Dietitian Dish: Five Reasons for Your Weight Loss Plateau

September 05, 2018

By Saba Zahid,  RD, LDN
Patient Experience Manager, Unidine Corporation

We have all heard the classic weight loss clichés: “calories in versus calories out”, “cut 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week” and “eat less, move more.” But if losing weight can be summed up in these little nuggets of advice, why is losing weight so hard for the majority of people? Because the reality is that weight loss can’t be boiled down to a simple catch phrase.

While calories are an important part of the weight loss process, losing weight is a lot more complex than just simply cutting calories. While drastically cutting calories may result in weight loss initially, eventually you are going to hit a plateau and stop losing weight. So, why is that?

  1. Your Body Doesn’t Like Change: Our bodies have a natural tendency to regulate and maintain a stable state through a process called homeostasis. Weight loss changes that stable state and tricks your body into thinking you are starving. Your body responds by adjusting the levels of certain hormones, including ghrelin, leptin, GLP-1, and peptide YY, causing you to feel hungrier. When you do lose weight, your basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories you need to just stay alive while at rest, drops. This makes continued weight loss and maintenance of that weight loss even harder.
  2. You’ve Struggled with Your Weight for A While: If you’ve been carrying extra weight for a long time, it can have a long-term negative impact on the appetite and reward centers of the brain. Being overweight or obese over the long term can also create insulin and leptin resistance, which encourages fat storage and increases feelings of hunger. Essentially, our brain does not respond like it should to hormones that indicate fullness or pleasure when eating.
  3. Your Genes are Making it Harder: Science shows genetics play a role in our body composition as well as a predisposition to gain weight. Continued research in this area has found there are a number of genes that influence our weight. It is important to note it is also possible to be obese without a genetic predisposition.
  4. You Lead a Hectic but Sedentary Lifestyle: We also live in an environment that makes it easy to gain weight. With hectic lifestyles, technology, less physical movement, and fast food options surrounding us, society has set us up to consume more calories than we burn.
  5. You Have an Emotional Relationship with Food: There is a psychological component to food and how/what/when/why we eat (i.e., emotional eating or stress eating). Food is much more than just about satiating our hunger; food is associated with emotions, memories, social norms, and even coping mechanisms. That’s why breaking certain eating patterns can be difficult or some people have aversions to certain foods.

So does this mean that we are all doomed to fail when it comes to our weight loss aspirations? No. What it does mean is that weight loss can’t be packaged into a catch phrase or a “30-day program.” Understanding that there are many factors that impact your weight loss can help alleviate some confusion and frustration. The key thing to take away, though, is that none of these hurdles are unbeatable, even your genetics. In fact, studies show that lifestyle habits determine if and how those genes are expressed. And while you might not be able to change the way society operates and the greater environment, you can change your immediate environment (home, cubicle, and/or car).

Losing weight, and more importantly, maintaining that weight loss can be a very daunting task. But there are professionals that can help you with the challenges that impact your weight loss and maintenance: counselors, personal trainers, physicians, and yes, registered dietitians. If you are interested in working with a registered dietitian, schedule an outpatient nutrition counseling appointment with one of our dietitians at Shore Medical Center. For more information, contact us at 609-653-4600, opt 5 or visit our website at www.shoremedicalcenter.org/nutrition-counseling.

References:

  • Ans A H, Anjum I, Satija V, et al. (July 23, 2018) Neurohormonal Regulation of Appetite and its Relationship with Stress: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus 10(7): e3032. DOI 10.7759/cureus.3032
    • Kwon H., Pessin J.E. (2018) Adipokines, Inflammation, and Insulin Resistance in Obesity. In: Nillni E. (eds) Textbook of Energy Balance, Neuropeptide Hormones, and Neuroendocrine Function. Springer, Cham
  • Choquet, H., & Meyre, D. (2011). Genetics of Obesity: What have we Learned? Current Genomics, 12(3), 169-179. doi:10.2174/138920211795677895
  • Leng, G. (2014). Gut instinct: Body weight homeostasis in health and obesity. Experimental Physiology, 99(9), 1101-1103. doi:10.1113/expphysiol.2014.081976
  • Zilberter, T. (2015). Appetite, reward, and obesity: The causes and consequences of eating behaviors. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 411. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00411