The Fat Trap
People who diet to lose weight often find themselves stuck in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘fat trap’ - meaning the pounds they lose in dieting often return. Most people assume the reason for the weight gain is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. A physician at the University of Melbourne, Australia suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.
Beginning in 2009, Joseph Proietto, MD, and his team recruited 50 obese men and women to participate on a study on the ‘fat trap’ that included an extremely low calorie diet. The men weighed an average of 233 pounds; the women weighed about 200 pounds. Although some people dropped out of the study, most of the patients stuck with the extreme low-calorie diet consisting of special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables. Diet meals totaled just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks. Ten weeks in, the dieters lost an average of 30 pounds.
At that point, the 34 patients who remained stopped dieting and began working to maintain the new lower weight. Nutritionists counseled them in person and by phone, promoting regular exercise and urging them to eat more vegetables and less fat. Even with such effort, participants slowly began to put on weight. After a year, the patients had already regained an average of 11 of the pounds they struggled so hard to lose. They also reported feeling far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight. The patients were experiencing the ‘fat trap’.
While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it's losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the 'hunger hormone', was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn't tried to lose weight in the first place.
"What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight," Proietto says. "This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment."
If you have been dieting to lose weight but continually find yourself stuck in the ‘fat trap’ call NWH Surgical Weight Loss today at 877.677.1077, or visit our About Us page to learn how we can help.
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