Anyone that has tried dieting knows just how hard it is to keep losing weight and keep it off. Sure the first weeks go well, you’re dropping pounds here there and everywhere, but after a few weeks the scales come to a complete standstill or the numbers even start to creep back up.
Sound familiar? The cold hard facts are that nearly two thirds of people who lose weight on a diet put it back on (and then some).
Generally people find it hard to keep weight off because diets are usually restrictive and unsustainable in some way. You lose weight for a period, but then go back to eating as you were before and ‘ping’ the pounds come back on. (That’s why we advocate lifestyle change rather than dieting!)
But there’s another interesting theory you might not know about…
Set point theory – explained
Everybody has a natural weight set point. This is the weight at which your body hovers when you’re eating healthily. Scientists estimate that the average Jo(e) will have a set point range of 10-20 pounds, which means that at any given time, your body can lose or gain between that amount without much resistance.
To go above your set point will take consistent overeating, to go below involves monumental battle with your body – it will fight you at Every. Step. Of. The. Way. Your body is programmed to function optimally at your set point range and it will do everything to maintain it.
Bit confused? Here’s a nifty analogy: think of it like your core body temperature. Your body’s normal temperature is 37 degrees. If we go above or below that, the body will do everything in its power to get you back to that optimal temperature – it’ll sweat to cool down or shiver to keep warm.
‘Homeostasis’ is the process by which your body maintains itself in a stable condition – whether it’s temperature or weight.
What that means for your weight loss
Set point theory explains why some people reach a ‘stalemate’ situation when losing weight naturally, despite them strictly sticking to their calorie controlled diet.
Your own natural set point might not be what you want it to be or even what society thinks it should be – some people naturally have a higher weight set point, some people have a lower one.
It’s important to take that into account when making lifestyle changes – if your goal is unrealistic it can be demotivating when it’s not realised quickly enough, resulting in people throwing in the towel and reaching for the biscuit tin.
‘But how come I’ve seen people lose a lot of weight and never gain it back?’ you might be asking. Well, changing your set point isn’t impossible. Repeat after us: it’s not impossible.
Now here’s the secret. It takes time. In the words of Take That: ‘Just have a little patience!’ More and more research shows that if you lose weight slowly and gradually your set point can adjust and your body will stop battling you. (Scarily it works the other way – if you stay long enough at a higher weight your body will settle at that too.)
Why Second Nature is different
A lot of people in the Second Nature programme see significant weight loss in the first week alone – but then get disappointed when they don’t keep losing weight at that same rate in the following weeks.
You might remember if you’ve done restrictive fad diets before the elation over the speed at which the pounds drop in the first six weeks. But – and we can’t emphasise this enough – this is not sustainable and could lead to your body resisting further weight loss. The Second Nature programme isn’t like that.
Reducing the speed of weight loss means you are likely to lose that weight for good. Science supports losing no more than 10% of your body weight at a time. It’s the amount you can lose before your body starts fighting back. Most of the time significant life-changing weight loss happens over 1-2 years, not in 1-2 episodes, like on the TV diet shows.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Let’s recap the dieting journey you might have been on in the past: big initial weight loss, then progress stalls, then progress continues to plateau, and finally you get angry and quit. But the stalling part is so important, the scales aren’t moving because your body is adjusting to change.
And it’s working mighty hard to resist the change – by slowing your resting metabolic rate (which means that you might have to do more daily exercise to maintain the same body shape) and increasing your hunger (thanks to the so-called ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin, which often surges after weight loss).
Sustainable weight loss is not a sprint!
We know it’s hard, but if you can hang in there when all your brain can think about is food and you’re working out more to maintain your weight, you’re on the home straight. Once you’ve hit your set point plateau your body likely needs time to adjust to your new weight.
Then you’ll have established a different set point and your body will respond like that’s your ‘new normal’ and you can begin losing pounds again, if you want or need to.
So that’s it! That’s how you can outsmart your body’s set point and continue to lose weight even after you think you’ve reached a plateau. Weight loss doesn’t happen in six weeks, it’s what you do in the months that follow that really count. That’s why our core 12-week programme sets you up with the knowledge, confidence and tools you need (and yes, a motivational kick-start to your weight loss) to then achieve your long term goals and live a healthy lifestyle forever. Remember the hare and tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race.