It has happened to all of us. We lose weight. We feel great as we bask in the compliments and the positive physical feelings. And then we find ourselves gaining weight again. Research has shown that yo-yoing weight is unhealthy and can lead to mental health problems because of the impact on your confidence and mood. But, yo-yoing weight seems, to most of us, to be almost inevitable. How do we lose weight sustainably?
The first step has long been proven to be that you should avoid crash diets. Diets where you cut out swaths of food are destined to make you revert to eating more when you complete them. Instead, as we are always advocating for, you should make slow, steady changes to make your overall diet healthier.
Looking for even more solid advice, researchers did one of the first in-depth studies to figure out the science behind keeping weight off. Their research was specifically on how obese people can stop themselves from moving backward and maintain long-term weight loss.
Their results showed that people could be successful at keeping extra pounds off, or losing additional ones, after a diet by combining exercise and appetite-inhibiting medication. The medication mimics the natural hormone GLP-1. The drug is called Saxenda. For many of us, especially people who like nutritional supplements, hearing that a medication might be key can be disappointing. However, it is worth noting that they were doing their research on obese people. And, people who exercised without the drug did see positive results.
Signe Torekov headed the research, and he spoke about why adding the medication helped after dieting. “The problem is that people are fighting against strong biological forces when losing weight. The appetite increases simultaneously with decreased energy consumption. [This] counteracts weight loss maintenance. We have an appetite-stimulating hormone, which increases dramatically when we lose weight, and simultaneously the level of appetite-suppressing hormones drops dramatically. In addition, a weight loss can provoke loss of muscle mass, while the body reduces the energy consumption. Thus, when the focus in obesity treatment has been on how to obtain a weight loss — rather than how to maintain a weight loss — it is really difficult to do something about your situation.”
As we eat less, our hunger hormone rises, and our appetite-suppressing hormone drops. Then we lose muscle weight as opposed to fat, which is easier to gain back.
The people in the study all started by losing approximately 29 pounds. Then they were split into four groups. Two groups got placebos, two got the medications. Then those groups were either told to do 150 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise every week or just to live their everyday lives. After a year, the groups that had received either just the drug or just exercise had kept the weight off and maintained health improvements. The group that got the placebo and no exercise had gained half the weight back. The group that had received the drug and worked out lost, on average, 35 additional pounds with better muscle mass, lower blood sugar and higher quality of life.
Both the groups that worked out saw improvements in their muscle mass, fat mass and physical ability. The people who worked out but didn’t take the medication were the same weight as the people who took the drug but didn’t workout — they all maintained their weight without losing any more. But, in addition to keeping the weight off, they were more physically fit. That’s great news if you are uninterested in adding medication to your routine! But the people who were on a combination of exercise and the drug were physically fitter and lost more weight than any other group.
The researchers stressed that the placebo group that didn’t change their exercise routine reverted back to their pre-diet health. It underscores how important it is to make lifestyle changes after making an effort to lose weight. We all have times when we feel like “the job is done.” But, unfortunately, this is a reminder that weight, and health problems, return if you don’t change your lifestyle. If you work to make changes to your weight or health, it’s essential to stay the course. Talk to your doctor about how to best maintain changes in your health and what exercise or diet changes are right for you!