“Dang,” she said. “I went on a diet and lost 20 pounds. Then I went off the diet and gained 25 pounds. I tried exercise but it didn’t help. Now I have to go on another diet because my son is getting married and the new dress that I bought won’t fit. And that diet is a killer; I’m hungry all the time.”
Repeat this story several times (family keeps getting married, reunions keep happening, swimsuit season comes every year )and we have an unhappy woman who is a lot heavier than when she started. This is called “yo-yo” dieting.
Every pull of the yo-yo reduces your metabolism. That means fewer calories are needed to maintain your body weight. But when you come off that diet you go back to eating just like you did before; too many calories. This is no fun.
A couple years ago I read this article describing the painful truth that causes the morbidly obese participants in “The Biggest Loser” to move inexorably back to their former weight. As you read the article (and I encourage you to do that) I want you to consider several important things.
- The contest includes extreme exercise, something like 8 hours per day. The camera is trained on the exercise and the weigh-ins. It wouldn’t be very entertaining to watch people eat (or not eat). Exercise is not actually required to lose weight although it helps. What I want you to think about is that depending on exercise to lose and maintain weight is dangerous because you could accidentally break your leg or be in an automobile accident or just about anything tomorrow. Boom, exercise is no longer an option.
- The contestants’ diets are very low calorie. In other words, there isn’t a shred of normalcy to their diet. The combination of extreme exercise and very low calorie leaves their bodies with no option but to burn body fat. Which, of course, is the whole point.
- While they are in the middle of this extremeness, this body fat “burning” actually amounts to body fat being converted to ketones by the liver (see this for more explanation about your body’s clever backup energy plans) that are used by the body to produce energy. Otherwise, the contestants would not be able to keep going.
- But at the end of all the pain, when the scales are packed away, the camera is gone, and the celebration is over, you have a bunch of people whose metabolism is in the ditch and ketones are not being produced. Just about any diet will be “too much.”
- The article details some of the hormone changes attached to the problem. But in the end what matters is that here are people who are hungry, craving certain foods, with bodies that are going to turn calories into body fat. The yo-yo has now been pulled. This is actually just like a recovering alcoholic; one drink and its over. But in this case, one chip and its over.
I once worked out at a gym owned by a woman who had lost an extreme amount of weight earlier in her life. She swore that if she ate one piece of bread she would gain 20 pounds. The voice of experience.
Don’t think for a minute that this does not apply to you just because you aren’t morbidly obese. The woman described at the top is heading in that direction.. Morbidly obese or heading in that direction, it doesn’t matter. The answers are still the same..
- Eat the diet detailed in “It’s All About the Food.” It’s not a hard diet, not a diet that generally requires counting calories, not a diet that leaves you hungry. It is a balanced, nutritious diet that you can comfortably eat for the rest of your (hopefully long) life.
- Plan on losing excess weight very slowly. When you make extreme reduction in energy producing calories (sugar and fat) your body does just what the contestants’ bodies did, gears down your metabolism to match the available resources. Your fat cells know their job, to be sure you are covered during a famine. This is why you can last a very long time on a starvation diet. So when you fake a famine by your diet, metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Heaven only knows how long you will be stranded on that desert island.
- When you start eating again, your fat cells are so relieved. You don’t lose fat cells when you lose weight; the cells just become skinnier. But they have been waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to fill back up. So now you are hungry and have cravings caused by the hormonal changes. And, as I stated in the book, hunger is the death of weight loss. When we feed that hunger and the cravings, there may as well be a feeding tube directly connected to your fat cells.
- When it comes to weight loss (and gain) It is particularly important to understand what sugar is and where you will find it hiding out in your food. It is way more than that white stuff in your sugar bowl. The book will tell you what you need to know.
Read the article linked above and also below — and thank the good Lord this isn’t you. Or is it?
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.