Doctor’s Orders: Understand the Science of Weight Loss

Weight regain is actually a survival mechanism from our distant days as hunter-gatherers

A slimming class of office girls performing skipping exercises on the roof of Adelaide House, London, during their lunch hour.

A slimming class of office girls performing skipping exercises on the roof of Adelaide House, London, during their lunch hour. (Photo: H F Davis/Getty Images)

Losing weight and keeping it off is a struggle for many people out there. Sometimes it seems that 90 percent of the articles we read are about tricks and hacks to lose weight. This is because of two things. 1. Weight is a big problem for a lot of people and 2. People are always looking for a shortcut. Even if some of these tricks work, more often than not, people who have lost weight tend to gain it back rather than keep it off. But why is this? What in our nature makes it easier to gain the weight back than keep it off?

Our bodies protect fat stores, just in case we are stuck in a time of famine but still need to expend a lot of energy.

Weight regain is actually a survival mechanism from our distant days as hunter-gatherers.  So when we lose weight our body see this as a threat to survival and starts to circulate hormones which affect our appetite. This leads to over-eating and weight regain.

In hunter-gatherer days, fat storage was looked upon as a good thing. It meant we would have an energy reserve for times when food wasn’t available, as it was not as easy as running to the supermarket. Furthermore, amassing more fat than we had before, just for extra measure, would mean more back up energy in case of an emergency, like famine. For this reason, our bodies protect fat stores, just in case we are stuck in a time of famine but still need to expend a lot of energy or engage in physical activity. The ability to hold onto fat stores during dire times would have definitely been an advantage for our predecessors, and helped ensure survival. Unfortunately, this survival mechanism is no longer useful and just promotes obesity in the population. In a time where there is an abundance of food, and relatively low levels of physical activity, storing fat isn’t helpful but can be harmful to our health.

So what can we do? Obviously if you put the time and effort in to lose weight, you want to commit to keeping it off. Once you’ve lost the weight, exercise needs to continue without making any excuses or finding barriers why you can’t do it. Just because you lost weight doesn’t mean you should cut back on your workouts. Maintaining a healthy weight takes work and dedication. Physical activity is one of the most important aspects of keeping weight off, so make sure you’re building it into your daily routine.

Similarly, you should not underestimate the mental aspect of weight loss. Will power and intellect can help us overcome this biological vestige. Daily weighing can be a method of consistent self-monitoring giving you more control of managing your weight. It helps you to “catch” when you’re weight begins to rise on the scale. It also makes you more conscious of what you’re eating thus reinforcing behaviors that led to the weight lost to begin with or what’s working in keeping the weight remaining stable. Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Include choices from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources.

Doctor’s Orders: Understand the Science of Weight Loss