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Biology – The other half of the weight loss battle

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Biology – The other half of the weight loss battle

Dr. Soujanya

Not able to see the scales tipping towards your goal weight? Sticking to your schedule, but not seeing results? Do not feel discouraged. It’s not your fault. It is not that your willpower is lacking. There is a lot more going on underneath, beyond what you can perceive on a daily level.

Research done over the past 70 years has revealed that obesity is a complex disease. It cannot be attributed to just poor self-control or lack of willpower. 

At the most basic level, excess calories consumed over calories burned causes obesity.1 However, the interlinking between genetics, metabolic rate, hormones, diet, physical exercise is what makes obesity a complicated phenomenon.1-4

Explained below are a few biological factors that will influence your weight loss journey, along with how to work with them.


Let us start with your natural make- up, your genetics. Obesity in some people may be an inherited trait. Genetic research shows that there is an 80% chance of the child being obese when both the parents are obese, however, this likelihood falls to 10% in cases of one parent being obese

Another genetically determined component is resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is simply the rate at which your body burns energy when it is at complete rest. That’s right, your body burns energy even when you are not doing anything at all. This rate of energy-burning while at rest differs from person to person. Low RMR is associated with obesity.This is partly the reason why formerly obese individuals have increased susceptibility to weight gain.4 


Hormones are also a major factor that affect your body weight. What really happens is the body assesses the amount of energy stored, the number of calories in the diet, the amount of energy used, then adjusts the corresponding hormone levels. A malfunction in any of the above mechanisms leads to a mismatch in the energy required by the body. This is called secondary obesity.

There are also other hormones that are naturally present in the body. One such hormone is called leptin. You may wonder, what is leptin? and why is it so important? Leptin is a hormone produced from fatty tissue and leptin levels are significant because they have been known to regulate body weight. The levels of this hormone have a strong relationship with your body mass index.2,5


Satiety Signals

When it comes to the amount you eat, this is also largely under the control of the nervous system. The duration since your last meal and the status of fat stores in the body sends signals to your brain on when to stop your meal. When energy stores are low, these ‘satiety signals’, which are the signals that tell your brain that you are full and should stop eating — are less capable and lead to a larger meal size. This internal cycle is important to help maintain constant energy reserves. Any abnormality in this cycle may be a natural cause of obesity.

Conventional therapies such as lifestyle modification (diet and exercise), medication, various bariatric treatment options are available to help drop the weight. However, to understand the factors specific to you and determine the right way to move forward, it is best to seek the advice of an obesity specialist. Speak to a weight loss specialist to understand how you can manage your weight better.



  1. Purnell JQ. Definitions, Classification, and Epidemiology of Obesity. [Updated 2018 Apr 12]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279167/
  2. Schwartz MW, Seeley RJ, Zeltser LM, Drewnowski A, Ravussin E, Redman LM, et al. Obesity Pathogenesis: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocr Rev. 2017 Aug 1;38(4):267-296.
  3. Karam J, McFarlane S. Secondary causes of obesity. Therapy. 2007;4(5):641-650.
  4. Gadde KM, Martin CK, Berthoud HR, Heymsfield SB. Obesity: Pathophysiology and Management. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 Jan 2;71(1):69-84.
  5. Astrup A, Gøtzsche PC, van de Werken K, Ranneries C, Toubro S, Raben A, et al. Meta-analysis of resting metabolic rate in formerly obese subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jun;69(6):1117-22.
  6. Considine RV, Sinha MK, Heiman ML, Kriauciunas A, Stephens TW, Nyce MR, et al. Serum immunoreactive-leptin concentrations in normal-weight and obese humans. N Engl J Med. 1996 Feb 1;334(5):292-5.

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