Most people at one time or another have seen themselves as overweight and so go on some type of calorie restricted diet. Most of these same people will lose some weight initially and then within a certain time frame will regain the weight, and perhaps some extra.
The initial weight lost will almost always consist of muscle mass and water. Little or no fat will be lost. However, when normal eating is resumed, the weight gained back is usually all fat, which means your body is worse off than before the diet! Why does our body resist attempts to lose fat?
Well, we have built in to our brain, in the region called the hypothalamus, a fat control center which regulates the amount of body fat we have. This fat regulating mechanism functions much like a thermostat. It has a set point which is analogous to a thermostat’s temperature setting. If a person restricts their calories, the fat thermostat will do what is necessary to maintain the set point. There are several ways it will maintain the fat setting such as slowing down the base metabolism, making the person tired or lethargic so as to conserve calories, and to increase appetite to regain the lost calories. In the same way, if overeating occurs and excess calories are consumed, the fat regulator increases the metabolism to waste the excess calories and reduce the appetite to discourage the consumption of more calories.
Thus, over the short term, if you restrict calories or if you overeat, your body will maintain a fairly constant weight. This is your body’s preservation system in action. Large weight fluctuations are undesirable. Your body is programmed to strive to maintain a stable weight and a certain amount of fat. So an individual will typically eat just enough to maintain their fat stores and their metabolic rate will be adjusted automatically to compensate for any caloric variations. So you see, if you want to lose weight permanently, your body will resist your efforts because it senses a threat to its emergency fat stores.
What can be done to overcome this fat set point, so that a person can permanently lose weight and maintain it at a healthy level? Three things can be done which we will go over in some detail:
First, increased physical activity is the only known way to naturally reduce the fat set point so that the body will adjust down its fat stores to operate more efficiently. How much and what kind of activity? The best is a combination of aerobic and weight-bearing exercise. Aerobic (with oxygen) exercises are activities such as walking, bicycling, running, deep breathing techniques and so on. These exercises oxygenate the blood, and increase endurance and breathing capacity. Weight-bearing exercises use weights or resistance bands or any kind of muscle resistance to build muscle mass. Increasing muscle mass increases metabolism which is what we want.
How much activity is needed to reduce the fat set point varies between individuals. For some, 30 minutes combined per day will be sufficient. For others, it will take an hour or more per day. Strive for 60 minutes, 5-6 days per week of total physical exercise that increases your breathing and works your muscle groups. Monitor your progress and be patient. Your body must be given time to adjust your weight down in response to the increased activity.
Secondly, when and what you eat is also important. Don’t skip meals! Miss a meal or two and your metabolism will slow to a crawl. Stick with a staple diet of simple foods – wholesome and unprocessed. Most people eat too much sugar and flour products (simple carbohydrates) and too little fat and protein. This causes excess release of insulin which stores any excess blood sugar as fat in the fat cells.
Ideally, carbohydrates should only be consumed within two hours before and after exercise. Eating sufficient fat and protein will stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent excess insulin release which can eventually lead to insulin resistance and type II diabetes. Also make sure you have an adequate intake of fiber and water. Sufficient fiber (24 g) per day will ensure that excess fat and waste material is removed from your body on a daily basis.
The third thing you can do to support your body’s metabolic processes is to add a quality broad spectrum multi-nutrient supplement along with Omega 3 DHA from purified fish oil. It is important to choose a supplement with an enteric coating which will prevent the sensitive nutrients from being destroyed in the stomach by acid and enzymes. Don’t go cheap on supplements. They have become a necessity since our food supply has been depleted of many important nutrients.
Remember, you must commit to these changes in lifestyle for the long term. Once your fat thermostat dial is turned down and you shed the excess pounds, you need to continue in order to maintain your ideal body weight. If you discontinue these healthy changes in activity and diet, your fat thermostat could rise again and with it, the unhealthy weight. So enjoy and embrace your new lifestyle and reap the benefits!