When we talk about obesity treatment, the health benefits gained from it depend upon losing weight and maintaining it. Many people with obesity have a high risk of regaining the lost weight after hitting their ideal number.
Whether you lose weight quickly or slowly, most people regain lost weight after some time. The crucial thing to remember is that if you can lose it once, you can lose it again.
If you have recently regained weight after losing it, this blog can help you. It covers some essential pointers on the science behind weight regain and how you can prevent it.
Weight Regain After Weight Loss
Many health professionals or obesity experts suggest weight loss as the primary and effective treatment for obesity. People with obesity try a combination of diet and exercise to lose weight and reach a normal BMI. Losing weight helps prevent future health complications like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, strokes, infertility, etc.
Weight loss interventions do result in rapid weight loss, but may also be frequently followed by a regain.1 Once a specific amount of weight is lost, regaining it can be expected. People regain about 1/3rd to 2/3rds of lost weight in a year and all of it within five years.
During weight loss, diet and exercise can affect your body to result in weight regain after you lose it. There are biological changes that occur in your body due to weight loss, which might lead to weight regain.
Let’s learn about how and why people with obesity regain the lost weight.
What Results in Weight Regain?
During the weight-loss period, the physiological changes in the body make you lose weight rapidly for some time, stop at some moment followed by progressive weight regain.2 As you lose more weight, specific biological changes take place in the body that stops and even oppose further weight loss.
When you try to lose weight, your body tries to gain back all of it. Your body gets confused between intentional weight loss and acute insufficiency. It goes into a protective mode and tries its best to save whatever calories/energy is stored within. So in effect, the new appetite changes lower your metabolism and increase hunger to preserve stored fat.
So while your body now spends fewer calories to maintain the energy; it craves additional calories as there is an increasing requirement due to an increase in appetite. One study shows that with each kg lost, the energy expenditure reduces by 20–30 kcal/d, whereas appetite increases by 100 kcal/d.3
The effect of weight loss on appetite is three-times than the drop in metabolism. However, a combination of both makes it inevitable that a person gains weight after they have lost it. During weight loss, there is a reduction in the body’s ability to burn calories during resting, resulting in weight gain.
Similarly, when you try to lose weight by eating less, the hormone leptin (that makes you feel full) decreases and the hunger hormone ghrelin increases. It is why the feeling of hunger remains increased after a regular meal and you tend to intake more calories.
A combination of all these factors increases your food intake, reduces your energy expenditure and makes you gain weight again. At this point, it is crucial to maintain your weight to prevent regaining it.
When it comes to maintaining weight, we cannot control some factors like genes but can control other factors like food choices, environmental setting and the like. But, what makes it challenging to keep the lost weight at bay?
What makes it difficult to lose weight and maintain it?
Out of other default factors, an obesogenic environment is the most common factor that makes weight loss difficult.
The prevalence of obesity has risen because of the industrialization of food systems.4 There is an increased production of cheap, calorie-dense food high in fat and carbohydrates.
Such modern food options are high in calories and low in nutritional content. Additionally, such food items are cheap, giving an option to people to skip cooking meals at home and eat at restaurants instead. Also, ordering food is as simple as a click of a button
Similarly, the social environments encourage sedentarism and so do our lifestyle choices. All these in combination drive individuals towards increased food intake and reduced energy expenditure, resulting in weight gain or regain.
To maintain lost weight and keep it off, you need to work on willpower. Most weight-regain science is based on self-control, controlling energy intake and working on energy expenditure.
How to maintain lost weight and keep it off?
Here is our take on a few things that can help you maintain your weight once you lose it. This includes:
- Avoid restricting diets as they are not sustainable in the long run. According to the body’s mechanism, it craves something that is restricted. It might affect your food intake and end your diet.
- Avoid strict exercise programs that ramp up from little or no exercise to heavy workouts in a short period of time. No doubt, it can help in initial weight loss, but it becomes hard to maintain a routine after a certain point in time and could even lead to injuries.
- Even if you have lost significant weight, try to stay active by doing some activity daily. Sedentary behaviours result in slow metabolism that can affect your weight in many ways.
- If you decide to end a diet and shift back to a regular eating routine, try to make healthy eating choices to stay fit. Avoid junk food or processed food as much as you can.
- Even after losing weight and reaching a normal BMI, try to stick to a physical routine. It helps in burning calories in the long run that prevents weight gain.
In conclusion, weight loss or maintenance is safe and healthy only if one makes long-term plans. Small lifestyle interventions can help you lose weight and keep it off.
If you are dealing with obesity, consult an expert to work with you to manage your weight best.
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- Hall KD et al, Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183-197.
- Franz MJ et al, Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(10):1755–1767.
- Polidori D et al, How Strongly Does Appetite Counter Weight Loss? Quantification of the Feedback Control of Human Energy Intake. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016;24(11):2289–2295.
- Stuckler D et al, Manufacturing epidemics: the role of global producers in increased consumption of unhealthy commodities including processed foods, alcohol, and tobacco. PLoS medicine. 2012;9(6):e1001235.
- Mann, T. Why do dieters regain weight? Psychological Science Agenda. http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2018/05/calorie-deprivation, (2018, May).