Is Your Diet Making You Fat?

I often write about the negative effects of chronic calorie depravation and “quick fix” weight loss. I explain how this alters your metabolism and makes it very difficult for your body to regulate fat storage/loss in the future. I give plenty of modern day examples of programs that post thousands of before/after progress photos and refer to “eating less and exercising more” as the method to success. I’d like to offer my own take on this before/after progress and provide you with some real life perspective in regards to what actually happens to your body after these “astounding body transformations” occur.

Below you will find exerts from a 2015 study published in the journal Obesity. This study examined contestants 6 years after having appeared on season 8 of the reality TV show The Biggest Loser. The researchers took a number of measurements — bodyweight, fat, metabolism, hormones — at both the end of the 30-week competition and again in 2015.

For years, researchers have been documenting a phenomenon called “metabolic adaptation” or “adaptive thermogenesis”. This is the term used to define people who lose large sums of weight quickly, and their basal metabolic rate (BMR – the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest) actually slows down to a much greater degree than would be expected from the weight they lost.

Below is a chart that demonstrates the weight lost by contestants at the 30 week point in the competition and then gained 6 years later. Though all the contestants lost dozens of pounds through diet and exercise at the end of the show, six years later, their waistlines had largely rebounded. Thirteen of the 14 contestants in the study put a significant amount of weight back on, and four contestants are even heavier today compared with before they went on the show.

One of the most interesting findings, however, was that their metabolisms at the end of the 30 week competition were burning 500 fewers calories (about a meals worth) each day than would be expected given their new current weight. This effect was STILL PRESENT 6 years later despite the fact that most contestants had slowly regained most of the weight they lost.

This occurrence can be explained as body’s way of vigorously defending a certain weight range, called the set point.

Once you gain weight, and keep that weight on for a period of time, the body gets used to its new, larger size. When that weight drops, a bunch of subtle changes kick in — to the hormone levels, the brain — slowing the resting metabolism, and having the effect of increasing hunger and decreasing satiety from food, all in a seeming conspiracy to get the body back up to that set point weight.

In the Biggest Loser study, for example, the researchers found each participant experienced significant reductions in the hormone leptin in their bloodstreams. Leptin is one of the key hormones that regulate hunger in the body. By the end of the Biggest Loser competition, the contestants had almost entirely drained their leptin levels, leaving them hungry all the time. At the six-year mark, their leptin levels rebounded — but only to about 60 percent of their original levels before going on the show. That’s only a 10% increase per year!

Weight gain and loss are not symmetrical: The body fights much more strongly to keep weight from dropping than it does to keep weight from increasing. This is due to thousands of years of survival tactics that the body has developed when food was scarce and meals we not available 3 times a day as they are now.

So if you’re looking to lose weight, even if its five pounds, patience is key. You need to slowly ease your body into the new weight and not drastically starve it and run yourself mad on the treadmill. This will not be doing you any favors any time soon.

I’d love to see some 6 year (or even 2 year) before/after progress photos from some of these ridiculous 12 week programs I see bouncing around on my social media home feed, but of course, we are an instantly gratified population and what works TODAY – not 5 years from now, will unfortunately always get the glamour.

To this point, I’d like to make quick reference to an exert from the old, wise tale of The Tortoise and The Hare;

THE HARE was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”

 The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”

 “That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”

“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race. Then said the Tortoise:

“PLODDING WINS THE RACE.”

Melanie Corlett