Just one in six overweight or obese people who slim down manage to stay that way! Now, two fascinating reports reveal why — and what might help you persuade Mother Nature (and your metabolism) to hold on to your weight loss.
A National Institutes of Health study tracked 14 “Biggest Loser” contestants for six years after their season on that reality TV show. On average, the contestants lost about 127 pounds apiece through strict diets and relentless exercise regimens. Some lost more than 200 pounds! And their health improved in countless ways.
Fast-forward six years. Most contestants regained much of the weight they’d lost — on average, about 90 pounds each (although many remained at least 10 percent slimmer than when they started the show, reducing their risk for diabetes, heart disease, joint pain and other major health problems). A few contestants weighed more than they had before the show.
Why was weight maintenance so difficult? The answer jumped out when researchers measured the contestants’ resting metabolic rate, the number of calories burned by the body around the clock. The results were shocking. Before their participation in the show began, their metabolic rates were normal. Right after their appearance on the show ended, their metabolic rates had dipped. That was to be expected; it’s not unusual after weight loss. But here’s the kicker ...
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Six years later, the contestants’ bodies were burning about 500 fewer calories every day than expected based on their age and body composition. Their post-weight-loss metabolic dip had never reversed itself. In some cases, a contestant’s metabolism slowed even more as the years went by. And as they gained weight back, their metabolism stayed sluggish. Mother Nature, it seems, was doing everything possible to make their bodies regain weight — a survival tool in prehistoric times of severe famine, but a big challenge for 21st-century dieters.
Here’s what to do:
▪ Pamper muscle mass. Your muscles drive your metabolism, whether you’re sleeping or sweatin’ along to a YouTube exercise video. The more muscle mass you have (usually), the higher your calorie burn rate. So the smart move is to lose weight slowly, preserving more muscle mass than extreme weight-loss programs allow.
▪ Feed your muscles, then make them work. During your weight-loss phase and afterward, be sure you’re building muscle as you lose fat, and are eating enough protein to feed lean, sexy muscle. Build and maintain muscles with ongoing strength training two to three times a week. Then boost your metabolism further by adding short bursts of faster, higher-intensity aerobic activity to some of your cardio workouts, going for 10,000 steps a day. Try interval walking: Walk faster for 30 seconds, then back to your usual pace for a minute; repeat a couple of times.
▪ Give yourself a year to let your new weight become your “new normal.” A recent University of Copenhagen study found that levels of the “feed me!” hormone ghrelin rise during weight loss, urging you to eat and making it tough to maintain a lower weight. But if you stick to your healthy eating and exercise plan, it’ll get easier.
▪ Slash stress. Ongoing tension from work, family or finances, for example, boosts your levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone cortisol. Turn to exercise, progressive muscle relaxation (breathe calmly as you tense and relax muscle groups from your toes to your head), yoga, time with friends and your favorite hobby to soothe stress, instead of reaching for sweets and snacks.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.