Weight loss is one of the toughest goals in fitness. Whether you’re struggling to see any progress at all, or you’ve hit a plateau, it’s undoubtedly incredibly hard to navigate, both physically and mentally as it demands significant lifestyle changes.
Thankfully our resident nutritionist on YouTube, Richie Kirwan, is back with another instalment of Nutritionist Explains and this episode he’s giving us the science behind why weight loss is so difficult. Here’s what he had to say.
Understanding your metabolism, specifically your basal metabolic rate (BMR), is crucial to making progress. But as you lose weight, your BMR decreases because your body needs fewer calories.
“Because BMR is the energy we need to keep our body alive, if you have a bigger body, you’ll burn more energy, simple as that. That’s the reason why all online calorie calculators ask for your body weight. Muscle, body fat and all your internal organs use energy. The more of them you have the more energy you use. On the other hand, when you lose weight, you lose body fat and you often lose muscle and even some internal organs can get a little smaller.
What all that means is that as you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate drops too.”
Hormones, hormones, hormones
Richie also explains that fluctuating hormones play a massive role in weight loss. Some hormones reduce appetite while others increase it.
First up is leptin — the appetite reducing hormone. Unfortunately for those trying to lose weight, this hormone decreases as you lose weight.
“Leptin is a hormone produced by our fat cells and generally, the more fat you have on your body, the higher your leptin levels are. Leptin is a satiety hormone, meaning it helps to reduce appetite. So, when we lose body fat, or even when we eat fewer calories than normal, we produce less leptin and hunger increases.”
Next is ghrelin. The hormone that increases hunger and one that’s boosted during weight loss.
“Ghrelin is another hormone, produced in the stomach, that has the opposite effect of leptin, it increases hunger and when we fast, restrict calories or potentially when we lose muscle mass from dieting, Ghrelin increases and makes you want to rob a bakery.”
It’s in our genes
So why do our bodies work this way? Richie explains that it’s down to our history.
“Think about it, if you were living on the plains of Africa 200,000 years ago and there was a famine, who do you think would live longer, someone who’s super active with a fast metabolism that’s burning fat all the time… or someone who slows things down and spares the little bodyfat they have, making it last longer?”
Not to mention the fact most of us in the western world have access to cheap (and frustratingly tasty) fast food which is made up of refined carbs and fats that don’t even fill you up.
“It’s not your fault”
Taking into account all of those variables, it’s no surprise that losing weight is challenging. So Richie ends on some words of reassurance.
“If you’ve struggled with weight loss in the past, I want you to know that it’s not your fault. Our current food environment that focuses on excess and our long-term survival focused biology combine to make losing weight damn hard."
Take home message
If you’re working towards a weight loss goal at the moment and struggling to make any progress, just know that it’s most likely down to one of these very natural factors Richie explained.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.