Recently, after many months of committed effort and losing a significant amount of weight, I "hit the wall." Those of us who have struggled to leave the ranks of the obese know about "the wall." The wall is when weight loss slows down and we hit the famous "plateau", and our bodies think it is over. Should I continue to let go of stored fat or hold on tight to my stores of reserve? I believe the physiological aspects of weight loss need to be better understood in our conversations about obesity. I have encountered endless frustration at this point in my efforts to achieve weight loss and better health. Perhaps you have too.
According to Marion Franz, MD, in The Dilemma of Weight Loss in Diabetes, "Do dieters stop losing weight after 6 months of dieting because they no longer have the willpower?....research has helped us understand adaptive mechanisms that occur with a reduced energy intake and a decline in weight." When we lose weight we have a slower metabolism due to the calorie restriction that is necessary for weight loss. And after concluding calorie restriction we may have a slower metabolism permanently, which means putting weight back on is easier for our bodies.
Dr. M. Schwartz, an Obesity and Diabetes researcher and Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington has observed, " As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try and get you back (to your original weight)."
Another physiologic reaction to weight loss is changes in levels of hormones like leptin and ghrelin. When we lose weight these lower levels of key hormones lead to feeling ravenous. Does this shed another light on why after prolonged calorie restriction our appetites feel impossible to satisfy and create the perfect set up for binge eating?
And we are back on the slippery slope. Now instead of standing victorious (we are successful!, we are in control!), the rumbling of the avalanche can be heard in the distance... will it be stress, or a cold, or a piece of chocolate that will unleash the forces of our bodies or minds to make up for deprivation? According to Jane Wardle, PhD, "craving for food, preoccupation with eating, and loss of control over food intake present natural psychobiological adaptation to suboptimal weight and food deprivation. Compulsive eating is therefore best understood in terms of a conflict between biologically derived drive for food and a culturally derived drive for thinness."
Psychologically we are thrown back to all the old scripts: we have failed again, we are still very overweight, we have no self control. Nothing has changed. But! What if we say no to all of this painful thinking and take a step back and remember all is not lost, just bring our expectations down and mentally connect with hope and possibility and realism. There are many forces that make change and recovery from obesity very difficult. Now add to your understanding, our bodies and their survival mechanisms. It is not our mental weakness.
Remember compassion for ourselves can always be activated- keep it in your pocket and hold on to it through the ups and downs on the slippery slope of healing obesity.