You don’t need to conform to a specific size or weight to be fit and feel good. However, for many people, taking action to maintain a healthy weight will benefit overall health and help prevent and control serious health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers. Over the last decade, the number of people facing health issues linked to obesity has spiked, and this year alone it’s estimated that 45 million Americans will start a diet in a bid to improve their overall health.
If you’re one of the many taking action to find and maintain a healthy weight, it pays to know the smartest approach. Yes, dieting can work. Cutting back on sugar and processed foods, trying intermittent fasting, adopting the Mediterranean diet, trying paleo or keto … these trends are popular because they can deliver results. But not always, and not for the long term.
Way back in 2015, a study of 176,000 obese individuals found only a very small proportion managed to lose five percent of their body weight, and over half those who did then gained weight in the next two years – often ending up heavier than they were in the first place. Further research has shown that the more weight loss attempts made over time, the greater the long-term weight gain.
It's clear that although weight loss can be hard, maintaining weight loss is even harder.
Thankfully, researchers from the University of Alabama have been exploring why long-term weight management is so elusive – and what we can do about it. Their new evidence suggests loss of lean muscle tissue during weight loss bumps up the risk of weight regain in the long term.
Their findings came after following 141 premenopausal overweight women who, after following a specific diet, had lost 12 kilograms. Throughout the weight loss and the follow-up period, one-third did no exercise, one-third did aerobic exercise and one-third did resistance training. Those who did no exercise lost the most significant amount of fat-free mass (aka muscle) and those who did the resistance training still lost the weight but didn't lose any fat-free mass. The women who lost fat-free mass during the weight loss phase regained 20 percent more weight over the following 12 months than those who did not lose fat-free mass.
This is backed up by another study of overweight policemen who spent two months taking action to lose weight. Half the policemen focused on diet alone and half combined diet and exercise. While both lost weight, it was only those who exercised who maintained their weight loss beyond the initial two months.
Although more research is required in this space, scientists suspect that our drive to eat may be linked to our muscle mass, as the release of myokines from muscle interact with the brain centers that manage homeostatic and hedonic appetite regulation.
So if you want to curb your cravings and make managing your weight sustainable, experts recommend you start building muscle with resistance training.
When you add regular strength training to your routine, not only will it help with weight management, you’ll unlock a wealth of benefits that could be far more life-changing than shedding a few pounds. Strength training is shown to help you live a longer and healthier life, it helps you ease negativity, reduce stress and anxiety and feel happier and more successful. Regular exercise acts as a medicine countering all sorts of illnesses, it drives improved brain function and delivers many other novel benefits too.
Should you ditch weight loss resolutions for good?
Kaylah-Blayr Fitzsimons-Nu’u spent years wanting to be skinnier. It was only after she stepped away from the scales and shifted her mindset that she started to feel fit, healthy and proud of her body.
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