Tuesday, 30 January 2018 13:44

Why Losing Weight is Hard Featured

Why Losing Weight is Hard

Obesity is the major chronic health problem facing Australia. From it many other medical conditions can arise including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and many cancers. Included amongst these is the unhappiness and despair it can cause amongst those who are overweight.

With a multitude of diets promising to help weight loss, a plethora of lifestyle experts and public health campaigns exhorting us to lose weight, an ever expanding fitness industry and multiple websites claiming to have the answers; why do almost all overweight people struggle to lose weight and except in rare circumstances fail to sustain a healthy weight?

Medical science is steadily unearthing the complexity of this problem. The view that it is just related to calories in and calories out and if you can’t achieve weight loss then somehow you are to blame for not trying hard enough is both insulting, demoralising and shown by science to be a gross and unhelpful simplification of the entire issue.

Of course behavioural, psychological and environmental factors have a major role in influencing our growing obesity problem. As a society we have been focussing on changing these for many years but spectacularly failing in the process. Although tackling these is important, research is steadily showing that we are battling our own physiology when we try to lose weight and then trying to keep it off.

It appears that the body has mechanisms that establish a set weight, which tends to be the highest weight we have sustained for a given length of time. It then, through complex hormonal and neurological means, defends this weight. Even when significant weight is deliberately lost these physiological processes can still be operating a year after the weight loss pushing our weight back to the original set point.

We now know there are hormones released from the hypothalamus of our brains, the pancreas, the intestinal wall and fat itself that can stimulate or suppress appetite depending on the circumstance. In addition they also can reduce metabolic rate in response to weight loss and also influence the reward system of our brain in response to eating.

How these systems operate in each of our bodies is influenced by genetics, our early life eating patterns and childhood weight.

Surgical techniques such as gastric bypass operations, in part, are successful because they disrupt some of the means the body is using to maintain an unhealthy weight. The hope is that with a better knowledge of the science of obesity, medications can be developed that effectively help people to lose weight and sustain this long term. Although there are some weight loss medications available at present, they are expensive, only marginally effective and not generally used long term.

Although this information and the statistics of weight loss show that the odds are stacked against us to effectively lose weight; having realistic expectations when trying for weight loss can help reduce the disappointment, frustration and recriminations that follow failure. It allows us to focus on the process of trying to lose weight (rather than the difficult goal) and congratulating and rewarding ourselves for exercising and eating well. Even though the weight might not change, you deserve praise for the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.