Losing Weight, is it really that hard?!?

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine done by a group of Australian researchers says “YES!”

The basis for this conclusion comes from the changes in hormones that occurred after a 10% weight loss that did not return to normal after even a year on a maintenance diet. This was a small study on obese participants with some imperfections but it shows a new side to why people rebound and gain back part of their initial weight loss.

After the initial weight loss, decreases were seen in leptin, peptide YY, cholecystokinin, insulin, and amylin, all of which play either a large or small role in appetite control and suppression. Since the levels decreased after weight loss, but did not come back up to normal, the study participants were left feeling hungrier on their maintenance diets even though their body was provided with sufficient calories. Also levels of ghrelin, gastric inhibitory polypeptide, and pancreatic polypeptide were increased and never corrected with time. Ghrelin is especially significant here because it acts to increase appetite and prepare the digestive system for food consumption. Again, a link that shows increased appetite with weight loss that does not correct itself after a year.


Sound pretty depressing? Why even try to lose weight? For starters, this was a study on obese individuals, not someone with only a small amount to lose. Adipose tissue (aka fat) is an active participant in metabolism and appetite control by playing a role in the production and regulation of some hormones, including a few listed in the study. Why does this matter? When the body stores fat, it first fills up the fat cells(adipocytes) it already has to a critical size, this is known as hypertrophic growth. Once this critical size is reached, pre-cursor cells are stimulated to divide and multiply, thus increasing the number of adipocytes an individual has, known as hyperplastic growth. These new adipocytes never go away, they can only be emptied or filled. So, an obese individual potentially has more adipocytes than someone who is only moderately overweight. This difference may not seem like much, but it should be clear that the more adipocytes you have the more potential you have for a warped metabolism and appetite. This could potentially have a link into why the hormonal changes did not revert to normal conditions.  Also, the weight loss was achieved over a relatively short period of time with severe calorie restriction. I don’t believe that accurately reflects a normal individual’s diet and weight loss. And there was no exercise component included, when exercise also plays a role in metabolism and appetite control.

Ok, so if you only have a small to moderate amount to lose, hope is returning but what if you are obese? I think one of the most important conclusions to take from this study is to realize how changes in your hormone levels are effecting you. The level of hormones did not stay exactly the same as they were after the initial weight loss, they did improve to some extent just not back to normal. Also, this was only a year after initial weight loss, but keep in mind it took more than a year to gain the weight and it will take more than a year to lose and maintain it at comfortable levels. However, it comes down to trusting the process. This study gives evidence to why you may still feel hungry or dissatisfied even while following a reasonable diet, it’s not the diet, it’s your metabolism that is still confused.


Either way, this is yet another great reason to reduce the chemicals and processed crap in your diet and lifestyle, as much as possible, because they too wreak havoc on your endocrine system. A few tips to do this are:

  • Make as much as possible from scratch at home so you control the ingredients
  • Eat whole real foods not low-cal low-fat low-sugar aka highly-processed diet food substances
  • Go organic as much as possible, especially where it counts
  • Rethink what you view as “healthy”, meaning consider with scrutiny a product that the food industry has tried to portray as healthier than the real thing. For example, “Eggbeaters” are not as healthy as an actual egg. So, don’t try to re-do God’s own recipes, people mess it up every time.
  • Reconsider cleaning products with a “do not ingest” warning label- trust me there are safer and cheaper alternatives out there, google it!
      I hope this study  does not discourage people from changing their lifestyle and habits or encourage doctors and pharmaceutical companies that more medication and supplementation is needed. I truly believe an even longer study needs to be done, and that both obese individuals and overweight individuals should be included.
My questions would be “What if the weight loss was achieved more gradually, thus allowing the body time to adjust?”, “What about the consideration of exercise? How does this effect the metabolism during and after weight loss?”, “What about the participants overall nutritional status? On such a low calorie diet, it’s hard to meet all your nutritional needs and therefore the body could be asking for more food in an attempt to fill in the gaps”, and “What about a whole food, low chemical diet vs one loaded with the “diet” food substances so many turn to for weight loss?”
What are your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Losing Weight, is it really that hard?!?

  1. Wow, this is pretty discouraging. I’ve been trying to lose the same 10 pounds for years now. If I just do my usual exercise, I can eat pretty much whatever I want, but I stay exactly the same. In order to lose any weight, I have to really step it up. This summer I stepped up my biking to 100 miles a week, about 8+ hours of cardio exercise, and was able to lose 5 whopping pounds. Then, when I found that too hard to maintain, and went back to biking only a measly 50-75 miles a week, the 5 pounds came right back. It’s starting to feel pretty hopeless, yet every year I say “this is the year to lose that 10 #…” It will be interesting to see what others have to say on this.

    • It can seem depressing at face value but this study was done on obese individuals who went on an extreme diet (500kcals per day) to lose 10% of their weight within a month and then a maintenance diet for a year. Thats a completely different weight loss than the last ten “vanity” pounds. Right now you’re healthy and your body is happy where it’s at so it doesn’t see a reason to shed those last ten pounds. The problem that you are facing is different from the weight loss dilemma that the study was addressing. Creating huge deficits will only cause your body to hang on to fat and destroy muscle for energy for fear of famine. Losing the last ten to twenty vanity pounds is a hard precise process which requires small calorie deficits, strength training, and cardio workouts. Check out Jillian Michael’s book “Making the Cut” for more of the science behind it and a game plan for losing them.

  2. grannydog says:

    I’m not an over-eater, nor do I snack on chips or the like, don’t even like soda pop, but menopause was the beginning of my metabolic nightmare. Of course, my activities waned as my work load increased to 70 hours/week (I’m reaching for excuses here). Recently, however, I have lost 10 pounds but cutting out bad carbs and concentrating on good carbs, balanced with protein. The 10 pounds have stayed off, but I’m not losing any more… this study is depressing.

    • The study was not addressing whether the participants would continue to lose, only addressing whether their metabolisms recognized they were being given adequate calories on the maintenance diet and thus their appetites should have been satisfied. However, their subjective appetites were said to be stronger than before they lost the weight and the hormone levels backed up that observation. If you’re stuck at a weight loss plateau go back through and reevaluate how many calories you are eating in a day vs how many you are burning, and change up your workouts. I know one of the best ways to try to stoke a metabolism in menopause or past it is strength training. The more muscle you build, the higher your metabolic rate, just be sure you’re eating enough calories and protein to help build that muscle. Stay positive!

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