Is It as Simple as “Just Eating Less”?

March 15th, 2015

Almost any person who struggles with excess weight has been told time and again that they “just need to eat less and exercise more”. This advice, whether it comes from family or strangers or even healthcare providers, is a frustrating oversimplification of a problem many don’t understand. There’s good reason to be weary of hearing this ‘advice’. A growing body of research finds what obesity experts have long seen: lifestyle and behavioral modifications usually are not enough to help someone drop a significant amount of weight and keep it off. Research has shown that obesity is much more complex than simply a matter of overeating and not moving enough—there are substantial biological factors involved.

A new paper published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology explains that while a healthy diet and exercise may help obese individuals lose weight in the short term, 80-95% eventually regain the weight. The research points to a type of biological “fat loss defense” that is activated when obese people reduce their calorie intake. The mechanism encourages the body to stay at a higher weight. There were times in our history when many had a realistic fear of food scarcity, and the body’s tendency to hold onto weight was a benefit in those situations. However, now that so many are living in modern environments of food abundance, this biological factor is a large barrier in keeping weight off.  Most obese people are not able to override the mechanism in the long-term, so weight regain is common after dieting.

What can be done to work around this defense?  According to the paper, the first step is to recognize that obesity is a ‘chronic and often treatment-resistant disease’.  Bariatric surgery is currently the only obesity treatment that works long-term. Weight loss procedures, such as Lap-Band, gastric bypass, or gastric sleeve, have been shown to create changes in the body such as altering appetite-related hormones, which addresses some of the underlying issues contributing to a person’s obesity.

At CHI Memorial Metabolic and Bariatric Care we constantly work with our patients to achieve the meaningful lifestyle changes that are a part of every successful surgery and weight loss journey. However, this does not mean that lifestyle changes alone are regularly able to bring the weight loss and related health benefits that many need.  You can learn more about obesity, weight loss surgery, and lifestyle changes on our website or schedule an appointment today by calling  (423) 899-1000.

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