The success of weight loss (and your life afterwards) depends not only on how you lose weight, but also on your own interest in life.
To begin with, due to the laws of brutal evolution, fat is perceived by the brain as a good thing (especially if there is a predisposition for obesity). Our brain has a built-in ‘programme’ for storing stored fat and it works all the time .
Those who lost a lot of weight had much lower energy expenditure than those who stayed the same. The difference was 143-161 kcal for those who had lost weight at rest. But the biggest difference between estimated and actual energy expenditure was between 298-334 kcal for those who lost weight and those who did not.
This effect is called ‘adaptive thermogenesis’ and it persists even a year or more after weight loss.
The difference between the observed energy expenditure of those who lost weight (red and blue) and those who stayed at the same weight continuously.
How not to lose weight
In 2004 the first season of the hit US reality show “The biggest loser” aired. Then the show went under licence around the world (in Russia, the analogue was called “Weight Watchers”).
The participants of The Biggest Loser at the end of the next season.
The name of the show is originally derogatory: it is based on a play on the word “to lose weight” – it means “to lose weight”, but the concrete translation of the word “loser” means loser, and in Russian jargon it means exactly the same thing) .
The idea of the show was that seriously obese people would lose weight for 30 weeks, while competing for a $250,000 prize.
Of course, at the end of the show, a slimmed down and styled beauty (or handsome man) would appear before the audience, wearing compression underwear under their clothes to conceal the huge amount of sagging skin. The difference in comparison to the original form was stark; the happy ending delighted viewers eating doughnuts and other food trash in front of the screens.
But few people were interested in the fate of the contestants of previous seasons, because every year a new one began and the “old-timers” were forgotten about. They were forgotten until two articles appeared simultaneously in May 2016: in the NY Times and in Obesity magazine .
The NY Times article “After The Biggest Loser participants gained weight again” was widely discussed in the USA.
It cited the results of a study by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Scientists monitored 14 contestants from the 8th season of the show for six years. It turned out that their weight back almost completely, and in some cases even more.
Suzanne Mendonca, who lost 40kg on season 2 of the show in 2005, said: “NBC will never get us back on the show. Why? We all got fat again.”
Scientists have attempted to understand the reasons for these failures. Why, after managing to lose weight, were the participants unable to maintain the results they had achieved?
Two main reasons were voiced:
- Slowing down of the basal metabolism due to weight loss. Almost everyone who loses weight will have a slower metabolism after dieting. As the years went by and the numbers on the scale increased, the participants’ metabolism did not recover and sometimes even slowed down. The person’s body was no longer burning enough calories to maintain that low weight. The brain was trying to keep things the way they were before.
- The post-loss, wild feelings of hunger and associated eating disorders, at least in the form of uncontrollable bouts of obsessive-compulsive overeating. The researchers attributed this to a significant decrease in one of the hormones responsible for satiety, leptin.
The final conclusion was that obese people are trapped in the brain’s biochemistry after losing weight. It tries to correct the “glitch in the program”, as a result returning its bearers to their previous or higher weight. This applies to both five and fifty pounds lost.
The articles caused a wide public outcry. After 17 seasons, NBC television closed the show. Whether it was the scandal or the ratings of seasons 16 and 17 that sank by dozens of percent  is up to the producers to say.
The story continues today. In 2020, the show was reborn in another American channel: USA Network but in a “improved” and softened format: 12 participants with a lower starting weight, 10 weeks instead of 30, and, finally, $100,000 prizes instead of 250,000. The show is also continuing in several other countries.
What mistakes did the contestants and nutritionists make
Now let’s go deeper into the details, which is where the devil is known to lie.
The contestants on the show lost weight for 30 weeks under extremely brutal conditions, shedding weight by any means necessary. Their weight loss programme included :
- Cardio exercise 6 days a week for 90 minutes,
- Daily strength training,
- Hypocaloric diet (severe caloric restriction).
- In interviews, participants said that the trainers of the show welcomed some drugs banned in Russia, but allowed in the
- USA (e.g. Adderall), diuretics and encouraged vomiting.
The fact that extreme hunger strikes at high physical exertion can do the most severe damage to the human body could be written off as ignorance, if it were not for the famous Minnesota Hunger Experiment, known to nutritionists the world over.
In 1944 36 young people took part in Dr Ansel Keys’ experiment in Minneapolis. The average daily caloric intake was 1570 kcal. Six months of this diet yielded amazing results. From the first weeks, participants began to show mental apathy. Food was what worried them the most. The subjects were often irritable and aggressive. The men’s facial features became thinner, their cheekbones bulged, and their collarbones and ribs protruded.
After fasting, the young men consumed between 5,000 and 10,000 calories a day. Within a few months they all claimed they could not satisfy their hunger, no matter how much they ate. They all outweighed their pre-experiment weight.
Even this experiment was far more humane than the aforementioned show, which leads me to believe that the doctors and nutritionists who worked with the “The biggest loser” show participants originally understood what would happen to them afterwards.
And the world, where “not tested on animals” is written on cream jars, watched with interest the people who became guinea pigs in a cruel experiment for a while.
After the show, the organisers released people into a life full of food temptations, essentially after the conditions of a ‘concentration camp’. And provided them with a list of some “standard” recommendations for weight maintenance (which included, for example, working out 9 hours a week).
It is also important to recall that the participants went back to their normal lives and routines. When they took part in the show, they had a goal and that was a major motivation for losing weight during the show period.
But achieving one goal is not a fairy tale with a happy ending, there should always be a continuation in life. If there is no longer a goal, it becomes boring. Interest in life is predictably replaced by depression…
This does not mean that losing weight is useless and the pounds you lose are bound to come back. There are examples of weight retention after a diet (for example, Tanya Rybakova or the author of this article). But it is important to approach the question in the right way.
You can do to yourself what you did to the contestants of the show: cut calories and work out… and, as a result, your metabolism will go into a steep peak. It’ll be harder to get out of it, but it’s also possible.
Or, do the right thing straight away: lose weight the way smart people do, based on the right strategy, which in turn is based on the results of proper (and not intentionally sponsored by certain manufacturers) studies. And if you’re still reading me right now and the problem of being overweight is really a problem you really want to solve, then read on.
It is possible (and not even difficult) to lose and maintain the weight
If you were to ask me what is more difficult, losing weight or keeping it off, I would not be able to answer definitively. Neither is difficult for me now. Losing weight was probably more difficult because I did not have a clear structure of knowledge in my head, and for a long time (and a very long time) I believed in common myths about weight loss.
By analyzing my own experiences, as well as the successful experiences of people who have lost weight, I have deduced a few uncomplicated, but critical aspects. They may seem trivial to you in some ways and downright bizarre in others, but I know exactly what I’m writing about.
- You should always start by adjusting your existing diet (rather than copying other people’s diets) based on the foods and tastes you like. That is, the right set of foods is ALREADY in your fridge, in whole or in part.
- 80% of a proper diet should be made up of natural, organic, quality foods: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, vegetables, berries, small amounts of sweet fruits and cereals. I think the right thing to do is to work primarily with a set of basic foods, not just (and not so much) with calories, but that’s a topic for a separate article.
- a good diet for getting rid of fat is always a high protein content (scientists recommend 30% of total calories). It is protein that helps you control physiological hunger and lose weight more at the expense of fat tissue than muscle. Fats and carbohydrates can be varied in different proportions, based on personal preference. And – again! – On the right mix of foods.
- Don’t be influenced by orthorexia, which is when you eliminate certain foods or whole food groups because they supposedly don’t fit the ‘logic’ of proper nutrition. A flexible approach to dieting is more successful than rigid PP.
- It is important to remove all stocks of processed and high-calorie foods from the home. Especially if we’re talking about having a food addiction (which most people do). If you VERY much want to include them in your diet, you should buy them in portions, not with a week’s supply. (This is exactly the same opinion of Zohjnik – see the article: “Don’t buy them, don’t eat them: easy willpower instead of willpower”).To back up my words, I want to tell you about an experiment by Eric Ravussin in the 90s . Scientists knew very well that people cannot be trusted to count calories – as a rule everyone counts incorrectly: intentionally or not. So they locked people of different genders, ages, weights and ethnicities in rooms with food machines installed. The selection of food in the machines was not random: it was tasty calorie-dense food based on the personal preferences of the individual. They could eat whenever they wanted and for free, but they were not asked to overeat on purpose. The conclusion from this experiment was that all participants in the trial overeated, eating an average of 173% of their daily caloric intake. And they overeated from day one until the end of the experiment. Of course, they gained weight during this time. And the reason for this overeating was not a lack of willpower, but the natural settings of the human brain.
- It is categorically forbidden to physically overload yourself while in diet control mode. It will only get worse. And the result will be delayed in time. (For a more detailed breakdown, see the text “Starvation diet + heavy exertion hinder fat burning”) If you don’t like celery, don’t force yourself to eat it. If you don’t like sports – don’t do them. My personal opinion (even though I’ve been in sport for many years): one is not born for sport in principle. And sport also has nothing to do with shedding fat according to scientists . You can practice yoga, walk and/or massage (or self-massage) to improve lymph flow and speed up your metabolism. But even these are not essential. Nutrition is key!
- You need to sleep well and enough. Lack of sleep causes increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases irritability (and chances of a breakdown!), suppresses the immune system, and causes intense feelings of hunger. In high concentrations, cortisol interferes with fat burning and promotes weight gain.
- Your life should be full and interesting. Yes, losing weight on its own can be a goal in itself for a while, which will give pleasure in the process and expectation of results. And then you’ll need to come up with a new goal. But already prepared for this at least because we just told you about it. Finding your vocation, which the ancient Egyptians believed in, is a series of psychology and self-discovery.
- You can’t set yourself a tight deadline for losing weight. No, I’m not talking about losing a pound a year. But that there is no one-size-fits-all measure of how fast you can lose weight. First the weight is lost faster, then there is a slowdown, which is generally where most people stumble.