In theory, losing weight sounds simple: calories in, calories out.
But not everybody sees the same results or the same rate of weight loss. And that can lead to frustration and surrender.
“You have to create a caloric deficit to lose weight, but there are a lot of things that play into that,” said Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It’s not as simple as it sounds.”
More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But only about 1 in 6 Americans who have been overweight or obese are able to successfully lose weight and maintain it, according to a study by Penn State University.
“Think about health first. If we think about eating healthily, then it doesn’t become a battle with the scale,” Weinandy said. “It’s really about changing that mindset. It’s really about the end goal, which should be better health.”
Weight loss can seem to happen slowly, but results are attainable through persistence and attention to overall health, she said.
“Every once in a while, I get somebody who comes to me and everything they tell me is perfect,” including what they’re eating and how they’re exercising, Weinandy said. “And things just won’t budge.”
The first variable she checks: exercise habits.
Cardio workouts are effective at increasing metabolism and burning calories during workouts, said Dr. Jacqueline McGowan, a Mount Carmel sports medicine physician in Lewis Center. Walking, jogging, biking, swimming and jumping rope are good activities to get results on the scale.
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week to improve cardiovascular health in adults.
Other types of exercise, such as weight training, also help the body burn calories, but with delayed results, McGowan said. The trick is to find a healthy combination of strength and cardio.
But for some, weight loss still can stagnate, even when the body keeps moving. One problem might be muscle memory.
Mixing up workout routines and running routes or terrains can stimulate weight loss by forcing the body to utilize different muscles, essentially tricking it from falling back onto movements committed to memory, McGowan said.
Along with exercise, eating habits play a large role in losing and keeping off weight, Weinandy said. Eating a breakfast with protein, and getting moderate protein throughout the day, is important.
Drastic reductions in caloric intake also can be unhealthy. “Whatever people do needs to be reasonable, so that it is sustainable,” Weinandy said.
The cycle of dieting, losing weight and regaining weight can cause problems.
A study by researchers at the universities of Exeter and Bristol in Great Britain published last year in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health found that weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting, actually could lead to weight gain. Repeated dieting is interpreted by the brain as a series of short-term famines, encouraging the body to store fat in the face of a potential food restriction in the future, the study suggests.
Physiological factors also can be to blame if someone can’t lose weight, McGowan said. People with an underactive thyroid, for example, tend to have slower metabolic rates, making it harder to shed pounds. Weight gain is also among several common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder primarily affecting women of reproductive age.
And weight gain can come with age, as metabolism naturally slows down.
Don’t despair, though, McGowan said. Even if attempts to lose weight come up short, with the help of a physician, improving one’s health is not impossible.
“You may not see the results on the scale, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits otherwise,” she said.