I recently gained almost 10 pounds in two weeks. It had taken me twice as long to lose those 10 pounds. Why? Why is it so much easier to gain weight than lose it? Why does it seem like we work and work and work to lose a pound, but gain four pounds in one night after eating out at our favorite Mexican restaurant?
The answer is: it’s complicated.
A few years ago, the New York Times reported on a study of some of the contestants on the popular weight loss show, The Biggest Loser. Many of them had gained back the weight they so arduously and publicly lost, and in many cases, gained even more. The reason? Metabolism, or more specifically, resting metabolism. These people, like many of us who are 100 pounds or more overweight, had been heavy most, if not all, their lives. Their bodies, like ours, had a resting metabolism pre-programmed for a very large individual. And when that very large individual no longer existed, the body quickly went into “starvation” mode, slowing metabolism and making it nearly impossible to keep the weight off.
A follow-up article about a year later profiled a contestant who had successfully kept the weight off and had become an obesity specialist. She was also the lead author of the aforementioned study. Her own experience matched what the study found.
“Dr. Jennifer Kerns, a contestant in Season 3 of the show, said she has managed to keep off 100 pounds only by tracking everything she eats and by exercising on an elliptical cross-trainer for 35 to 40 minutes a day. In addition, her job requires her to walk around the hospital seeing patients.”
It’s easy to lose hope in the face of this bad news. Believe me, I’ve often thought to myself, “what’s the point?” When your body seems pre-programmed and fights like crazy to keep you fat, what’s the point?
Well, it is possible to work toward resetting your metabolism. It is also possible to adopt changes to your diet and exercise regimen to accommodate for the extra you will have to do to maintain weight loss. And, in my opinion and experience, that’s the key right there.
It’s going to take time and effort – for the rest of your life.
During more than one of the three million times I’ve been on a diet in 43 years, someone would usually tell me, “You didn’t gain it in a week, so you ain’t gonna lose it in a week!” Well meaning…but I still wanted to slap them.
All sorts of things take time when trying to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off. It takes time to think about the food you’re buying, the meals you’re preparing, the amount of exercise you’re doing each day. It all takes time.
But it’s time well invested.
Think about it this way. At a core level, we all choose where and how we invest our time. For years, I chose to invest my non-working time in restaurants, in front of the couch, or doing things that required absolutely no movement whatsoever. These things brought fleeting moments of enjoyment. But I knew that if I was going to survive and truly enjoy life – for a long time – I was going to have to invest my time in healthy activities. And, I was going to have to come to terms with the fact that I would likely have to invest more time in those activities than someone who had never been extremely overweight.
These realities are difficult, but there is reason for hope. The study did find it’s possible to maintain a large weight loss. It may take a lot of time and effort, but YOU are worth that time and effort. One of my mottos, trite as it may seem, is “never give up.” Setbacks will happen, life will throw some curveballs, but there is always hope – hope for a better and healthier future.