News Flash: Maintaining Weight Loss is Hard (There's Proof--and Hope!)

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It’s not your fault you can’t keep the weight off!

I recently got a call from my mother who told me, “I just saw something on the news about why it’s hard to maintain weight loss! I know you’ve been struggling, so will you find it and check it out?”  I told her I saw something about it already and thanks for checking in on me.  I had seen various headlines with similar titles such as “It’s not your fault that you can’t keep the weight off!”  I briefly checked them out and thought, “That doesn’t help me!” and moved on with my day.  But, later on I was thinking about the messages these headlines sent to the millions of hopeful but overweight people of America.  

Seeing a headline like that telling me, “You now have an excuse for gaining back your weight loss!” makes me cringe.  Here I am, trying to maintain a greater than 100-pound weight loss and now I’m hearing that my body is trying to sabotage my efforts?  I will get back to my take on the news after I tell you a little bit about the study

The study that prompted these headlines was published the New England Journal of Medicine in October 2011.  This study started with 50 obese non-diabetic people who were placed on a low calorie diet (500-550 calories a day!) for 10 weeks.  Hormones involved in weight regulation were measured before the diet and at 10 and 62 weeks.  During the year that they were followed, participants were counseled on how to maintain the weight loss and given calorie guidelines to follow specifically for maintenance.  It was assumed that these hormone levels would be affected at week 10 (the end of low-calorie diet)--and they were.  However, the finding that has sparked multiple headlines is that after one year of maintaining the weight loss (well, approximately 59% of it) the hormones that changed with dieting at week 10 did not return to pre-diet levels. 

Let’s highlight a few of those hormones.  Before I get into talking about specific hormones (and probably boring you) know that the hormones that I highlight, leptin and ghrelin, are just two hormones in a complex and intricate signaling system involved in regulating body weight.  Know that the scientists studying these hormones are providing the building blocks for unlocking the “hormonal” secrets of weight control and not "The Secret" to lifelong happiness and the perfect body. 

Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin is a hormone that is produced primarily in fat cells and, when released, signals the body (through other chemicals) you are full, cueing the body to reduce food intake and expend more energy.   

Ghrelin is released from the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas and signals you through hunger that you need to seek food. 

In this study, leptin levels decreased and ghrelin increased (as expected) during the low-calorie diet phase, but failed to return to pre-diet levels at one year of maintenance.  Other hormones in the study also did not return to pre-diet levels.  So, now you’ve got less leptin (you feel less satisfied after a meal) and you’ve got more ghrelin (you’re hungrier) a year into maintaining your weight loss.  Surveys given to the study subjects after one year back this up.  The participants reported thinking about food more often and feeling less full.  No fair!  

What does this mean for you--and me?  We already knew that maintaining weight loss is not an easy task.  Most seasoned SparkPeople members know by now that the vast majority of people regain the lost pounds. (Learn 5 secrets of the 5% who keep the weight off!)  While it’s interesting to note that there are some chemical changes that occur during and probably after weight loss that signal us to gain it back, it does not change the bottom line: Weight maintenance after weight loss is a very complicated, multifactorial endeavor and is not easily accomplished. But you shouldn't give up!

Do headlines like this make you want to give it all up and return to your pre SparkPeople habits?  I hope not! I'm certainly not giving up! The number of successful maintainers is increasing, and I believe those maintenance statistics need updating.  I can tell you from experience that maintenance is difficult.  I changed my lifestyle more than four years ago, and I still struggle, maybe now more than ever.  But, I am very motivated by a desire to beat the odds, and I know that if I don’t balance my diet, exercise, and life stressors I will see 300 pounds again. 
So, read those headlines and know that you are on the right track--and you're not in this alone.  Here at SparkPeople, we don’t just talk about calories in-calories out and exercising 30 minutes most days of the week.  We stress a complete lifestyle change with the support of family and friends and the incredible community that is the heart of SparkPeople! With us, healthy living is fun and manageable!
Never give up and keep Sparking everyone!

Did you see these headlines? Do you feel demotivated by the findings, or does that push you harder to maintain your weight loss?