Hormonal Imbalances Make It More Difficult to Maintain Weight Loss

Diet ConceptYou lose weight and then you gain it back. Yo-yoing up and down can be frustrating. Why is it so hard to maintain your weight once you’ve lost it? New research is shedding light on this issue. Turns out your hormones may be the problem, especially hormones that control appetite.

Are Your Hormones Making It Harder to Lose Weight?

In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at the role hormones play in weight control. Researchers followed 50 obese and overweight people who were on a calorie restricted diet for 10 weeks. This group was initially on a very low calorie diet of 500 calories a day (under 1200 calories a day for females and 1800 calories per day for males is never recommended) consisting of a supplement called Optifast and vegetables. After 2 months, more calories were slowly added back into their diet.

On the positive side, the participants lost weight. The average weight loss over the 10 week period was 30 pounds – but there was a downside. Despite getting dietary counseling to help them maintain their weight loss; they regained an average of 12 pounds within a year of the study.

This is a common scenario when people lose weight. Few are able to maintain it over the long haul. Researchers also monitored the levels of nine hormones that play a role in appetite and fat-burning in this group of successful losers. They discovered that even a year after the study, hormones that control appetite and metabolism were still out of balance in these folks.

Set Point Theory and Weight Loss

The results of this study aren’t surprising. Research suggests that each person has their own genetically-determined set point, a weight that the body tries to maintain. If you start dropping below that set point, your body pulls out all the stops to bring you back to it. It likely does this by altering levels of hormones that control appetite and metabolism.

Does this mean that successful long-term weight control is hopeless? Not at all. It’s not surprising that the participants in this study had hormonal imbalances after their weight loss. They followed a very low calorie diet and lost weight at a rate that would be considered unhealthy and unsafe. Such rapid weight loss makes the body fearful that starvation is imminent, and it makes the appropriate hormonal adjustments for survival.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to maintain weight loss over the long-term even if you don’t lose weight rapidly, so some hormonal imbalances may still exist after you’ve shed body weight.

Exercise for Long-Term Weight Control

What the participants in this study didn’t do was exercise. There’s some thought that high-intensity exercise helps to lower a person’s set point. Regardless, research shows that people who exercise are more likely to maintain their weight loss. Exercise is the most powerful weapon you have for keeping those pounds from finding their way back to your hips and tummy.

What type of exercise is best? High-intensity exercise gives you more of an after-burn and helps to boost levels of fat-burning hormones like growth hormone and testosterone. You also need resistance training to boost lean body mass. This increases metabolically active muscle tissue, which modestly boosts the number of calories you burn a day.

No, long term weight control isn’t impossible, but your hormones are working against you after you lose weight. Get them back into line with regular workouts.


Medical News Today. “Dieters Fail Because of Hormones Not Lack of Will Power”
International Journal of Obesity. 31 (2007), 204-12.

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