Why can’t I keep the weight off?
After months of progress, the scales just don’t seem to budge. Your weight may have even gone up and you’re asking yourself, why?
You’re not alone. Often when people take up the latest diet, they experience some weight loss at first but the kilos seem to creep back on and they end up back at the same weight (or even heavier) than when they initially started.
According to one of Australia’s leading obesity researchers, Dr Nick Fuller, this is because your body is trying to ‘defend’ its body weight it’s been accustomed to for a long period of time. This is known as the weight set point and the body will work back towards this weight when it’s taken out of its ‘comfort zone’.
“If you lose weight, the body will do all it can to get back to its set point and defend its level of fatness,” Dr Fuller explains. “Often with fad dieting, or following the next crash fad diet that hits the shelves, not only do you put the weight back on that you lost when you come off the diet, but you often redefine your set point at a higher starting point than when you started.”
“In essence, you’re actually dieting yourself fatter and fatter,” he adds.
Managing and maintaining weight loss can be the challenge for many people
The pitfalls of fad diets
Dr Fuller says this response to weight loss is because diets which promote restrictive, unrealistic food eating plans – or keep calorie intake to a minimum – will actually send an increase in appetite hormones to your brain to tell you to eat more. Not only that, but it will also end up decreasing your metabolism.
He continues, saying that following fad diets, or taking weight loss products, are not sustainable for the long term. Instead, the body will do everything it can to ‘defend’ its level of fatness, or to ‘defend’ its set point, and this is the reason people keep failing at diets.
Going against the dieting principle
Dr Fuller says the solution to this scenario is to redefine a person’s set point by essentially tricking the body into losing weight. In his latest book, Interval Weight Loss, he outlines a lifestyle program which has helped hundreds of his patients lose weight and, most importantly, kept it off.
“Interval Weight Loss works by tricking the body into a new set point,” explains Dr Fuller. “So that’s achieved by losing very small amounts of weight before then having to maintain that weight loss for the next month, and so on, until the person’s goal weight is achieved.”
Individually tailored and scientifically proven, this approach is not a diet – rather, it encourages a person to eat more food but from wholesome, natural sources.
You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods by focusing on the right types of foods
“There’s no particular foods that you have to eliminate altogether,” says Dr Fuller. “There’s always better foods that you can select from particular food categories.”
“So for instance, in the carbohydrates – they’re an important food group – but you should be including whole grain rather than white refined. When you go to your oils, you should be including, for instance, olive and canola oil rather than vegetable or coconut oil, which are heavily marketed. So there’s always better food choices but we don’t need to be eliminating food groups.”
A recipe for a healthy lifestyle
Dr Fuller’s four key ingredients for a healthy outlook on life are:
- Eating regular, small meals from each of the food groups and not neglecting or restricting carbohydrate foods – as long as you’re choosing wholegrain products. “Often, if we wait or skip meals, we get in the point of the day – usually at the end of the day – where we overeat because we are ravenous and we look for anything we can get our hands on,” he says. “So breakfast is the most important meal and skipping meals is detrimental.”
- Keep take away food and dining out frequency to once a week. When going out, enjoy whatever food you want and don’t worry about it. It’s OK to have a ‘treat’ meal.
- Incorporate a variety of exercises at different levels of intensities throughout the week. As Dr Fuller explains: “The easiest thing is for a person to have an activity tracker; to firstly measure how much [physical] activity they’re doing and to gradually increase from that baseline level. This can be done as simple as measuring a person’s steps a day. Then gradually building that up to a minimum of 10,000 steps a day in ways which are realistic and sustainable.” For those who’ve reached a weight loss plateau, a lack of variety in your exercise plan is related to this issue, so don’t stick to the same exercise routine each week – add some variety.
- Have an organised life. By having a to-do list and a schedule for each day you’re carrying out what you set out to achieve and feel like you’re accomplishing your day-to-day goals. “If you’re organised you’re going to be leading a healthy lifestyle because you’re effectively planning for success,” says Dr Fuller.
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Image credit: David Griffiths
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Dr Nick Fuller is a leading obesity researcher in Australia and has been running the clinical research program at the Boden Institute, Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney for the past decade. He has helped hundreds of people on their weight loss and lifestyle journeys and investigated a broad range of topics including dietary and exercise programs, appetite hormones, commercial programs, complementary and conventional medicines, medical devices, and weight loss surgery. He holds a doctorate on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of different obesity weight loss treatments, and has degrees in exercise physiology, nutrition and dietetics.