Let's see if this scenario sounds familiar: you set out to lose weight, are eating healthily and exercising, yet your weight doesn't seem to budge. Or, you follow a strict diet, lose weight, but it all comes back when you resume normal eating patterns.
You may be ticking all the boxes for weight loss, but your body is staying at the weight it (frustratingly) seems to like. Is this a real problem, or are we just not 'working hard' enough?
Do our bodies have a set weight?
Turns out, we do have a set body weight. But you can change that, according to Nick Fuller, an obesity researcher and author of 'Interval Weight Loss'. And it doesn't involve strict dieting or excessive exercise.
"The set point is the body weight a person will remember their weight being at for a long period of time. It's the body weight that a body will defend, so if you lose weight, the body will do all it can to get back to its set point and defend that level of fatness," Fuller told HuffPost Australia.
"The problem is that, as is always the case with fad dieting or following the next weight loss product that hits the shelves, not only do you put the weight back on that you lost, but you often redefine that set point as a higher starting point than when you started.
"Essentially you're dieting yourself fatter and fatter."
Why do our bodies have a set weight?
When we dramatically decrease energy intake (that is, eating less food and/or exercising frequency), this can 'shock' the body, reducing metabolism and increasing hunger, Fuller explained.
"The body has to do all it can to defend that set point. In a given day, our caloric intake and exercise output varies enormously, so we need to have a set point which is our day-to-day body weight," he said.
"A person will often stay at this weight for a long period of time, unless you keep imposing a stress on it, and that stress might be an excess in calories, or very low energy expenditure."
We're sorry to say, but it gets worse.
"Over time, the weight might start to increase each year. Over the age of 30, and even more so over the age of 40, our weight will go up 1-2 kilos each year."
Can we change our set body weight?
Fortunately, there are ways to 'reset' the body into a new set point.
"The way this is achieved is by losing small amounts of weight (which is individually tailored), then having to maintain that weight loss for the next month, before you're allowed to then go on and lose more weight and then maintain it for the month. You repeat this until the person's goal weight is achieved," Fuller said.
"It's for anybody, because some people might only have to lose a few kilograms, while others will have to lose 20-30 kilograms. The people at the latter end just have to follow the program for a much longer period of time before they get to their new goal weight."
Essentially, you're setting a new norm for your body, without the factors of increased hunger and reduced metabolic function, which you find with most diets.
"You're redefining your set weight in gradual increments along the way. It's about doing it slow and steady until you get to your new redefined set point."
Why diets don't work or help to reset body weight
"The problem with all the fad diets or weight loss products that continually hit the shelf each day is that they're unrealistic, unhealthy and often dangerous ways of losing weight," Fuller said.
"You're typically taking out a food or whole food group, so yes, people are successful at losing weight, but then they will only put the weight back on -- and often end up at a higher starting point than when they started."
Losing weight slowly, and maintaining that weight loss for a month at a time, works by preventing the usual response you get with weight loss.
"That's where a person experiences a decrease in metabolism (the amount of energy you burn at rest) and an increase in appetite hormones telling them to eat more, which only drives a person's weight back to where they started," Fuller said.
"Interval Weight Loss is just about an individually-tailored, scientifically-proven lifestyle plan. It goes against the norm of what everyone else is spruiking every day, telling people to restrict or omit foods and food groups.
"It's about people eating an abundance of food from all the different food groups, and focusing on eating more from wholesome, natural food sources."
Need a bit of help to get you started? Try these healthy eating tips and recipes.
Nick Fuller's book Interval Weight Loss is now available from all good bookstores and online.
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