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Topic 8 - Metabolism And Weight Loss

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Old 07-01-2007, 12:59 PM   #1
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Default Topic 8 - Metabolism And Weight Loss

Today’s Rethinking Thin topic is how weight loss affects metabolism. The metabolic changes that accompany weight loss led one researcher to say:

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In trying to lose weight, the obese are fighting a difficult battle. It is a battle against biology, a battle that only the intrepid take on and one in which only a few prevail. (p 125)
Metabolism is the mechanism that regulates body weight by determining how many calories are used for basic bodily functions, daily activities, and food digestion. The studies cited in Rethinking Thin found that our bodies attempt to remain in their comfortable weight ranges (the 10 – 30 pound range we’ve previously discussed) by speeding up and slowing down metabolism to match food intake.

Volunteers in the famous World War 2 Keyes starvation studies had metabolic slowdowns of up to 40% when their calorie intake was cut by half and they started exercising:

Quote:
Their body temperatures dropped; their heart rates slowed. It was as though their bodies were doing everything possible to conserve calories. (p 109)
Researchers later discovered that similar metabolic slowdowns happened to subjects who lost weight in their labs on low calorie diets:

Quote:
… [the scientists] measured metabolic changes and psychiatric conditions and body temperature and pulse. And that led them to a surprising conclusion: Fat people who lose large amounts of weight may look like someone who is never fat, but they are very different. In fact, by every measurement, they seemed like people who are starving.(p 114)
Studies were then conducted to determine what happened to metabolism when normal weight people deliberately overate. Their metabolisms sped up to compensate for the extra calories and in some subjects, it took far more calories to gain weight than would be expected from the simple 3500 excess calories = a pound formula.

Rethinking Thin concludes that weight-related metabolic changes result in the “near impossibility of permanent weight loss for the massively obese” (p 116):

Quote:
There is a reason that fat people can’t stay thin after they diet and that thin people can’t stay fat when they force themselves to gain weight. The body’s metabolism speeds up or slows down to keep weight in a narrow range. Gain weight and metabolism can as much as double; lose weight and the metabolism can slow down to half its speed.” … The body weight of an obese or non-obese person tends to remain constant. When the system for controlling fat storage is challenged by experimental over- or underfeeding, energy expenditure alters as a counterforce, ”bucking” the change. The overfed person increases fat storage but burns more calories, which acts as a brake on further accumulation of fat mass. The reverse occurs with weight reduction; a decline in body fat storage leads to a decrease in the burning of calories. (p 118-9)
***********************

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, currently at Columbia University, is one of the scientists mentioned in chapter 7 of Rethinking Thin. A few years ago, I attended a lecture he gave on precisely this topic of the effect of weight loss on metabolism. What I learned in that hour and a half came as a thunderbolt to me and explained so much that hadn’t made sense to me before. I came home and posted about the lecture here: Some Answers About Genes, Environment, Obesity and Maintenance

What I learned – and have verified through hours of research since – is that there’s no question that losing weight changes metabolism. Pre-weight loss, both normal weight and obese persons burn calories at the same rate, as measured by calories per kilo of lean body mass or calories per square meter of body surface. But the “reduced obese” – people who have lost large amounts of weight - burn fewer calories than normal or obese persons. Their metabolisms have slowed.

So the act of losing weight changes metabolism as our bodies struggle to return to a setpoint weight. Scientists aren’t sure why exactly, though lowered leptin levels are suspected. Currently clinical trials are being conducted on adding leptin to people who have already lost weight in an effort to raise their metabolisms back to normal.

I was astounded when I began learning about the metabolic changes associated with weight loss. This is information that’s been out there for a long time, but I – a professional dieter – had never heard of it before. This is not something you read about in magazines at the checkout rack or in the plethora of diet books at Borders. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this? Isn’t this a vital piece of information for people trying to permanently reduce their weights? Don’t we need to know what happens to our bodies when we lose weight so that we can be prepared to deal with reality and compensate?

The book, of course, takes the information about metabolic change and concludes that it’s so unlikely that an obese person will be able to achieve and maintain a significant weight loss that it’s not even worth discussing, so end of story. Case closed. Give up.

I see it differently. Knowledge is power. It may not be what we want to hear and it goes without saying that it’s not fair, but if we have an accurate idea about what happens to our bodies when we lose weight, then we can deal. Diet books and gurus aren’t doing us any favors by pretending that losing weight is easy and quick and keeping it off afterwards is so inevitable that we don’t even need to discuss it.

Today I know that my metabolic rate is lower than a woman my age, height, and weight who was never obese. I know that I burn fewer calories when I’m at the gym than the person next to me. I know that metabolic calculators are a joke for anyone who’s lost more than 10% of their body weight. I know that my maintenance calories are significantly lower than those of a never-obese person. I know that I can regain weight at an alarming pace. I was endlessly frustrated and convinced that there was something wrong with me before I learned these absolutely essential pieces of the maintenance puzzle.

But that’s quite enough about me! Let’s talk about all of you.

Were you previously aware that losing weight affects your metabolism? Have you noticed a slowing in your metabolism since you’ve lost weight? Do metabolic calculators work for you or are they way off? How does this information affect you? Do you think you would change anything in your diet and exercise plans in order to compensate for a slowed metabolism? And most importantly, do you believe that the metabolic changes brought on by weight loss make efforts to lose and keep off significant amounts of weight futile?

Please post about anything and everything that you want to share about metabolism and weight!
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Old 07-01-2007, 01:10 PM   #2
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Hi Meg,

My impression on that chapter is yes, she kind of uses it as an excuse to stop trying. But I do not agree with that. I think it shows that you have to try harder. And did anyone ever tried to find out how long this starvation memory lingers in the body ? Was this tested 1, 2, 5 or even 10 years after the large weight loss??

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Old 07-01-2007, 01:30 PM   #3
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My hope of all hope is that eventually your body will get a new set point. Maybe after 5 years, maybe after 10...surely with our bodies being so adaptive to many things it can also adapt to a new weight. My dh's set point adapted to a new higher weight, so cant i surely do the same in the opposite direction. Although, that was not the case last time, but maybe i just didnt give it enough time. i was only at goal for about 6 months before i gained almost all of it back. I have to hold on to that hope though that eventually it will reset.
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Old 07-01-2007, 01:47 PM   #4
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For what it's worth, I asked Dr. Leibel if the metabolic slowdown is repaired over time and he said no, that it's a permanent slowdown. That's why they're doing clinical trials on leptin injections to see if it will reverse the slowdown. Of course, I don't know if he's right or what he's basing this statement on; regardless, I'm operating on the assumption that my metabolism won't change.

I've been at goal for five years and my calorie and exercise requirements for maintenance haven't changed. I've tracked my calories in Fitday since 2001 and haven't detected any change (darn it!)
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Old 07-01-2007, 01:52 PM   #5
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"Knowledge is power" is what I think as well. Rather than giving us some kind of fatalistic view on which to fall back, I want to consider it like a reason to try even more, and to not give up. After all, if "it's very hard for you to succeed without putting in much work, so give up" was a rule, I would have given up on my first two years of college (I was crap at Latin, and keeping up with that enough to not be flunked was quite a challenge. Even if it was only for two years). So if I didn't let this deter me, I don't see why I should just throw my hands to the heavens regarding my weight. (Granted, I've never been morbidly obese, but still--either we gain on weight easily or we don't, right).

4rabbit also raises a point I was thinking of while reading Meg's post. What about those among us who were thin up until, say, 25-30 years old, then became obese? (There are many people like these on 3FC, from what I've seen in two years of being around. You know, the "I was always skinny until I had three kids, then..." and others). Clearly they weren't 'programmed' from the start, there rather was a trigger along the road, so if THEIR setpoint managed to jump from 120, or 140, or 150 lbs to something higher, why would the process not work in the contrary direction? Maybe we indeed have to give it 5 or 10 years--but since most people don't keep the weight down for long enough, and since studies probably don't take into account successful losers who haven't gained anything back for the past 5 to 10 years, how can we know? (If there ARE such studies, please point me to them, I really wish to see if some have been done in the past.)

Anyway... Yes, I'm quite positive that our metabolisms do change, slow down, whatever. But I have no idea if this is forever, or simply for the time needed for our bodies to readjust to the new, lower weight.
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Old 07-01-2007, 02:33 PM   #6
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I'm not sure if my metabolism has slowed or not. I know that I am always freezing (air conditioning can be almost painful). At my highest weight, I was 200 lbs and am now around 128 lbs. I think my body has found it's new setpoint. If my calories are lower or higher, I seem to return to this point fairly easily. I eat around 1800-2000 calories a day to maintain (with little to no exercise - I know, I'm not proud of the no exercise thing). I have had very few issues maintaining this weight for over 2 years, the highest I have been is 131, the lowest I have been is 125.
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Old 07-01-2007, 04:42 PM   #7
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Hey guys,

I'm quite enjoying reading your posts.

Before I started "dieting" I had heard about metabolism and its effects on the body. The reason why is because my Mother was and still is a yo-yo dieter and so when I would try to lose a few pounds she would say "make sure you exercise because your metabolism slows down" but I was always under the impression that by exercising you are helping to speed your metabolism up (I guess this is because you're building muscle and muscle burns more calories than fat) not that your metabolism is just going to stay slow. Like Glory above - although I have not lost all the weight I'm hoping to and I am not maintaining I have found that I am constantly cold when before I would never leave the house with a jacket/coat but I dont think that that is to do with metabolism but rather that I dont have the same amount of padding keeping me warm lol.
Looking at the idea of the "set point" i know that the man who created the "shangri-la diet" (sp?) claims that his diet readjusts your "set point." Whether it can be done or not needs a lot more scientific experimentation.
I would also hear my mum saying things like "my metabolism is shot" basically saying that from yo-yo dieting she has basically messed up her metabolism - my question is - is is it really so hopeless that the effects are irresversible. The human body is amazing and restores cells and regulates chemicals and what not - surely it can reverse something as little as metabolism ( lol ).

Thing about metabolism is - is that we all hear about it and talk about it, but very very very few of us know exactly what it is and what it does exactly, and it seems that without looking at the biology of it with scientific language and all that - that we may never really get a grasp of it. All we know is (like my mother would say) your metabolism will slow down when you diet so make sure you exercise.
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Old 07-01-2007, 06:03 PM   #8
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Quote:
Volunteers in the famous World War 2 Keyes starvation studies had metabolic slowdowns of up to 40% when their calorie intake was cut by half and they started exercising:

Quote:
Their body temperatures dropped; their heart rates slowed. It was as though their bodies were doing everything possible to conserve calories. (p 109)
Researchers later discovered that similar metabolic slowdowns happened to subjects who lost weight in their labs on low calorie diets:
It really sounds like in both of these cases the studies were of fairly drastic calorie reductions.

My metabolism appears to have increased over the past 3 years, I credit this A LOT to reversing insulin resistance.

I had tracked on fitday for a long time prior to getting pg the 1st time and the metabolism estimate was only close if I was "bed bound" (and then add in exercise). When I did it recently I did bed bound + nursing calories + exercise and I was losing faster than the estimate, so I think it really has improved. It seems a lot closer to most calculators than it used to be.

Its too difficult for me right now to evaluate what my metabolism is like and I havent gotten it tested though
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Old 07-01-2007, 10:13 PM   #9
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I was aware that Yo-Yo dieting causes a metabolic slowdown. It had never occured to me to think that as my wt. went down that I would need fewer calories to sustain that lower weight.

For me, it's difficult to know if my metabolism is slower now than when I was obese. I started losing wt. on Atkins and yes, I did eat a total of more calories then than I able to now on Calorie Counting plan. But, Not sure if this is just because before I didn't eat very much carbs. It may just simply be that my body requires less now to maintain at a lower weight.

As for metabolic calculators, they say I should be able to mainain with 1673 calories per day. This is too many for me. I maintain great if I stay at around 1400 calories. I lose weight when I cut back to 1200-1300 calories. I gain wt. if I go over about 1450 calories. I do believe that people who have never been obese can and DO eat more than 1400 calories a day and maintain their weight. It does seem unfair.

If my Dr. said "now that you've lost the weight , we need to give you a weekly Leptin injection to be able to keep the weight off". I'd do it in a heartbeat. As for Meg's question, I have changed my diet and exercise plan many times to adjust to my metabolism.

I do not in any way think that our efforts to lose weight and maintain this loss are futile. If I thought that, I wouldn't be here. We have many of us here everyday proving that theory wrong.

I totally look at wt. loss like this. I feel great now. I like the way I look. I will continue to try to keep the wt. off. If it does somehow reappear, I'll do it all again. I refuse to believe that I'm pre-destined to be FAT for the rest of my Life.
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Old 07-01-2007, 11:10 PM   #10
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My doctor believes that my new medicine that drastically reduced my appetite also has increased my metabolism. I don't have any data to prove or disprove her theory because I wasn't tracking my food consumption while I lost weight.

For two months I did track what I was eating when I went from 110 to 105, I averaged 1,200 calories a day, but I'm really a little person at 5.1 and don't need much. I'm not sure how to calculate what my metabolic rate is. Can someone suggest a web site where I can plug numbers into?
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Old 07-01-2007, 11:59 PM   #11
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My story is different from Meg's. I have been obese for 20+ years. However, in all of my weight loss attempts, I never did any kind of "low calorie" diet. I did watchers, and calorie counting, but even in this attempt haven't dipped on average below 1800 calories/day and am maintaining a weight of 175+ on about 2100 calories/day. Perhaps one of the lucky ones?

I have some evidence that my metabolism is in sync with estimates of what is needed to maintain and lose weight. I used an online calculator, and for a year I entered in every morsel I ate and my main exercise (mainly to track the minutes, I know the exercise calculators are off, estimating I burn too many calories). I could get reports over 10 week periods that would calculate calories in vs expended and estimate a weight loss over that 10 week period.

Interestingly, over the year my actual weight loss was usually a little higher than that estimate. For example, if it estimated I would lose 11.5 pounds over 10 weeks I might lose 12.

Of course, a data point of one is useless, but in the studies mentioned, participants noted a drop in metabolism when they dropped calories very low, right? That may be what many dieters do, but I wonder if people who never drop their calories really low are less likely to experience this.

In other words, I wonder if it's inevitable for metabolisms to slow with weight gain, or if there are other factors involved that interact with weight.

Again, this one story isn't really evidence... but it makes me wonder...

FWIW, I do seem to be able to regain weight fairly quickly if I stray from journalling everything. I am not "set" here at this new weight and will easily let me gain more, but I was pretty "easily" able get to this point -- meaning that provided I ate a certain amount of food and exercised. Of course, I have not tried very hard to get lower than this weight, and that may enter into the equation too...
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Old 07-02-2007, 05:35 AM   #12
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I'm in with another 'one story that does not make evidence' ...

I don't know. I've never lost as much weight as the calculators say I should be. When I did lose 30 lbs in two months, y'all know what happened.

I'm surprised now to find that I do not gain at 1800 and lose very slowly at 1600. All that with pathetic and inconsistant exercise.

My confusion, it would seem, stems from the fact that I was sooo sedentary. I found the author quite neatly avoided very much reference to exercise and/or muscle building at all.

If we assume that the author thinks intentional exericise is an 'extraordinary length' to which we must go and not a really metabolic increase ....
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Old 07-02-2007, 08:42 AM   #13
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Everyone has such great questions and points ... I get so frustrated because there are so few answers. Aside from the National Weight Control Registry, no one seems to be interested in people who have succeeded in weight loss (which is why everyone eligible needs to join!!) I sure wish some research money would get thrown at our questions.
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Old 07-02-2007, 08:50 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meg View Post
Everyone has such great questions and points ... I get so frustrated because there are so few answers. Aside from the National Weight Control Registry, no one seems to be interested in people who have succeeded in weight loss (which is why everyone eligible needs to join!!) I sure wish some research money would get thrown at our questions.
Meg-- I agree! I just registered this minute!!

http://www.nwcr.ws/

Here's the link for anyone else who's eligible.
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Old 07-02-2007, 10:35 AM   #15
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As someone who is in the process of losing weight, this chapter is the one that scares me the most. I am now to the point where I KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will make it to goal within the next 6 months.

Then what? As someone who hasn`t had children and who in the future will have a couple I know that I will not be around 145 for the rest of my life. There will be this time when I will be 25-30 pounds heavier. Will I be able to lose it after children, or will my metabolism further slow down?

So far I haven`t noticed anything, I am currently losing about a pound a week on around 1800 calories. To be honest, since I`m not hungry at all I wonder if I really had to work to be at 220. We`ll see over the next 40 pounds.
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