How to Keep the Weight Off During the Holidays

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In Chapter Five of her book, The Secret Life of Fat, author Sylvia Tara discusses the science of why it is often so hard to keep weight off once it is lost. She cites research (Leibel, Rosenbaum, & Hirsch, 1995) that shows that once weight is lost, the metabolism slows down such that one has to eat 10-15% less and exercise 25% more to maintain that weight than someone who weighs the same but who was never fat. (So, obvious as it may seem, not gaining weight in the first place is the best way to avoid struggling with your weight after having lost it.)

Fortunately, the findings from a recently completed randomized controlled trial on low-carb diets appears to offer some cause for hope. Speaking from personal experience, not only has the low-carb approach been the most successful way for me to have lost excess pounds, it has also been the most effective strategy I've found for keeping the weight off: Even with little to no exercise. (I would hasten to add that not exercising is not ideal, on several fronts. I would be exercising more and more vigorously save for my arthritic hips, but since I can't, having a dependable, easy to follow, effective diet regimen has really helped.)

The study (Ebbeling et al., 2018) demonstrated that the low-carb cohort burned 209 to 278 more calories daily than the groups eating the same number of calories in higher carb proportions. The low-carb group also showed a substantial and beneficial hormonal response. Ghrelin (produced in the stomach, it makes you hungry, lowers your energy expenditure and enhances fat deposition) was lower in the low-carb group.

The bottom line is, no matter how you lost your weight to begin with, going low carb for maintenance may provide a metabolic advantage which offsets the metabolic disadvantage losing weight caused.

The Calories-in-Calories-out crowd (whom are the rough equivalent of flat-earthers) would argue that neither Leibel nor Ebbeling could possibly be correct. Your Dr. or clinical nutritionist are probably in this bunch. If you have a weight problem, conventional nutrition still insists you are either gluttonous, slothful, or lacking willpower. But consider the first sentence of the abstract in Leibel and make up your own mind about which explanation fits better, "No current treatment for obesity reliably sustains weight loss, perhaps because compensatory metabolic processes resist the maintenance of the altered body weight."

Speaking as someone who is gluttonous, slothful, and lacks willpower, I still lost weight and have maintained the loss for several years now on a low-carb regimen.

So, if you are dreading the holiday weight gain, just avoid the sugar and starches and beer (I know, I know) and enjoy the turkey, ham and green vegetables. And maybe some tequila.

Leibel, R. L., Rosenbaum, M., & Hirsch, J. (1995). Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight. New England Journal of Medicine, 332(10), 621–628. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199503093321001

Ebbeling, C. B., Feldman, H. A., Klein, G. L., Wong, J. M. W., Bielak, L., Steltz, S. K., … Ludwig, D. S. (2018). Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. BMJ, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k4583

Randy Hauer