Achieving weight loss is a formidable challenge. While some simplistically claim it’s a matter of “calories in versus calories out,” as though our bodies were mere mathematical equations, the reality is far more complex. In truth, if it were that straightforward, everyone would effortlessly excel in the pursuit of a healthier weight.
The path to weight management is influenced by a multitude of additional variables, encompassing heredity, environmental factors, sleep patterns, and muscle mass, to name a few. Amy Gorin, RDN, an expert in plant-based diets based in Stamford, Connecticut, emphasizes the formidable nature of weight management.
While weight loss may pose a formidable challenge, it remains an achievable goal. The focus should be on celebrating small victories, such as incorporating more vegetables into your diet or increasing physical activity like walking. Furthermore, recognizing and addressing the common obstacles or plateaus by looking back can be a valuable strategy.
By acknowledging these five prevalent challenges, you can potentially overcome hurdles and shift the momentum from losing to winning in your weight management journey.
1. Your Medicine Cabinet Is to Blame
Certain medications can lead to weight gain or impede your weight loss efforts. The University of Rochester Medical Center in New York identifies several such medications, including insulin for diabetes management, specific antipsychotic or antidepressant drugs, certain epilepsy treatments, steroids, and blood pressure-lowering medications like beta blockers. These medications may contribute to weight gain by interfering with your metabolism, altering your appetite, causing water retention, or inducing fatigue and reduced physical activity.
If you notice unintended weight gain, it is crucial to discuss this with your healthcare provider. The University of Rochester Medical Center advises against discontinuing your medications solely due to weight gain. Instead, your doctor may consider adjusting your medication or dosage in certain cases. If medication adjustment isn’t feasible, seeking guidance from a qualified dietitian can assist you in making appropriate dietary choices.
2. You Underestimate Your Portion Sizes
The labeling of portion sizes on packaging often presents a perplexing challenge due to their seemingly arbitrary distribution. Despite efforts to make serving sizes on packaging more realistic, such as the transition from a half-cup of ice cream to two-thirds of a cup, as advocated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these labels remain external guidelines that may not align with your actual hunger or dietary requirements.
Amy Gorin recommends a practical approach to address this issue—meal preparation. According to her expertise, this can be achieved by either meticulously tracking your food intake in a food diary to gain insight into your calorie consumption and adjusting portion sizes accordingly, or collaborating with a registered dietitian to craft a user-friendly meal plan. Gorin’s mix-and-match meal plans simplify the complexity and eliminate the ambiguity surrounding portion sizes.
Moreover, a diverse array of meal planning apps is at your disposal. One highly regarded option, called “Lose It,” allows you to monitor calories, set goals, and track progress. This app is freely available on both Google Play and the App Store, providing a convenient tool to aid your dietary journey.
3. Genetics Aren’t Working in Your Favor
Facing a sobering reality, it’s important to acknowledge that one cannot simply choose their desired body type and attain it through dietary choices alone. Dr. Jason R. Karp, PhD, author of “Lose It Forever,” highlights the significant role genetics play in weight management, even if this is not always welcome news. He draws attention to studies involving Swedish twins, whether raised together or separately, revealing that genes account for approximately 70% of the variation in individuals’ body weight—a substantial influence, according to Dr. Karp.
The concept of a “set-point” weight range theory suggests that there exists a weight range at which your body is naturally comfortable. If you lead a healthy and content life, characterized by balanced nutrition and appropriate exercise, you are likely within this range. Straying too far below your set point triggers your brain, rather than your conscious willpower, to employ potent mechanisms to restore your weight to what it deems normal—a phenomenon explained by Karp. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center elaborates on this concept, emphasizing that gradual, steady weight loss is the key to resetting your set point.
To prevent regaining weight after shedding pounds, Dr. Karp advises a sustained reduction in calorie intake, with an emphasis on gradual progress. This entails shedding no more than 10% of your body weight every six months; for instance, a 160-pound woman should aim for a 16-pound loss within six months.
While this concept may be challenging to accept, it offers a valuable and liberating perspective. Rather than blaming oneself for not attaining a specific goal weight or aesthetic, or feeling demotivated, it encourages self-compassion for the body one inhabits. Regardless of your ultimate clothing size, this perspective can motivate you to maintain healthy behaviors that promote well-being. Research published in March 2021 in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism supports the efficacy of weight-inclusive approaches in enhancing various health indicators, including blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, body image, self-esteem, and mental health.
Seeking support from a HAES (Health At Every Size) dietitian can assist you in making this transition, although it may require significant self-reflection and effort. To locate experts in your area, you can utilize the search engine provided by the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
4. You Overestimate Your Calorie Burn
Karp underscores that when it comes to weight loss, your dietary choices—specifically, the quantity you consume—carry more weight than your exercise regimen. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that exercise plays a pivotal role in maintaining weight loss. Research suggests that exercise promotes the development of mitochondria within muscle cells, serving as the body’s energy centers, as explained by the National Human Genome Research Institute.
This phenomenon, as Karp puts it, transforms your body into a more efficient fat and carbohydrate burner. Furthermore, he highlights that individuals who successfully achieve weight loss are typically those who incorporate exercise into their weight loss and maintenance strategy. Notably, a substantial majority of members in the National Weight Control Registry, including 89.6 percent of women and 85.3 percent of men, attribute their sustained weight loss to regular exercise.
Amy Gorin emphasizes that exercise should not be viewed as a punitive measure for dietary choices. Instead, she views it as a beautiful and celebratory expression of your body’s capacity for movement. A study featured in the August 2016 issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology supports this perspective. It suggests that finding enjoyable ways to engage in physical activity, activities that bolster self-confidence, or activities that offer social interaction (if desired) can all contribute to maintaining a consistent exercise routine.
5. You’re Getting Older and Losing Muscle
As women age and enter menopause, the decline in estrogen levels, as noted by Gorin, leads to a gradual loss of muscle mass. Research indeed indicates that beyond the age of 30, muscle mass diminishes by approximately 3 to 8 percent per decade. This decline is particularly significant considering that muscle burns more calories than fat, as confirmed by the Mayo Clinic.
Gorin further highlights that post-menopausal women are susceptible to the accumulation of body fat and a reduced calorie requirement as they advance in age. Additionally, a study conducted in September 2019 and published in Nature Medicine underscores that age-related alterations in fat tissue can contribute to weight gain.
While individuals have control over their health behaviors, they do not have control over the passage of time. However, as Karp emphasizes, people of all ages can achieve weight loss and sustain it by cultivating essential habits and implementing strategies to address potential pitfalls that may lead to weight gain. Gorin recommends adopting practices such as prioritizing nutrient-rich meals, steering clear of empty calories found in processed and high-sugar foods, and incorporating resistance exercises into your weekly routine to rebuild lost muscle.