Gaining weight on a diet is not uncommon, in fact, most people will experience this despite their best effects.
Have you ever lost a few kilos while being sick? Then once you were better your weight returns back to normal?
Or maybe you over ate too much on holidays returning back a little heavier? Yet effortless once you returned back to routine your weight bounced back?
This adaption is what we call set point theory, a theory developed in 1982 by William Bennet and Joel Gurin. The theory states that every human being has a ”setpoint”. The setpoint is a predetermined amount of body weight that indirectly balances how much food is eaten with how much energy is expended through physical activity and body metabolism (1). Some people will have higher set points than others and will have more body fat. It helps explains why people who go on diets rarely have long term success in achieving weight loss results, people tend to put the weight on plus a little extra.
Setpoint theory does explain why dieters sometimes lose weight fast initially but then plateau. The dieter begins to feel increasingly hungrier leading and eventually caves into the cravings. Subsequently, then the dieter returns back to normal eating. Dieters not only tend to put the weight back on, but they also put on extra weight. A study published in the journal Obesity studied 14 contestants of The Biggest Loser 6 years after the end of the show. Only 1 participant managed to keep the weight off. In addition to this finding, the weight regain did not come with a rebound in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Therefore the contestants must eat fewer calories each day to maintain their weight than previous to the show (2). The body reacts to dieting similar to famine. It gives you extra weight as an ‘insurance’ and lowers your metabolism just in case famine strikes again.
If you think that is not bad enough, it gets worse. Neuroendocrine signaling and gut hormones adapt to changes after dieting. Leptin is a satiety signal that tells us when we are full. It may decrease when we are on a diet. Studies have shown that while leptin levels decrease there is also increased brain activity in areas of the brain involved in emotional and sensory control of food intake (3). Now the dieter has food always on the brain, it is no wonder why some dieters feel food obsessed.
So frustrating for the dieter! Losing weight is incredibly complex. You can now begin to appreciate why dieting is not simply about will power nor eating less. Now, this is not to say it will happen to everyone. However, it is one of the factors which explains why for some people they feel like they need to eat less and less to maintain their weight.
Before starting a diet it is important to consider the set point theory. There is no test to find out what your set point weight is. You can guess your setting weight is the weight you normally maintain, give or take a kilo when you’re not thinking about it.
It is possible to get around your set point and lose weight, it requires a systematic approach to ensure your BMR stays at a reasonable rate for long term weight loss success. The best approach is to lose weight slowly, eating a balanced diet in combination with exercise (4).
Seek advice from a nutritionist who specialises in the field of fat loss. A nutritionist uses the latest scientific research and tools to develop programs specific to the individual. If you’d like to find out if Elizabeth can help you, please contact her or book online.
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