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There are weight loss commercials on TV 24/7. Is it any wonder why? Americans spend $40 billion a year on weight loss products!!  That’s $40,000,000,000.00, just to put it into perspective.  It makes sense when you consider healthcare costs in the US in 2010 neared $2.6 trillion. That’s $2,600,000,000,000.00 hard earned American dollars. Holy Crap!! To rub salt in the wound, the vast majority of these costly health problems can be either solved completely or vastly improved if we can get obesity under control. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t really mind spending the $40 billion so much if it was actually working.  It’s not; we just keep getting fatter and sicker every year.

This tells me that the obesity epidemic we face today isn’t a matter of abject laziness, at least not for everyone.  There has got to be a whole lot of us who give a crap and are spending money left and right in a desperate attempt to lose weight. For some, it is for aesthetic reasons, and for others it is literally a matter of life and death. American’s do not WANT to be fat and sick. We want to be strong, healthy and happy. Unfortunately, we have gotten so used to buying a product or popping a pill to fix it for us. What is wrong with that you ask? What’s wrong is that we have gotten so accustomed to letting companies, our government and the people who run said companies and government tell US what is good for US with nary a thought about the agenda driving that advice.  We have stopped listening to our own bodies. The one living organism with the largest vested interested in how strong, healthy and happy we are.  Our bodies are not stupid. Mother Nature hasn’t gone completely off the reservation. Our bodies and Mother Nature are responding in the best possible way to the crappy hand that’s been dealt. Well, my friends, it is time to reshuffle the deck. We have all the cards we need to win this game; we just need to learn how to play the game the right way.

First lets understand a little bit about the science behind why our bodies work and respond the way they do so we can stop hating our thighs for being fat (Ok, that’s totally me projecting from my torturous teenage years) and learn to love our bodies enough to make them the best they can possibly be.  Through all my research so far I am 100% convinced that being overweight, obesity, and all the metabolic diseases are a function of modern lifestyle+ a genetic predisposition .  I think the fact that obesity and metabolic syndrome (most modern diseases actually) are virtually nonexistent in cultures where they still eat their traditional diet and modern foods and our western diet does not exist (see westonaprice.org).  However, we all have friends and or family that can sit on the coach eating Ho-Ho’s all day and never gain a pound.

This idea was even further substantiated when I listened to one of Chris Kresser’s podcasts. He was discussing the work of Stephan Guyenet, the author of The Whole Health Source Blog, yet another great blog you should check out. Stephan has published a paper with his mentor Michael Schwartz called, “Regulation of Food intake, Energy Balance and Body Fat Mass: Implications for the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Obesity.” Sounds like a page turner doesn’t it? For those of us committed to this work, it is.

Anyway, I want to summarize some of the podcast for you here to make a point. That point is that losing weight is so hard for so many us for very physiological reasons, not just psychological reasons.  So stop beating yourself up for lack of will power and read on. And after that listen to the podcast yourself.

My biggest take away from the podcast and the paper was the concept of our Body Fat Setpoint. After hearing this explained, the light bulb went off for me. This is how it works.

Each of us has our own Body Fat Setpoint. The bad news for some us is that this set point can depend on what our mothers ate, which can determine our gut flora when we are born and whether or not we were breast-fed, etc.  So, some of this is out of our control. I know, Bummer.  Anyway, if you think of this in survival terms, it is kind of genius. If our body fat is too low then we can’t survive periods of famine, yet if we have too much fat, then hunting and evading predators becomes too difficult. Since the dawn of our existence this system has worked pretty well.  If we lost too much body fat, our metabolic processes would adjust to tell the brain/body to eat more by increasing hunger; it would reduce the amount of energy expended at rest and extract as many calories from our food as possible.

Conversely, if we stored too much fat then the opposite would happen. The brain/body received the signal to stop eating by decreasing hunger, increasing energy expenditure at rest and extract fewer calories from the food we ate. Chris uses the analogy of a thermostat working to keep your fat stores in balance based on what it thinks your ideal Body Fat Setpoint is. Sounds like a pretty great system, and it works pretty efficiently. Anyone who has done well on a diet, then plateaued and gave up because they couldn’t get the scale to budge, just to gain it all back knows exactly what I mean. Efficiency at work…..Awesome!  So if this works so efficiently, where did it all go horrible wrong? Well, in a lean person, this system is great. The problem lies in the fact that in an overweight or obese person there are factors that have disrupted the set point and now your body is defending a Body Fat Setpoint that is set too high.

The master hormone Leptin (see my post of Leptin resistance) is a hormone released by our fat cells that tells the brain we are full (or we have enough fat stored) which then sets the above process in motion.  In a normal weight person, fat cells increase from overeating on vacation for example, this increases leptin which signals the brain to reduce food intake. As fat stores diminish so does the amount of leptin released, etc, etc. In an overweight/or obese person however this isn’t happening. That signal is being disrupted. The fat cells are growing, more leptin is being produced but it’s like the neighbors are knocking on the door but the music is too loud and no one can hear them knocking. This is called leptin resistance. Once this happens, more fat cells are needed to produce more leptin in order for the brain to finally hear the neighbors knocking. Now this new level of body fat becomes your new set point. Voila! Now you may be able to lose some weight, but once you get too far below your new setpoint, your hormones and your brain are working against you to continue to lose the weight you need to finally reach a more appropriate weight for you.

So, what is it about obesity that may cause this? One point Chris made on this topic is inflammation. Inflammation can be caused by so many different things from foods that create inflammation like gluten, sugar, refined and processed foods, food toxins, other common food allergens and environmental toxins. Gut infections, micro nutrient deficiencies and imbalances in the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios are culprits as well. These are just a few potential causes, there are many more.

On another note there is the tendency we have to not only seek out highly palatable, very energy dense foods but to over indulge in them. From our earliest existence these foods were rare. We did not have a McDonald’s on every corner thousands of years ago, so our desire to eat as much as we can in the event we may not encounter these foods for a long time is very real. A mere 10,000 years is a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, our “hedonic” system has not evolved to anticipate feast rather than famine yet. Food manufacturers literally hire scientists to research how to engineer foods to hit this hedonistic hot button we have. When we eat food that sends out that reward trigger we want to eat more of it. This is not rocket science folks, but it is science and it has created a vicious cycle that has these companies laughing at our fat asses all the way to the bank.

I know that was rough, but hey, I see no point in blowing sunshine up your shorts just to make you feel good. I want you to get mad! Stop buying the crap, because here is the good news! All is not lost. For a much deeper dive on how all this works, I encourage you to listen to Chris’s Podcast and/or read Stephen’s blog.

The fact of the matter is that the only hope for people looking to lose excess weight AND KEEP IT OFF is to reset your setpoint. It is very hard to do but it can be done. Chris refers to some documented success with bariatric surgery which is obviously very extreme, comes with many complications of its own and is only appropriate for very few. He also refers to some anecdotal success stories in his practice using a Paleo type diet (similar to what I have found for myself) Stephen discusses some dietary guidelines as well. Notably, dietary changes that promote and maintain fat loss without deliberate calorie restriction and without harm to overall health. The Paleo lifestyle definitely falls in this camp and can be a real option for many people. This I can help with but my point of view is that understanding this mechanism is key to understanding yourself.  Every person’s genetic predisposition is different depending on many factors, but your genes can be reprogrammed. Some recommended reading on that score is Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint and Catherine Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition.  More and more research on epigenetics is showing that while we are all born with essentially the same genetic code (99.9% identical) some of us have certain genes turned off. So all we need to do it turn them back on. Why the Paleo diet might be helpful for some is proper macro nutrient balance, the micro nutrient density of Paleo friendly foods, and the elimination of many of the foods and substances that cause that pesky inflammation I discussed earlier.

My biggest concern over this obsession with weight loss (I had it too for a long time so I am not throwing stones here) is the use of foods and substances that are extremely harmful and DO NOT WORK, not for the long-term. These foods are marketed as health foods and they are anything but healthy. Worse is the use of drugs and stimulants that throw your metabolic system into complete disarray. You don’t need low-fat designer food. You don’t need a promise of metabolic paradise in a bottle. Your hard-earned money will just add to that $40 billion pot whether you are successful or not. You need food that nourishes and food that heals. Food that can convince your body and your brain that it is being well cared for. Most of all you need a different kind of food. A food I am learning more and more about in nutrition school is our Primary food. Primary foods are the other aspects of our lives that can either nourish us or leave us famished. Our relationships, our work, and spirituality are some examples.

This is why losing weight is so hard. It is not just how much you eat, it is also what you eat, why you it, how you feel while you are eating it. Phew! I don’t want anyone to feel bad if this is hard. Because it is hard, but it is totally doable and you can be successful at whatever your health goal is. This is why I am going to school and embarking on this adventure. I am in the learning process myself and I want to help. We all need a little help getting to know ourselves and our bodies from the inside out. We’ve got to figure out what your triggers are, what is getting in your way of health and happiness. Is it your set point and if so what is causing it? Is it inflammation and if so where is it coming from? Is it something in your Primary food that has you feeling famished and if so how do you find nourishment? This is where journaling and coaching can be very helpful and can mean the difference between success and failure.  This is why I am studying to be a health coach.  I can’t think of anything else I would enjoy doing more than helping others discover their own strength, health and happiness. I will no doubt continue to find my own along the way.


Until Next Time,

Laura, MGP.

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4 Responses to “Why is losing weight so hard?”

  1. Great post Laura! There is a whole psychology behind eating (over eating, emotional eating, and under eating as well). Everything from stress to control issues can play a part in how we eat and why we eat and creat a vicious cycle. Food for many of these people becomes their drug and they use it to try to feel internally better about their emotional state. In addition to eating healthy foods and the correct foods for your body, people with “food” issues need the help in terms of support and better coping skills and strategies. We are lucky to have you to share your own story with us and help others.

  2. Mom of the Paleo Mom says:

    Very interesting. I would think that enduring an incredibly stressful situation where you stop eating much and lose weight dramatically would reset the point as well. Mom

    • Mom of the Paleo Mom,
      I wonder if during those times the body goes into conservation mode because it believes it is starving and we biologically slow down to preserve our resources. During times when food wasn’t plentiful the body had to survivie by eating less and slowing down but not sure if biologically the set point changed as a reaction to this? Interesting isn’t it?

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