30% of the world’s population—nearly 2.1 billion people—are obese or overweight. (1) The chances are very good that no matter where you live or who you are, you probably want to lose a few pounds. The problem with that of course, is that even with dieting and exercise it can seem impossible to lose weight. Even when we do succeed at losing those precious pounds, we often gain them back plus some the moment we ease up on our diet and exercise program.
No one wants to exist on a diet of kale and water forever, but all of the dieting advice we get reminds us that dieting is a lifestyle change. Does that mean we are doomed to muffin tops and plus sized outfits forever?
That may be entirely up to your brain. (2 & 3) We know that our brain does not like it when change happens to our bodies. Everything about our bodies is carefully regulated by our brains, from how much calcium is in our blood to what temperature our bodies are maintained at. When these things are even slightly out of balance, our bodies scramble into action in order to save our bodies from disaster.
While we might not think of losing weight as a disaster for our bodies, our brains are hardwired to think any changes in the body are bad ones, especially weight loss. When we try to lose weight, our brains notice that we’ve lost those pounds, and views it as a potential famine. It then springs into action to make it as difficult as possible to lose any more weight.
Yeah, thanks a lot brain.
If you’re wondering what it does specifically, the brain releases a hormone called leptin. (4) Leptin makes you feel hungrier, crave food more, and and slows your metabolism down. That means it will be harder for you to burn calories, and you’ll notice every last potato chip bag, candy bar, and fast food restaurant you pass a lot more. It can take up to a year before your body accepts a lower weight as the new normal, and stops battling you on how much you should weigh.
Not many of us have the willpower to deal with the 24/7 battle placed on us by our bodies to regain the weight that was lost. This leads to yo-yo dieting, and depression as it becomes clear losing weight will slip out of our grasp once more.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make losing weight easier. The trick isn’t to crash diet or run a marathon. Instead, the best way to do so is to lose weight slowly. Very slowly. By restricting your calories just a little bit below what you are used to eating, and exercising a little bit more than usual to help burn calories, you can drop weight a small amount at a time.
Your brain won’t freak out about the famine that has appeared because the amount of weight loss is minimal. Over the course of weeks and months those pounds will add up, but you won’t be triggering yourself into starvation mode and piling the pounds back on.
In today’s society of instant gratificatoin, slowing down weight loss can be disappointing, but it’s important to remember that the pounds didn’t appear overnight, so they also won’t leave overnight. A sensible weight loss plan isn’t going to involve shedding 10 pounds in 2 weeks. Instead, make small changes to your diet. If you normally eat eggs, bacon and toast every morning for breakfast, simply removing a single piece of bacon can help reduce calories, or swapping out a high calorie snack for a lower calorie one.
The best part of this sensible weight loss plan? You don’t have to give anything up at all. Eat all your favorite foods, and enjoy them. Ice cream? Totally okay. Steak and potatoes? That’s on the menu. All of the foods you routinely eat are fine, you’re simply eating just a little bit less of them.
Of course, if you normally eat a salad for lunch, switching to a hamburger because nothing is off limits will still result in weight gain, even if you dutifully short yourself a few fries. The trick is to eat normally, but eat a little bit less of what you normally would, or swap out a treat you love with a treat you also love, but is lower in calories. A snickers bar for example, instead of a milky way bar. (50 calorie difference, and you’re still getting candy.)
These changes are easy to maintain, because they are small changes that don’t hurt nearly so much as giving up all our favorite foods or depriving ourselves of the calories we need for basic function. Before you think about going on a big crash diet, consider adopting this much kinder technique instead.