- Losing Muscle. Our muscles are calorie burning machines. This is why men can diet for a day and lose 5 pounds while we have to diet for a month to get the same results. Men have more muscle mass and burn more calories. As we get older, we lose muscle. Some of that loss is caused by less physical activity – but not all of it. Even a relatively inactive person in her 20’s will have more muscle than a fairly active 60 year old. After you reach adulthood, your calorie burning drops 2% each decade. If you’re inactive, it drops 5% each decade. The lesson? Keep that muscle mass up by exercising. Don’t just do cardio but add in some serious strength training with weights or exercise bands to keep your metabolic machinery in gear.
- Biological barriers. Your body may get more efficient at storing fat as you gain more weight. There’s an enzyme called LPL (lipoprotein lipase) that stores the fat you eat as body fat. LPL lives on the surface of your fat tissue so the more fat you have, the more LPL, and the more efficient you are at storing fat. There are other biological barriers to weight loss. Ghrelin, a hormone that triggers eating, may go up as you cut calories. While that seems strange, it seems to be an evolutionary holdover as your body tries to protect you from the famine!
- Genetics. Research is pretty solid in the area of genetics and weight. There’s no doubt that your genetics influence your weight although it’s the combination of genes and a food laden environment that really set us up for obesity. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope. It does mean you may never get to a dream weight where you’re just not meant to be. The lesson here? Set realistic goals for weight loss. Toss out the charts that tell you where your weight should be and be realistic.
- Stay the course. It may take more than a few weeks for your efforts to pay off.
- Keep a food record for a few days. A food record is one of the most useful tools getting a true picture of your eating habits and changing them.
- Avoid the temptation of extreme dieting. Extreme diets and calorie cutting are tempting in times like these. Don’t fall for it – you’ll sacrifice short term satisfaction for long term misery.
- Reward behaviors not pounds lost. If the numbers on the scale make you feel bad, then only weigh yourself once or twice a month. Reward yourself for sticking to the plan, not for the pounds lost.
- Go easy on yourself. Realize that this is hard and it’s going to be slow.
- Get help. A registered dietitian can help you analyze what you’re doing and what you can change.
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences