How to avoid weight regain
For many people who struggle with weight issues, weight loss and regain are often a never-ending cycle. You lose the weight, only to gain it all back — and then some. Why is it so hard to keep the weight off, and what can you do about it? For starters, don’t blame yourself. It turns out, some people are genetically more likely to gain weight back after losing it. Individuals with certain genetic variants of the ADIPOQ gene were found to be more susceptible to weight regain. The ADIPOQ gene contains instructions for making a hormone called adiponectin, which helps regulate a number of metabolic processes related to glucose utilization and insulin sensitivity. Lower levels of adiponectin often correspond to a higher body mass index (BMI), as well as a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. As much as 26 percent of the population carries a variant of the ADIPOQ gene that results in a 20 percent reduction in adiponectin levels, and up to 59 percent of people have a variant that results a 40 percent decrease in adiponectin levels. That means as much as 85 percent of the general population experiences some level of less-efficient fat burning and glucose utilization, and therefore has an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. If you tend to regain weight after you’ve lost it, you likely fall into this category. If you have low levels of adiponectin or otherwise have trouble keeping weight off, it’s important to eat a healthy diet and remain active to help prevent weight gain (or regain) and improve your insulin sensitivity. But there are some additional steps you can take that you may not have thought of before — particularly in the areas of psychological and neurological health.
- Realize it isn’t just a matter of willpower. Constant weight fluctuation can lead to feelings of guilt and frustration that may make you want to give up altogether. A survey conducted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery revealed that most Americans believe that a lack of willpower is the greatest barrier to sustainable weight loss, and most people attempt to lose weight without the help of a medical professional. It’s easy to think that if you can’t do it yourself, or if you can’t make your results last, that there’s something wrong with you. But these beliefs contradict what we know from science: excess weight gain is the result of a complicated relationship between genetics and environment. In some cases, working with a professional health coach or simply understanding that there are other factors at play may help you develop the mindset you need to get past your biggest hurdles. And understanding the genetic factors that contribute to weight gain can help you develop tools and strategies to effectively counter them.
- Define your “why.” A new lifestyle or complete diet overhaul is difficult to maintain without fully understanding your reasons for doing it. Go beyond “I want to be healthy” and identify exactly what being healthy and losing weight will allow you to accomplish. Do you want to have more energy so you can enjoy retirement? Do you want to get off your medications? Do you want to increase your self confidence and advance your career? Imagine how it will feel to accomplish these goals. Once you tap into what’s really driving you, it will help keep you on track when temptations arise.
- Practice mindfulness. Studies have shown that a regular mindfulness practice actually helps create new brain cells, which can improve your learning, memory, and emotion regulation — which comes in handy when you experience a stressful situation. If your normal reaction is to reach for the potato chips or ice cream, a regular meditation practice can train you to be more aware of how you’re feeling in any given moment and help you identify a more appropriate response. Not sure how to meditate? Try a free meditation app or just sit quietly for ten minutes and focus on your breath.
- Exercise regularly. You probably knew we were going to say this, but it’s not for the reason you think. Exercise is definitely important for maintaining your weight and improving your health, but it also has another benefit: it’s good for your brain. Like meditation, exercise helps improve neural pathways in the brain. It also stimulates production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which triggers the development of new brain cells and is also associated with reward centers in the brain that impact appetite. Lower levels of BDNF have been associated with obesity. Exercise is particularly important as you get older, as production of BDNF declines with age.
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