Losing weight is probably one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. This is attested to by the spike in gym memberships seen every January.
While some people successfully follow through on their pledge to lose the extra pounds, most of us seem to fail to win the endless battle against our bulging waist and hips.
We try and try to lose weight, and we may for a little while, but something happens, and we gain it right back.
If this has happened to you, and it probably has if you ever dieted, you’re not alone. In fact, 80 -90% of people who diet and lose weight eventually regain it.
However, there are several strategies you can use to win this battle. For instance, a recently released scientific study has shown that increasing the amount of protein in your diet can help you in your fight against regaining the weight you’ve lost
In this post, I’ll take a look at why we tend to regain weight when dieting. This insight will give us some good clues on how to craft a winning diet loss strategy.
The Biggest Problem With Dieting
You know how it goes: you enthusiastically begin the new year by promising that this will be the year that you definitely lose those horrible pounds that have been plaguing you for years.
You start out on your mission like a disciplined warrior. Meticulously, you watch your calorie intake. You agonizingly refuse to indulge in mouth-watering desserts and avoid anything that would destroy your daily calorie ceiling. Perhaps you even go so far as to drink your coffee black. No Smoked Butterscotch Frappuccinos for you.
And then you exercise. You toil and sweat knowing that you’re burning off calories, right?
Amazingly, those extra 10 or more pounds disappear. Your efforts were rewarded. You did it. Congratulations, mission accomplished.
But, then, as the months wear on, something nasty happens. Little by little the weight gradually returns. In disgust, you lament, “This diet plan just doesn’t work for me.”
By December, you’re ready to make the resolution all over again.
What in blazes happened?
The Biggest Loser Fails
Remember that TV show The Biggest Loser from a few years back? The theme was to put 16 extremely obese people through a 30-week intensive diet and exercise program. The individual who lost the most weight would be the winner.
In reality, any time someone who is extremely obese loses a lot of weight they’re a winner.
Unfortunately, though, this story had a sad outcome. After the competition, most of the participants gained back most of the weight they lost, and some were even heavier than when they started.
What happened? Did all of the individuals just pig out after the competition and let themselves go back to their previous lifestyles?
That would seem like the simple answer, but it would be wrong!
Scientific Study On the “Biggest Losers”
Following the 2009 Biggest Losers competition, diet researchers saw a unique opportunity to examine the long term effects of significant weight loss.
Following the end of the 30-week competition, they measured the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and body composition of the competitors.
RMR is the rate that an individual burns calories at rest. They’re expending energy but only on essential things like breathing, circulating blood, digesting, or basic brain functions, etc.
Body composition was how much they weighed.
Researchers then remeasured these parameters six years after the competition.
After completing their study, the researchers discovered an important clue as to why individuals are generally unsuccessful at keeping the weight off during dieting.
The Expected Finding
At the beginning of the competition, the participants, though obese, had resting metabolisms that were normal for their size. In other words, their calorie expenditure was normal for their weight.
However, when the competition ended, their resting metabolism had slowed down considerably. This made sense to the researchers.
The competitors had in essence starved their bodies. It was already known that during severe calorie restriction, for example during starvation, the body will lower metabolism to preserve calories.
This was shown in an experiment performed in 1995.
Resting Metabolic Rate Slows Down In Response To Weight Loss
In 1995, Dr. Rudolph Leibel performed an experiment to illustrate a key physiologic response associated with weight loss.
He took 41 individuals and increased their caloric intake so that their body weight increased by 10%. Then he allowed them to return to their normal weight.
He then reduced their caloric intake so that they lost 10%. Then he reduced it even more so that they lost 20% of their normal weight.
At each point, he measured the individual’s BMR.
Leibel discovered that at the 10% weight gain, the body burns about 500 calories more per day compared to baseline. After 10% and 20% weight loss, the body burns about 300 calories less per day.
This demonstrated that when a person loses weight their metabolism will indeed slow down to compensate for the weight loss.
So it was no surprise when this happened to the “Biggest Losers”.
What they didn’t expect was what happened years after the competition.
The Unexpected Result
After six years, researchers discovered that the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of the contestants “remained suppressed at the same average level as at the end of the weight loss competition.”
They also reported that
Mean RMR after 6 years was ∼500 kcal/day lower than expected based on the measured body composition changes and the increased age of the subjects.
For most of the competitors, as their weight climbed, their RMR never recovered. For some, it became even slower.
One of them was Mike Cahill, the winner of the competition. After six years, he exhibited the worst RMR recovery.
As he regained more than 100 pounds, his metabolism slowed so much that, just to maintain his then current weight of 295 pounds, he had to eat 800 calories a day, less than a typical man his size. Anything more he said, “turned to fat”.
Though Leibel, in his 1995 study, didn’t examine the permanence of the changes in rates of energy expenditure, he did expect that the reduced RMR in individuals with weight loss might be persistent.
He noted that,
A reduced level of energy expenditure has been reported to persist in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight for periods ranging from six months to more than four years.
Dr. Michael Schwartz, an obesity and diabetes researcher at the University of Washington, gives us insight into how this affected the “Biggest Losers”.
The key point is that… you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality. As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.
Did you catch that?
If you diet and lose weight, your body will fight to get back to the weight you started at. One way it does that is by lowering your RMR.
Wow, what’s up with that! That doesn’t seem fair, does it?
You struggle to lose weight. You deny yourself, you punish your body, and then your own body fights against you. It wants you to fail. What kind of sick joke is that?
But it appears to be a biological fact.
Okay, all is not lost. Take heart. There are still ways to win this battle.
However, you must first understand your enemy before you can defeat it. Well, it’s not really an enemy because it’s your own body. But it is something you must understand in order to win.
It’s called your body set weight (also known as body set point).
Understanding Your Body Set Weight
Nephrologist and diabetes expert Dr. Jason Fung (Obesity Code), has a helpful explanation on why conventional (calorie counting) diets fail. It essentially has to do with what is called your body set weight (BSW).
Fung likens your BSW to the temperature you set on the thermostat in your home. If you set the thermostat to 72 degrees your heating system will strive to keep your house at that temperature. If your ambient temperature goes under 72, the thermostat will direct the furnace to turn on in order to get back to 72.
Likewise, in the summer, if the temperature goes up, the thermostat will direct the AC to come on.
Our bodies appear to have a BSW (also called an appestat) that acts as a thermostat for body fatness. Whenever we gain or lose significant weight, our appestat strives to return us to the body weight it considers to have become normal.
So, if you limit your caloric intake as a dieting strategy, your body will compensate for the subsequent weight loss by lowering how many calories you expend at rest. This is its attempt to get you back to what your body perceives is your ideal weight.
Fighting The Uphill Diet Battle
Dr. Fung gives us another illustration of what we encounter when we diet.
Let’s say your thermostat is set to 72 degrees, but you want the temperature to be 70 degrees.
Instead of lowering the thermostat, we turn on a portable AC and drop the temperature to 70 degrees.
What happens now? The thermostat kicks in and raises the temperature back to 72. But we still want 70 degrees so we turn on another portable AC.
So the thermostat kicks in and raises the temperature. So we get another portable AC and … you get the picture. We are essentially fighting a losing battle, and also maybe stuck on stupid.
The simpler solution, of course, would be to … turn down the freaking thermostat.
Putting It In Practical Terms
This is what happens when we simply try to restrict calorie intake to lose weight. For example, let’s say your BSW is 150 pounds, but you want to get down to 130 pounds.
So you decide to restrict your calorie intake. Theoretically, if you cut 500 calories per day from your diet, you should lose about a pound per week.
Now, let’s assume you lose ten pounds, and you now weigh about 140. What happens?
Your appestat kicks in and tries to get your body to regain the weight you lost. Your metabolism slows down. But then you start experiencing the things that go along with it.
Have you ever started dieting and then started to feel tired and moody and even cold? That’s the result of a slowing metabolism.
And here’s probably the worst part! You’re getting hungrier. Oh, the hunger! You want to eat so bad! Your body is doing every darn thing it can to get you back to your BSW.
What’s the solution to all this craziness? The answer is obvious. Turn down the thermostat… I mean appestat.
I’ll give you some ideas on how to do that in a second. But, next, I just want to say a few brief words on how the appestat is regulated.
Understanding Weight Gain
Now, the most common answer as to why people gain weight would be that they eat too much. But that might not necessarily be true in all cases.
Don’t forget about your appestat. If it’s working correctly, you should maintain a relatively constant body weight.
Okay, true, you say, but my BSW is way too high. I’m maintaining too much weight. Fair enough. But is your BSW the same today as it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago?
Probably not. That’s why you want to lose weight. So what happened was that your BSW kept gradually readjusting upwards.
Understanding Insulin And Weight Control
Our BSW is maintained by what is known as a negative feedback loop. The loop starts with the hormone insulin. Among its many important duties, insulin is responsible for signaling your body to store food energy in the form of body fat.
When you don’t eat for long periods, such as when you’re sleeping, you’ll burn that stored energy for fuel.
Now if insulin secretion becomes excessive, it will try to pack even more fat into your cells. This, however, causes fat cells to secrete a hormone called leptin. Leptin then sends a signal to your brain saying, “Hey, we fat cells down here are getting overloaded. Tell your boss to curb his appetite.”
So the brain complies and restricts our appetite. We then stop eating, insulin levels drop, and we start burning energy which keeps our BSW stable.
Fine, you say. But how did my BSW reset so far upward?
Okay, this requires that we understand that not all calories are the same.
BSW And Hormonal Imbalances
No one becomes significantly overweight or obese overnight. It’s a process that takes years. Think about it. If you gain only 2 pounds a year for 20 years, all of a sudden you’re 40 pounds overweight.
So the process that causes your BSW to increase is a gradual one.
But it’s important to know how this happens.
Let’s get back to the hormone insulin. If you’re overeating high glycemic foods like refined grains, sugar, or fructose (carbohydrates), or eating often, your insulin secretion can increase to abnormal levels.
Fat and protein don’t produce nearly the same insulin response that carbohydrates do.
If you are chowing down on a lot of carbs and chowing often, then insulin levels can stay high, even though leptin is doing its best to counter insulin and curb your appetite.
Remember that insulin wants to pack fat into your cells. So if you continue to consume high glycemic foods and eat frequently year after year, you will gain pounds. And, subsequently, your BSW will rise accordingly.
What’s happening here is that insulin is winning the war over leptin.
The Worst Case Scenario
If the above scenario continues for years, an individual could develop a condition called hyperinsulinemia. That means that insulin levels are chronically elevated.
Again, insulin wants to pack fat into your adipose cells. So, eventually, you’ll gain even more weight.
However, if this continues, an individual could develop insulin resistance. Unfortunately, insulin resistance leads to more secretion of insulin which leads to a host of problems including obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
This is called carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity. For a more detailed explanation of this model, see here.
However, let’s not forget leptin. If insulin continues to rise, then leptin will also continue to rise. However, insulin is winning out because of your diet. But the continued rise of leptin could result in your body becoming resistant to the effect of leptin.
That means insulin will not be opposed. It’s won the war and weight gain is assured. Also, your appetite will not be suppressed, and you’ll be hungry all the time.
Leptin resistance is almost always associated with obesity.
So, significant weight gain and obesity is not so much a problem with calories as it is a hormonal disorder.
Okay, I think you get the picture.
But you’re still dreaming of losing that weight. You know losing those pounds will make you look better, feel better, and be healthier.
What’s the recipe for success?
The Battle Strategy
The most important strategy for reducing your BSW and maintaining successful weight loss is to reduce chronically high insulin levels. If you can keep insulin levels low, then your body will use your stored fat for the fuel it needs.
That’s the most efficient way to lose weight. But reducing your BSW is key.
Here are some strategies for doing that.
Strategy 1 – Reduce Carbs
Reduction of the intake of sugar, refined grains, and fructose is a sure way to reduce insulin levels. If you don’t put a lot of glucose (carbs) into your bloodstream, insulin secretion will stay low.
How much should you restrict your carb intake?
Virtahealth.com is a good source for those struggling with type 2 diabetes.
See our series of posts on our ketogenic diet experience.
Remember, though, that it took years to gain the weight. It’s going to require changing your eating habits for a long time in order to be successful!
*Always check with your doctor before you start any diet. If you have type 2 diabetes and are on insulin medication, a low-carb diet can lower your blood sugar too quickly. So always work with your doctor.
Strategy 2 – Stop eating often
We’re taught that we should be eating every few hours or so in order to suppress our hunger urges. This is completely wrong advice. Eating often means keeping insulin high.
Enjoying that Snickers bar at 4:00 in the afternoon is going to do to your insulin secretion what pouring gasoline does to a fire.
For myself, I limit my eating window to only 8 hours during the day. So, basically, I fast for 16 hours and eat for 8.
Intermittent fasting is also an excellent strategy for limiting insulin secretion and resetting your BSW. Check out Dr. Fung’s site for everything you need to know about fasting.
Strategy 3 – Increase Protein Intake
If you consume more protein, you’re likely to consume fewer carbs. Also by consuming more protein, you’re likely to consume more fat. More fat in your diet is not necessarily a bad thing.
Too much fat is not good especially if you want to lose fat. But the fat found with protein in food such as beef, pork, lamb and salmon won’t raise insulin appreciably.
Also, protein is very satiating. Eat a 12-ounce ribeye steak and see if you’re hungry after that.
How much protein should you include in your diet?
There’s a big controversy around today on the amount of protein we should get in our diets. Some practitioners believe we should limit the amount of protein in our diet to recommended daily requirement (RDA) of 0.8 grams/kg of bodyweight per day.
As I explain here, the RDA for protein might not be a healthy amount for everyone.
Maintaining good quality muscle mass is a key component of overall health and fitness. If you have poor muscle quality, especially if you’re in your older years, you are susceptible to a plethora of health issues. See here.
According to the best protein researchers in the world, in order to maintain good muscle mass, younger people should get at least 0.24 grams of protein/meal at least 3 -4 times a day. Each meal should consist of at least 20 grams of high-quality protein.
Older people (>65 years old) should consume at least 0.4 – 0.6 grams of protein/meal at least 3 -4 times a day.
See my extensive post on current protein recommendations.
Personally, I was on a ketogenic diet for about 2 years, and now I’m on about a 98% carnivore diet. That means I eat mostly animal protein. My carbs are extremely low.
Since increasing my protein intake, my body composition has improved even more than when I was on a keto diet. My weightlifting totals also are increasing. At 63-years-old and weighing 165 pounds. I can easily deadlift 300 lbs. Not bad considering I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for over 25 years.
Red Meat Does Not Cause Heart Disease
There’s been a myth perpetuated for years that red meat is associated with heart disease. Let’s bury that myth right now!
Last December, a team of researchers at Purdue University analyzed 24 randomly controlled studies and found that there was no link between eating a lot of red meat and heart disease.
So have no fear about eating red meat!
Now, let me introduce the study I began this post with.
High Compared with Moderate Protein Intake Reduces Adaptive Thermogenesis
A November 2018 study, performed on 38 individuals, showed that a higher protein diet as compared with a moderate protein diet had the effect of increasing resting metabolic rate.
That’s exactly what you want if your desire is to lower your BSW.
In the study, the moderate protein group had a diet that consisted of 15/55/30% of energy from protein/carbohydrate/fat and the high protein group’s diet was 25/45/30% of energy from protein/carbohydrate/fat.
Needless to say, the high protein diet had a much lower glycemic index.
The researchers’ conclusion at the end of the study was that “These results indicate the relevance of compliance to an increased protein/carbohydrate ratio for long-term weight maintenance after weight loss.”
So higher protein will help to reset your BSW.
Strategy 4 – Low-Carb Recipes
Barbara has created some of the tastiest low-carb recipes. Check them out here.
What About Exercise?
Notice I didn’t mention exercise. Exercise is great for fitness. I lift heavy weights 5 days a week. It’s excellent for building muscle. I walk at least a mile every day. But when it comes to helping with significant weight loss, these things are just not very good.
Lowering your BSW is the key to successful weight loss!
Thanks for stopping by. And have a blessed week!
*None of the above comments should be construed as medical or dietary advice. Remember always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
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