Why You Gain Weight Back After a Diet...(and how to break the Cycle)

The day after a long holiday weekend (this year the 4th was especially long, right?!) people quickly jump back in to "I've got to get back on track..."vibes. 

Juices cleanses, salads, deprivation...wash, rinse repeat.

Many people, whether they realize it or not, live in a perpetual state of diet mentality. Even if they aren't engaging in the actual behavior of a diet, they're thinking about it. "I ate a burger WITH the bun, that's bad." "My butt looks fat in these jeans...gross." They want to look and feel a certain way but sit somewhere between the realities of daily life, and achieving that goal.

What if I told you that our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for?  If you consider that our bodies are always working towards homeostasis and it's US who throw them out of wack via our choices, it begins to change the focus and conversation. 

According to research articles on Pub Med there is evidence to support the idea of a weight "set point"--the idea that our bodies are programmed to be a certain weight or to store a certain amount of fat and will “fight back” against any attempts to change this predetermined weight.  Genetic and biological adaptations are partly to blame, and are mostly beyond our control. 

While we might not be able to easily sustain goals that live outside of what is healthy or appropriate for us, there are things we CAN and SHOULD do to help our bodies change in a natural way-- possibly resetting what our "normal" range is (which is usually between 10-15 pounds-- yes! That much of a window!). This involves factors we can control, which I'll explain below.

How Does One Find, and Then Maintain, Their Body Weight Set Point?

1). Change Your Environment and Behaviors. Permanently lowering, and maintaining, your set point weight requires changing the habits and behaviors that lead you to overeat/consume more energy than your body needs. The shift in behavior needs to be sustainable to last, so willpower alone isn't enough. You need to reengineer your personal environment in ways that remove unhealthy/unhelpful triggers and cues.

For coaching, I start with food and feelings journaling so clients can start setting a daily habit and intention, plus get in touch with their emotional connection to food.  Understanding our "why" behind choices helps us connect with our bodies in a more intuitive and mindful way. From there, we move on to a daily smoothie once the journaling is successfully completed 90% of the time. The smoothie will generally kick start weight loss (note: fiber helps remove excess fluid and inflammation, so quick early weight loss is mostly fluid, but it sets the tone for ongoing commitment and success).

The process of developing healthy and consistent habits takes time, which is why environment and behavior changes are the most important piece of the puzzle. Jumping straight to weight loss removes the connection to our overall health and wellbeing.

2). Change the composition of your diet. Thanks to the internet and social media, we're inundated with information on what a healthy diet looks like. 

But here's the deal...

There's no secret formula for weight loss. It's just Science-- energy in versus energy out. What each person needs is unique to them, but the results will be the same-- taking in less energy than you expend will lead to weight loss. Carbs, fat, protein...it doesn't matter what you fill your plate with.

The composition of your food is the part that will determine whether or not how you're eating is balanced and healthy, and whether or not it's sustainable. 

In general, maintaining a lower set point range requires adequate protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and fat from mostly plant-based foods. People often think of bread and starchy foods when they think of carbs, but VEGETABLES ARE CARBS. Yes, all vegetables. Some have more, some have less, but you need a variety in your diet in order for it to be balanced. So counting vegetable carbs is not only a waste of time, it's also quite unhealthy in the long run. You can eat animal meat-- heck, I do!  Also fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna and trout contain not only health fats, but also are a good source of protein and water soluble B vitamins.  MOST of your food, though, should come from plants-- think vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, etc. 

3). Improve Your Gut Health. 
One of the key ways to keep your GI Tract healthy is by keeping your gut happy. Aim to eat a variety of cultured foods, probiotics and an adequate amount of fiber from fiber-rich foods (25-35 grams per-day is recommended).

What is fiber? Simply put, fiber is the part of plant foods we can't digest that moves along our digestive track, absorbing water along the way, and aids in healthy bowel movements. IT IS A CARBOHYDRATE. Which is why it's important to eat fiber-rich carbs in the form of plant foods. Whole Grains are one of the best sources of fiber. Fruits and vegetables, as well as seeds (such as chia and flax), contain them as well.  If you follow my Instagram account, you'll notice I front load a lot of my fiber intake for the day in the morning to ensure I get it in.

Fermented and cultured foods, such as Greek yogurt and sauerkraut, should become staples in your diet as well to help nourish the friendly bacteria in your gut. 

4). Exercise. The amount of physical activity you partake in plays a role in determining your body's set point.

Truth: If I didn't work out consistently MOST days, with a variety of activities (variety is key) my body would reside at the higher end of my body's set point range (and it has!)-- less activity means less energy intake requirements, which means lower metabolism.

I like keeping my metabolism super charged and healthy because it makes me feel good AND I get to eat more. In fact, by recompositioning my body slowly over the course of a year, my daily energy needs are roughly 50% more than they were when I was more sedentary.

This means that our metabolism isn't "fixed." We can improve it through our environment, food and exercise choices.

Great news, right?!

I promote body composition goals over weight goals for this reason. Because weight fluctuates day over day. It's also not a measure of overall health or body fat versus muscle mass.  Body composition, on the other hand, is one of the most accurate ways to gauge where you stand health-wise because it's measurable. And things that are measurable can improve over time.

It's generally not weight that people want to change, anyway. It's "toning up" or building muscle...which is tied to body recompositioning PLUS consistency with healthy food habits.

5). Change your body slowly.  If we see weight or body composition goals as some finish line, in which we'll receive a metaphorical trophy for become the skinniest, fittest, most beautiful version of ourselves, we're missing a very big point...that we, as humans, evolve, just as every other living thing does. Our bodies change over time. Science changes over time...the goal then, should be to evolve our lifestyle to coincide with our body's needs over time.

Slow and gradual weight loss can help you avoid the metabolic backlash that rapid weight loss can trigger. It also means that by the time you reach your goal, you have had much more time to master and internalize the healthy habits you’ll need to maintain the healthier you.