“Why do I gain so fast and lose so slow?”
I get that question all the time. Frustrated folks looking to lose some weight and hoping to improve their health express their wish that they could lose weight as quickly as they gain it.
There’s a standard reply to that question, but it’s not really a scientifically sound explanation, nor does it satisfy most people frustrated by their slow weight loss progress. Maybe you’ve said it yourself, or somebody has said it to you.
“You didn’t gain it overnight and you can’t expect to lose it overnight.”
Is that supposed to make you feel better? I don’t think it’s an adequate answer; it’s a platitude. It’s a quick and easy explanation that isn’t worth the effort it takes to mutter it. Here is the real reason why weight gain is fast and weight loss is slow.
First, we must understand what happens when you lose weight.
Your fat cells shrink. You don’t actually lose them. In fact, you have on average between 10 to 30 billion fat cells. The amount of fat cells you have was set during adolescence and levels off into adulthood. If you were very overweight as a child, you will have twice as many fat cells as another adult who wasn’t an overweight child.
So losing weight isn’t losing fat cells. It’s shrinking them, but they don’t burn up and go away. They stick around looking for their chance to return to their lovely full state or grow even larger. It’s theorized that those fat cells think its their duty to plump up again and that the body thinks it’s necessary for survival.
Your body isn’t aware that you lost weight as a direct result of your efforts to do so.
The body thinks its survival has been threatened by disapearing food sources. When food once again becomes available (you stop trying to lose weight and go back to former eating and exercising habits) it tries to get back to what it considers its normal state. It’s trying to take action to save your (and its) life.
It’s more than just a matter of hungry fat cells. Your body adjusted to what it thought was a famine by becoming more efficient with its use of fuel. It is burning fewer calories at rest, so it’s now become easier to create a calorie excess which goes directly into refilling those fat cells.
Gary Foster, Ph. D., is the Chief Scientific Officer at Weight Watchers International. Years before he joined the Weight Watchers team he was the director of the Center of Obesity Research and Education at Temple University.
Even on a sensible diet, your body sheds pounds reluctantly. “One reason it’s difficult to keep weight off is because there is a metabolic overcompensation for weight loss,” says Gary Foster, Ph.D. “If you decrease your body mass by 10 percent, you would expect your metabolic rate to decrease by 10 percent, but it actually slows down more than that, by about 11 to 15 percent.”
That means, as you probably already know, you have to work hard to lose weight. It’s hard work and it’s not fun. In fact, it’s the opposite of fun; it feels more like punishment. Gaining weight, however, doesn’t take work, especially when we’re conditioned to be hypereaters.
The reward circuits in the brains of people who are “conditioned hypereaters” were excessively activated simply by the smell of food and stayed that way until those people finished eating whatever was on the plate in front of them. The important word is conditioned.
David Kessler, M.D., is the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner. He and his team of researchers at the University of California at San Francisco and Yale University researched weight cycling. Kessler says overeating may not be your fault.
According to Kessler and his research team some people have overactive neural circuitry or a drive to clean the plate and the more palatable the food, the stronger the drive. It’s less about willpower and more about the hold conditioning has over an individual. It’s biological, not genetic, and difficult to resist. Kessler estimates that 50 percent of obese people and 30 percent of overweight people are conditioned hypereaters.
Yes, it’s true that you lose more slowly than you gain weight.
Your body fights your weight loss efforts and throws its full support into helping you gain weight. That might lead you to ask, “why bother to lose weight when my body fights it?” The answer is personal. If your weight is getting in the way of doing the things you love or making you sick, it’s worth it.
If your weight is the result of unhealthy habits, work on making changes to your habits to make them healthier. This will result in weight loss, and more importantly, help you to learn skills that are necessary to maintain your lower and healthier weight.