Weight regain seems to be something that is more prevalent now days. If you have ever had a personal conversation with me you will know one of my sayings is, "It is relatively easy to lose weight, but the journey begins in keeping it off.
It is no secret that people have a tough time keeping it off. It has been well researched that only 17% of Americans are able to maintain a 10% weight loss after 1 year. Many people have repeatedly lost weight, only to regain it again and again. I meet people all the time who have lost the same 25-50 lbs all the time. Dieting to lose weight only to regain it is a common occurrence in America.
Change in body weight is caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. Your body loves to stay in balance. We also know that your body tries to resist weight change and correct this energy imbalance. For example, if you eat 2000 calories per day and suddenly decrease it to 1000, you will lose weight, but you will also get hungry in the process. This hunger drives you to eat more to bring you back into energy balance. This is one of the reasons why maintaining long-term weight loss is so difficult.
Your body has some other protective mechanisms. Your body can resist a negative energy balance by not only making you more hungry, but by decreasing the number of calories you burn. The extent to which this happens in humans is not clear but studies show that it does occur. One of the challenges of successful long-term weight loss could be partly because our bodies reduce their energy expenditure to the point that it makes it very easy to regain the weight.
When you lose weight the amount of energy you use decreases because you have less weight to move around. That is pretty easy to understand. But what if the body becomes more efficient as a whole because of weight loss. This means you could expend less calories for maintaining the proper function of your organs and you could expend less calories for the same movement(s) that helped you lose weight in the first place.
It is clear from research that metabolism (in terms of resting metabolic rate) slows with weight loss. This means if you were to sit on the couch and not move all day, you would burn less calories than when you were heavier. This decrease can even be present even when someone has maintained weight loss for more than a year. However, the slowdown of metabolic rate is not the primary culprit for why it's so easy to regain weight, but it does play a major role.
The main reason why we have the decrease in energy expenditure with weight loss is because we become less active. This doesn't mean we exercise less, either, as exercise is a conscious choice. It means we unconsciously reduce our NEAT and spontaneous activity. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, washing dishes and fidgeting.
We also become more efficient in the activity we do; we expend less calories for the same movement. In fact, 35% of the decrease in activity energy expenditure can be attributed to an increase in efficiency. Overall, we move around less, and we become more efficient at the movements we perform. This is not only why weight loss eventually plateaus, but also why weight is so easily regained.
So how do you combat this? How do you make sure that the weight you lose stays off? How do you break plateaus when weight loss stalls?
You have to remember that physical activity doesn't have to include formal exercise. NEAT makes up the majority of your activity energy expenditure, and thus has the greatest ability to impact it. In fact, walking at only 1 mile per hour will double your energy expenditure over sitting. Anything that you can do to accumulate physical activity throughout the day will dramatically improve your chances of maintaining weight loss long term. Small things add up. Here are 5 things you can put into practice today that will improve your NEAT:
1. Park further away from your destination.
2. Take the stairs rather than an elevator.
3. Work in the yard a couple times per week.
4. Take a short walk during lunch break.
5. Talk on the phone at work while moving around.
Since activity can decrease on an almost unconscious level, you need to make a deliberate conscious effort to get as much activity as possible in throughout your day, every day. Or you will notice weight regain and more weight loss plateaus.