The Physiology of Weightloss

When we discuss goals to lose weight, it often comes from a desire to look better. We want to fit into smaller jeans, hold less bulge at our bellies, and slim down our hips and rump. The desire to look attractive and sexy is the common end goal, but it can be shallow purpose.


Weight loss is important, but not primarily because it makes us look better. It’s important because it makes us healthier and happier.


First, let’s establish the fact that Americans are overweight. That seems obvious, but when you look at the stats, you’ll see it’s not just talk; and the numbers are quite scary.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 37% of all American adults are obese. That’s more than one in three. And as we’ll see, obesity is strongly connected to a vast list of health conditions. Issues related to obesity include heart disease, strokes, type-2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and breathing problems.


Obesity is obviously associated with the health of our bodies, but what about the health of our minds? There is, in fact, some research that has connected obesity to mental issues, including mood shifts, anxiety, and depression. A survey conducted by researchers from the University of Washington and Harvard Medical School was administered to over 9,000 respondents who provided information on both their physical body (height and weight specifically) and their history of mental disorders. The results showed that people with obesity were 25% more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders.


There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look better, but the purpose of losing weight goes beyond swimsuits, tank tops, and slim jeans…


The Physiology of Weight Loss


The Bad Guys: Foods That Contribute to Obesity

We all want to live healthy, which means managing weight, and one of the most important components of a healthy weight is a healthy diet. There are many things we should eat, but let’s start by looking at the things we should avoid. By first eliminating the contributors to obesity, we can then fill in the gaps with healthy nutrition.


To be honest, any food that you eat too much of can cause weight gain. This goes for celery just as much as ice cream, but certain foods, when eaten frequently, are more likely to cause obesity.


In your home, there are many foods that are more likely to cause obesity, including potato chips, which are high in saturated fats, packaged cookies, which have saturated fats and sugar, and soft drinks, which are loaded with empty calories. Sugary cereals are full of calories as well, making them poor choices for your breakfast.


When trying to eat healthy, we often turn to salads, but it’s important to remember that salad dressings can be extremely fattening. Many ranch dressings and caesar dressings, for example, have over 150 calories in just two tablespoons. Generally speaking, vinaigrette dressings are healthier, providing fewer calories and saturated fats to go with your meal.


Fast food is heavily linked to poor health and obesity, but when you talk about science (and we are talking physiology here!), you have to back it up with facts, not speculation. Look no further than a study from researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Children’s Hospital Boston, which found a connection between fast food and weight gain. The study found that people who ate fast food at least twice a week gained roughly 10 pounds compared to participants who ate fast food less than once a week.


Fad Weight-Loss Diets: Do They Work, Are they Healthy?

Weight loss can be tricky, and people are usually looking for the fast cure to their weight problems. Unfortunately, this means many turn to fad diets. But do these diets work? And even if they do help people lose weight, are they actually healthy? Let’s explore a couple of the most popular fad diets, as well as some scientific research, to find out…


Atkins Diet

Possibly the most famous fad diet of all time, the Atkins diet stresses eating fewer carbohydrates and replacing them with proteins, especially meat. On the surface, this sounds like a good plan, and many people claim to have lost weight with the diet, but numerous studies have found flaws in this fad, particularly from a long-term health and nutrition perspective.


A report in LiveScience does a good job of summing up low-carb fads. Essentially, the diet helps people lose weight quickly, but it appears that low-fat diets (as opposed to strictly low-carb) are better for losing weight and keeping it off.


South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet, created by Dr. Arthur Agatston, emphasizes a balance of good carbs, lean meats, and healthy fats to create a nutritional diet with lots of fiber. It is lower in carbs than typical eating, although not as extreme as the Atkins diet.


While the South Beach Diet has some good lessons, a study of scientific claims made by the creators found that only 33% of the facts were completely supported by research. (Another 43% were “both supported and not supported.”)


There are many other diet fad diets that will come and go, but the truly effective ones will likely stay. In general, if a diet promises fast results with little work, it’s not a healthy option for losing weight and keeping it off. The best are the ones that emphasize lifestyle changes over fast results.


Is there a “Right Way” to Loose Weight?

We’ve talked about fad diets that may deliver fast results but don’t last. But are there any diets that are actually effective in the long run?


Mediterranean Diet

Considered one of the best diets for heart health, the Mediterranean diet essentially involves all the basics of healthy eating along with olive oil, red wine, and other foods the typically characterize diets found among cultures living near the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Spain, and Italy. It includes lots of plants, whole grains, and nuts, and generally limits red meat while emphasizing more fish and poultry.


A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people with high risk of heart issues could reduce major events by incorporating elements of the Mediterranean diet. For weight loss, there is evidence that the Mediterranean diet is just as effective as a low-carb diet, making it a preferred option for some cardiologists and doctors.


Mayo Clinic Diet

Focused on making simple, gradual, and easy-to-understand changes, the Mayo Clinic diet is designed for healthy weight loss. It’s not a two-week or six-month program, but rather emphasizes making life-long changes to your daily routine in order to make lasting differences to your health. It will add some habits and attempt to break others, and doesn’t just look at food, but also how you eat and how you move. It usually emphasizes limiting food portions, and often stresses the importance of at least a half hour of activity every day to maximize weight-loss results.


The Mayo Clinic recommends this diet for many reasons. They claim that people who want to follow a diet developed by medical professionals and want to learn about and use healthy eating habits will benefit from this form of planning. It’s also beneficial, they say, for people who want to eat right, but may not be interested in counting carbs, calories, or fat, and don’t want to completely eliminate certain groups of foods.


The Importance of Exercise in Weight Loss

When it comes to losing weight and slimming our waists, we often turn to two aspects: diet and exercise. However, there is a debate about which is more effective, and which is more important for weight loss.


A study from researchers with East Carolina University and other institutions found that while exercising is unlikely to cause weight loss without significant changes to the diet, activity will limit the amount gained when diet choices are poor. In other words, exercise may not cause you to lose weight, but it will reduce your chances of weight gain.


Exercise, regardless of counting pounds, remains an important part for an overall healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a consistent regimen of physical activity should be a priority for everyone. Yes, it is possible to lose weight without significantly improving your exercise habits, but physical movement will not only make you feel better, it will improve your chances of long-term, healthy weight loss.


The Importance of Metabolism When Trying to Lose Weight

If you have researched weight loss, you’ve likely come across the term “metabolism.” People use this term a lot, but do you know what it really means, or why it’s important to weight loss?


Metabolism refers to the way our bodies break down and use energy. In a more basic phrase, it’s the way we burn calories. Our bodies will burn calories in many different ways, including everyday movement, such as walking and working, or physical exercise, such as our cardio routine at the gym. But our body also burns calories without our active movements. For example, we need energy to keep our heart beating and our brain functioning. This inactive use of energy is called the basal metabolic rate, and it’s partly (not entirely) determined by your inherited genes.


While body weight is largely due to personal choices, including exercise and diet, a person’s natural metabolism will play a role. Some people have naturally slow metabolisms, meaning their bodies take longer to process energy and the excess energy then becomes stored, mostly in fat. Others have fast metabolisms, and seem to be able to eat anything they want and never gain weight.


Regardless of your metabolism, if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Take in less than you burn, and you’ll eventually lose weight.


Metabolism, however, can throw a tricky little wrench in this plan. When intake is reduced, the body senses tough times ahead, so it naturally slows our metabolism. This was a survival function for our early ancestors, but now it has become a health hazard, as rich foods are readily available and sedentary life is the norm.


Therefore, one of the tricks for weight loss is to reduce calorie intake without slowing the metabolic rate. So how can you increase and sustain your metabolic rate? There are many theories, including adding muscle through strength training (muscle has a higher rate than fat), stay hydrated (which helps with calorie burn), and eating more small meals (five, for example) instead of three large meals. Coffee and tea have also been linked to enhancing metabolism.


Understanding metabolism and how your body burns calories is important. If losing weight is your goal, you need to make efforts to keep your metabolic rate going in a healthy and sustained manner.


Weight Loss Goals: Finding Your Happy Medium

Some of the fad diets we discussed above advertise loosing as much weight as possible in the shortest amount of time. But is this the healthy approach? According to the CDC, the healthiest weight loss happens at about 1 to 2 pounds per week. This is because people who lose weight at this rate have a higher tendency to actually keep the weight off.


So what should be the final goal with weight loss? After everything we’ve discussed, from proper diet to exercise to maintaining metabolism, where should your final weight land?


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers some insight on final goals for health. However, they don’t focus on a specific weight, but rather waist size. They claim that the healthiest goal for men is a waist size of 40 inches or less, while women should aim for a waist size of 35 inches or less.


However, if you want a target weight, you can look at the Body Mass Index chart provided by the American Cancer Society. This chart gives you weights that are considered healthy, overweight, and obese for different heights. This chart holds for both men and women, making it a convenient reference.


Final Thought: Improve Your Weight, But Focus on Health

If we could leave you with one final thought, it’s this: remember that proper weight is just one aspect of health. Like blood pressure and cholesterol, controlling your weight is a part of healthy living, not the entire package. The final target should be a healthy mind and body, and weight loss should be used to reach this goal.

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