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Regaining that lost weight? Try this

Executive Summary

The hardest part of weight loss is maintaining it. Most people gain back the weight they lost within 3 years.

Some reasons are faulty lifestyle and reduced focus on weight loss. However, there are hormonal reasons, too. For example, leptin hormone levels reduce making the brain not feel full. Ghrelin hormone levels rise making the person feel hungry all the time.

If one holds the weight loss for a year or more:
• Levels of ghrelin hormone become more conducive to maintaining weight loss;
• Levels of GLP–1 hormone become more supportive of maintaining weight loss;
• Levels of peptide YY hormone become somewhat supportive of maintaining weight loss;
• Levels of glucagon hormone did not change, showing no effect on weight loss.

The article discusses how maintaining the weight loss for a year makes the hunger–related hormones in the body adjust to levels more supportive of a leaner body.

There are many approaches to weight loss for an obese person. Popular media is always abuzz with a new diet or a method that will help one lose weight.

The most overlooked aspect is that 95% of the dieters gain all the weight back within 3 years, independent of how they lost that weight. Only 4% of the people maintain 10% body weight loss for 4 years or more. Here is the experience after 6 years from The Biggest Loser weight loss contest in the USA.

The key to sustainable weight loss is to figure out why people gain the weight back.

Why do dieters gain all the weight back?

There are many reasons why dieters gain all the weight back. Some of them are purely personal. People ease off on their will-power and take the focus off the weight loss. However, there are some other reasons that simply cannot be attributed to a personal failure.

No change in lifestyle

You can take a person out of obesity; but you cannot take the obesity (lifestyle) out of a person.

Often, people are obese because they have a problematic lifestyle. Some examples are late night binge-eating, wrong food choices, lack of exercise, sedentary office work, inadequate sleep, and regular stress.

Even if they lose weight with a short-term focus on weight loss, they go back to their earlier lifestyle, after reaching the ‘target’. As a result, the bad habits that caused the weight gain in the first place, bring the weight back.

Hormonal changes

Our body also resists the weight loss through hormonal changes. Read: Leptin, ghrelin, and weight loss.

Reduction in leptin levels

Leptin is a hormone released into the blood by fat cells. Its job is to signal satiety to the brain. So, it is called a ‘hunger’ hormone. Higher levels of leptin make the brain feel satiated, and hence not hungry.

Once you lose weight, or rather lose fat, less amount of leptin is released into the blood. This makes the brain not feel full and the person gets food cravings. This leads to weight gain, if one does not exert extra willpower.

Effectively, the new, leaner body fights against the weight loss.

Increase in ghrelin levels

Ghrelin is a hormone released into the blood when your stomach is empty. After meals, the stomach lining gets stretched and that reduces ghrelin secretion.

In obese people, ghrelin secretion does not reduce substantially even after meals. After weight loss, average ghrelin levels rise, making the person more hungry, all the time.

New research findings

Research done at University of Copenhagen, Denmark showed that if you lose weight and maintain it down for a year, some of your body’s hormone levels get adjusted to the new weight.

The study involved 20 healthy, obese people, who lost 13% body weight over 8 weeks, with a very–low calorie diet (800 calories/day). The weight loss was maintained for 52 weeks after the loss.

Levels of various hormones in their body were checked before starting the study, immediately after the weight loss (8 weeks from the start), and one year later (52 weeks after the weight loss — 60 weeks from the start of the study).

Effect on ghrelin

It found out that after the weight loss, the average levels of ghrelin rose by 23%. Figuratively, we can say that the hungry feeling rose by 23%, just because of the weight loss.

However, after 1 year of maintaining the weight loss, the ghrelin levels were higher by 17%. Thus, ‘hungry feeling’ settled to only 17% extra after a year of weight loss. In other words, people who had lost weight and kept it down for a year, did not feel as hungry as they did right after the weight loss.

So after a year, ghrelin levels became more conducive to maintaining weight loss, compared to those immediately after the weight loss.

Effect on GLP-1

Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hunger–inhibiting hormone. It is released when the food enters the intestines.

After meals, the levels of GLP-1 should rise, making the brain feel full. But, in obese people, the levels of this hormone stay low even after meals.

It is thought that chronic inflammation reduces GLP-1 secretion. And chronic inflammation is one outcome of obesity. Ideally, after weight loss, the average levels of GLP-1 should rise, making the body more full, even with the same meal.

The study found that GLP-1 increased by 42% immediately after the weight loss, and 72% after a year of weight loss.

So after a year, GLP-1 levels became more supportive of maintaining weight loss, than they were immediately after the weight loss.

Effect on PYY

Peptide YY (PYY) is a hormone released by the cells of the intestines and colon. Higher levels of peptide YY make the brain feel full. However, in obesity, the levels of peptide YY stay low.

The study found that PYY levels increased by 76% immediately after the weight loss, and 34% after a year of weight loss.

So while there was a drop in the increase after a year, the PYY levels stayed still high enough to support maintenance of weight loss.

Effect on glucagon

Glucagon is a hormone secreted by pancreas when blood sugar levels fall low. It tells the body to release stored glucose. Typically, this happens when the person is supposed to feel hungry, long after the previous meal.

New evident suggests that this hormone also helps the feeling of satiety. However, it has been found that in obese people, this hormone fails to create a feeling of fullness. No one knows why.

The above study showed no change in glucagon levels from before the study, both immediately after the weight loss and a year thereafter. So glucagon did not make any difference to maintenance of weight loss.

In conclusion

If you lose weight, and maintain it for a year, an increase in hunger-suppressing mechanisms, and a partial decrease in hunger-increasing mechanisms comes into play. These make it easier to sustain weight loss.

After losing weight, try hard to sustain it for at least a year. It would get easier thereafter, as your body adjusts to the new levels of the relevant hormones.

In the words of the author of the study:

“The interesting and uplifting news in this study is that if you are able to maintain your weight loss for a longer period of time, it seems as if you have ‘passed the critical point’, and after this point, it will actually become easier for you to maintain your weight loss than it was immediately after the weight loss.”

“Thus, the body is no longer fighting against you, but actually with you, which is good news for anyone trying to lose weight,” concludes Associate Professor Signe Sørensen Torekov.

First published on: 5th June, 2016

Image credit: Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

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