Weight Management

9 hard truths about losing weight

There are legit reasons why you have a hard time shedding those extra pounds, but if you know the facts about losing weight, you can overcome these obstacles and reach your goals.

You don’t need us to tell you that losing weight — and keeping it off — is hard. But understanding why weight loss is so difficult can help you stop beating yourself up over every little setback, and increase your chances of success. Forget the gimmicks, and face the facts about weight loss.

1.Your Body Works Against You

an empty plate

It’s not your imagination: When you try to lose weight, you’re fighting not only your cravings, but also your own body. Weight loss decreases the hormone leptin, which signals to your brain that you’re full, and increases the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, Australian researchers found. This hormone imbalance continues long after you succeed at weight loss, making it even harder for you to keep the pounds off, according to the study.

Plus, if you cut too many calories too quickly, your metabolism will slow, says Sabrena Jo, director of science and research content for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. “If you cut calories drastically and as a result you drop a lot of weight fairly quickly, it’s likely that you’re losing some muscle. Muscle is really the engine of metabolism, so that contributes to a lower metabolism,” she explains. Eating too little also makes you more likely to rebound and go in the opposite direction by overeating because you were restricting yourself for so long. “We recommend doing things more moderately: Increasing physical activity and decreasing calories has been to shown to be what works in the long run,” Jo adds.

2.There Are No Quick Fixes

a calendar and an hourglass

Wishing you were 30 pounds lighter in time for your high school reunion next month will not make it so, and there are no magic pills or miracle cures that can make it happen. “When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s hard to be patient,” says Mark Pettus, MD, director of medical education, wellness, and population health for Berkshire Health Systems in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

But avoid the temptation to try something drastic. Since quick starvation diets can wreak havoc on your metabolism, they can damage your weight loss efforts for the long term. As you start your diet, remember that slow and steady weight loss — or one to two pounds a week — is the easiest to maintain, Dr. Pettus says.

3.Exercise Can’t Conquer All

a woman upset after exercising

Yes, exercise helps you lose weight and keep it off — a report from the National Weight Control Registry found that people who maintain their weight loss exercise for at least 60 minutes most days — but it’s nearly impossible to lose weight from exercise alone, Pettus says. Just do the math: A 135-pound person biking 60 minutes at 12 miles an hour will burn 369 calories. You can put all that back on with just a post-workout protein bar. To lose a pound of fat, you have to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume, so you can see how hard it is to exercise your way through a poor diet. Instead, you have to watch what you eat and exercise, Pettus says. If there’s any “magic” to dieting, it’s in that combination.

4.Diet Supplements Don’t Work

supplement bottles

Those little pills that claim to supercharge your metabolism are tempting, but there’s little evidence that they work. In a review published in May 2012 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston followed thousands of dieters and found that liquid diets, fad diets, and over-the-counter diet pills were not linked to weight loss. So what worked? Eating less fat, exercising more, using prescription weight loss medication, and joining commercial weight loss programs.

5.Fad Diets Don’t Work for Long

pressed juices

Grapefruit. Maple syrup. Cabbage. Apple-cider vinegar. Juice. All these “miracle” diets are supposed to help you melt pounds and trigger fat-burning. The hard fact: Fad diets work in the short term through calorie restriction, but fail to deliver long-lasting results, says Jo. “The problem is that people typically lack the desire to eschew entire food groups or severely limit their caloric intake, so eventually a more inclusive, calorically dense way of eating returns,” she explains.

6.One Diet Doesn’t Fit All

a table with food

Everyone’s body is unique, so the diet that works for your friend, your coworker, your mother, or your sister might not work for you. When looking at how best to lose weight, consider your health and family history, your metabolism, your activity level, your age, your gender, and your likes and dislikes. When you’re dieting, it’s important to allow yourself some foods that you enjoy, Jo says, or else you’ll feel deprived and be less likely to stick with an overall healthy eating plan. For weight loss success, tailor your diet to your body and accept that one diet won’t work for everyone.

7.Cardio Is Essential (and Strength Training Helps Too)

a woman strength training

According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in November 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week, plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities. And every bit counts — the recommendation is to move more throughout the day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.

These guidelines should help most people lose weight, says Jo, but obese people or people with a lot of weight to lose need to be even more active, working up to at least 30 minutes per day over time. Plus, don’t skip the strength training, which supports the joint health and function you need to do all that cardio, adds Jo. Increased muscle mass also gives your metabolism a slight boost — and makes you look more sleek and svelte.

8.He Can Eat More Than She Can

a man and woman eating food together

It doesn’t seem fair, but men can eat more than women and still lose weight. That’s because men tend to naturally burn more calories than woman, thanks to their larger size, muscle mass, and elevated levels of the hormone testosterone, which promotes muscle growth, Jo explains. Plus, the male body is genetically designed for more muscle and less fat than the female body because men do not have to store the energy required to bear children, she adds. Once you come to terms with this fact and start eating less than your male partner or friends, the scale will thank you.

9.It’s Not a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle Change

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to change your behavior not just until you reach your goal weight, but for the months and years to follow. That’s because as soon as you stop your “diet,” you’re likely to gain back the pounds you worked so hard to shed. To be successful at weight loss, you need to make sustainable lifestyle changes, like making healthy food choices at almost every meal, and getting plenty of exercise every week.

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