Losing weight can be a huge challenge. However, keeping the weight off is even more challenging.
While most people blame themselves for regaining weight, new research from the New England Journal of Medicine has found a new reason. It appears that hormones involved in the regulation of appetite are setting people up for failure.
In a new study, 50 overweight or obese people went on a low-calorie diet for 10 weeks. Researchers measured levels of several key hormones involved in appetite control before they started the diet, after they completed the diet, and then again 62 weeks later.
They found that changes in the hormonal mix tip the scale toward hunger and weight regain. Up to a year after weight loss, there are increases in the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and reductions in other hormones such as leptin that could promote weight gain (source).
Gherlin is the hormone that tells us to eat. Leptin is the hormone that tells us to stop. When the scales are tipped and there is more Gherlin then Leptin, it can be an impossible battle.
These hormones were origanlly responsible for preventing starvation. In todays society, food is laden with high amounts of fat and calories and exercise isn’t always neccesary for survival. This imbalance of hormone mixed with lack of exercise can spell disaster.
“This is a really important study,” says Scott Kahan, MD, an obesity expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “It is clear from this study and many others that weight regain is not a problem of willpower.”
“Things change hormonally, metabolically, and otherwise after you gain weight so even if you take it off, things don’t go always go back to baseline,” he says.
These findings further stress the importance of trying to prevent weight gain and obesity in the first place.
“It is not enough to throw a lot of resources at treating obesity, we need to focus on prevention,” he says.
Louis Aronne, MD, founder and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, agrees.
“[Weight regain] is not your fault,” he says. “Achieving weight loss and maintaining that loss is really complex and we need new approaches to treatment including medications.”
If you have been beating yourself up after regaining weight, this could bring you some peace of mind. While there isn’t medication on the market to help boost your leptin levels YET, there could be in the near future. The moral of the story is to brush off your last failed attempt at weight loss. Give yourself permission to start again, and be aware of your eating patterns while on the diet.
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