin). Other gastrointestinal hormones were also altered in a way that encouraged the body to want more food and hold on to fat stores. Levels were shown to still be altered after a year of loosing weight and no further testing was done to check whether levels went back to normal after a few years.
So the bad news is that anyone who’s undergone a major diet will have to keep dieting for the rest of their lives. In this altered metabolic state, you will now have to eat less food to maintain a healthy weight than others who were never overweight. Treats are by no means off the table, but rigorously keeping your diet in check and your cravings under control is now a necessary part of your life.
The good news (to end this article on a happier note) is that lots of studies have shown that a calorie-restricted diet (although still in the healthy range) reduces mortality (equals living a longer life) and the onset of some chronic diseases. So the trade off of having to constantly watch what you’re eating to maintain a weight that others maintain effortlessly, is that chances are you will actually be a lot healthier than the people around you and live a longer, happier life!
On a more personal note…
The reason this came up in my general trawling through scientific articles is because I was feeling very frustrated the other day about my never-ending struggle to keep weight off. Throughout my teenage years I yo-yo dieted dramatically, and then got pretty fat around the age 18, then gradually lost over 3 stones (around 20kg) which took me a year or so. Since then I’ve battled to keep my weight in the normal range (not that it’s EVER normal according to BMI, I will forever be overweight on that ridiculous scale) and sometimes it just gets me down to think how much I struggle to maintain something (badly) others manage easily and naturally.
I do everything right: I’m active and fit as I exercise regularly, I rarely treat myself (but do sometimes, I admit), I’m very nutritionally aware and enjoy cooking wholesome healthy meals, and I’m vegan. It’s pretty hard to be unhealthy when you’re a conscientious vegan. I guess I just felt like a bit of a victim to my genetics and my past and was feeling a little hopeless.
But surprisingly, reading that actually yes, it IS harder for people who have lost a lot of weight to keep it off; and that yes, it DOES mean that you have to eat less than other people who’ve never been overweight; and yes, you WILL have to maintain this altered energy-intake for pretty much the rest of your life… has given me a new lease of motivation. This is my opportunity to spend less on food! Waste less time cooking! Worry less about meal planning and making pack lunches! Spend less time in the supermarket!
Once I came to terms with all of this, I started to feel much more positive about my diet and lifestyle going forward. I came up with an eating schedule that suits me and allows me to feel fulfilled and not deprived, and decided that I needed to stop striving to loose weight, and start striving to maintain it. For every pound that I don’t gain each week, THAT is my SUCCESS, and that is worth celebrating.
I hope this article reaches someone who needs to hear this information.
I chose this particular picture to make the point that food doesn’t have to become the enemy. I think in order to embrace this new way of balanced life, you need to make friends with food and strike up a relationship where you choose the best bits and leave the not-so-good bits, and feel really lucky that you are able to eat such a wonderfully healthy diet. Many people are not so lucky. My love of cooking definitely helps me here, and I think it would help a lot of people who are embarking down this path. Being nutritionally aware means that I love knowing exactly what’s in my food and how it’s good for me, and this helps me maintain a healthy diet because I really enjoy it. For all of you who want to learn more about nutrition, google (or ecosia) ‘benefits of eating ………….’ when you want to know why something on your plate is good for you, and you’ll build up a wealth of knowledge about different food groups. I always google ‘why eating …….. is bad for you’ at the same time just to make sure I’m getting both sides of the story.