Losing weight is certainly not as tough as keeping it off and those who have been on a weight-loss journey know this too well. The longer you keep it off, the better the chances that it stays off. But it takes more than just a diet to keep your weight off. A good weight-loss programme must be combined with behaviour modification for long-term success.
One without the other is unlikely to succeed. But regaining lost weight goes beyond just going back to old eating habits. As you drop weight, the body triggers mechanisms which encourage weight regain. There are several reasons why dieters can’t keep their weight off.
Many studies have shown that when overweight or obese people lose weight, their bodies respond vigorously by undergoing changes in hormones, which affect hunger and satiety. Several compensatory mechanisms favour weight regain.
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells, which regulates appetite, i.e. it tells you when to stop eating. When the body loses fat cells, levels of leptin hormone decrease. Lowered leptin levels trigger hunger and makes it harder for an individual to sustain with lesser food.
Leptin levels can fall by as much as 65-70 per cent. Further, researchers found that these hormonal changes persist and may even become permanent. Other appetite regulating hormones including Ghrelin and Peptide YY also alter in a way that favours weight gain, by increasing hunger and the urge to eat.
There may be several other complex mechanisms and hormonal changes because of which regaining lost weight is a strong possibility. The nature of the diet followed also makes a difference. Following fad diets or going back and forth on diets also triggers the rebound effect. Yo-yo dieting lowers metabolism by 5-10 per cent, favouring easy regain of weight.
Then there is the issue of behaviour, also referred to as changing habits. Without a permanent change in usual and unhealthy patterns of eating and living, it is highly unlikely that weight loss will stick. For example, the benefits of having an early dinner will last only until you follow the practice, and if you go back to eating late, the weight will surely creep up. Changing a habit is not that easy, particularly if not supported by family and friends.
Therefore, what we know is that the maintenance phase of a diet programme is the most difficult one. Its importance and management must therefore be clearly emphasised in the backdrop of our altered biology. So, those who regain weight must not feel guilty about their failed will power and challenging food environment. What needs to be understood is that the efforts and habits to lose weight must be kept up consistently and monitored even after you have lost weight.
More importantly, remember that going back and forth on diets is a recipe for becoming permanently obese. So stay vigilant and work hard to reap the benefits of your efforts. In other words, the battle of the bulge is never over.