By Maria Fleet
Many people charge into the New Year by setting a drastic weight loss goal and throwing themselves into a draconian regimen of restricted meals and extra workouts. Rather than doing that – try something different this year, recommends Dr. Scott Isaacs, an endocrinologist and weight management expert in Atlanta, Georgia. He advocates taking a different tack based on the new science around weight management.
More and more studies are showing that there is a lot more to losing weight than simply cutting calories & getting more exercise. While those methods can work in the short-run, they don’t result in sustained weight loss for many people. And when traditional “diets” stop working, people often gain the weight back, and then some. “The thing that makes weight loss successful initially is just calories. It’s ‘calories in, calories out.’ But the body is sensing those calories and it’s sensing its own weight, and the body has what’s called a set point. That’s where the brain thinks your weight should be,” says Dr. Isaacs.
Research in the last 20 years has shown that the body has some elaborate mechanisms that come into play when we eat less. “The hormones that make you feel full go down. The hormones that make you hungry go up. The metabolism goes down. It’s called metabolic adaptation,” explains Dr. Isaacs. It’s our body’s way of staying at that set point. Many people who have tried multiple diets have experienced their body’s stubborn set point – even though they may not have known what causes it.
Before we throw in the towel based on that rather bleak news – Dr. Isaacs says this new understanding of the biology of weight loss has led to some novel ways of tackling obesity. Obesity – defined as a BMI of 30 or above – is recognized as a chronic disease by the American Medical Association. That means it’s not something we can necessarily correct in a month or two at the beginning of the year. But it does mean that health care providers now have much more to offer than the simple instruction to eat less and move more.
“The medical community has changed in a lot of ways in how we view weight. Now, we know the fat cell is a dynamic endocrine organ that produces hormones that regulate appetite,” Dr. Isaacs explains. There are even some medications or surgical procedures that can help circumvent the body’s set point if meal planning & regular exercise aren’t enough. Medication or surgery are not first steps, but if lifestyle changes alone aren’t working, with a doctor’s help we can harness these breakthroughs in the science of weight management to reach our goals.
No one can live on a crazy strict diet forever – and the changes we make to reach a healthy weight need to be “forever” changes. “The thing to focus on is that this is not just for the new year, this is for the rest of your life, and it can be daunting to think about making a permanent change. Take that one day at a time… a little bit everyday, going a bit more in the positive direction,” Dr. Isaacs cautions. He reminds us that we still have to allow ourselves some pleasure.
Start with modest goals in January and make small improvements going forward with the help of a doctor who understands and uses the latest science on weight management. Down the road, if the body’s set point proves too monumental to overcome, medication or surgery could be an additional option to consider. “If you’re working really hard at losing weight and you’re not getting where you need to be, that’s a perfect situation for adding in a weight loss medication,” Dr. Isaacs observes.
So, we can still make a New Year’s resolution around losing weight – and when we have a setback, we’ll understand why. As Dr. Isaacs says, “It’s human biology getting in the way.” But there are some new solutions available that could make this year different.
Diet & exercise alone aren’t enough to help many people reach a healthier weight. Medical treatments are needed to address biological changes in our bodies that can drive weight regain. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.
This article was sponsored by Novo Nordisk Canada. All content is created independently by My Weight – What To Know with no influence from Novo Nordisk.