As a neuroscientist, I’ve read hundreds of studies on the brain’s ability to fight weight loss. I also know about it from experience. For three decades, starting at age 13, I lost and regained the same 10 or 15 pounds almost every year. On my most serious diet, in my late 20s, I got down to 125 pounds, 30 pounds below my normal weight. I wanted (unwisely) to lose more, but I got stuck. After several months of eating fewer than 800 calories a day and spending an hour at the gym every morning, I hadn’t lost another ounce. When I gave up on losing and switched my goal to maintaining that weight, I started gaining instead.
This study took 2 groups of women and put them on similar hypocaloric diets (meaning below maintenance level so that a caloric deficit was present). The only difference between the diets of the two groups is that 43% of one group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose (aka table sugar), while just 4% of the other group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose. Guess what happened? Despite one group eating a VERY high sugar diet and the other group eating a VERY low sugar diet, they both lost equal amounts of weight and body fat. Why? Because it’s NOT the source of your calories that causes fat loss, it’s the presence of a caloric deficit.
The goal with BMI is to be what the National Institutes of Health considers "normal." The lowest risk for health conditions related to weight has been tied to a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 (labeled "normal weight"). Risks go up as a person climbs this BMI ladder, with numbers between 25 and 29.9 considered overweight, and BMIs of 30 or greater considered obese, according to the NIH.
Here's a bit of advice that may make a dieter smile, or yawn: Get more sleep. A growing body of evidence suggests that getting insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity. However, most of these studies have been conducted at a single point in time, which makes it hard to determine whether a small amount of sleep was a cause or an effect of weight gain.
Unfortunately, some women are just more prone to carrying weight in their middle instead of their hips and thighs. Sometimes, it’s genetics—maybe your mother was more apple-shaped. Belly fat can also increase around menopause, or for women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Even certain lifestyle habits, from lack of sleep to stress, can make your belly grow. To lose belly fat, talking with a doctor about what other factors may be affecting your weight gain can be a good place to start. From there, you can craft a belly fat busting routine.
… that lists sugar, fructose, or corn syrup among the first four ingredients on the label. You should be able to find a lower-sugar version of the same type of food. If you can’t, grab a piece of fruit instead, especially if you show signs you’re eating too much sugar. Look for sugar-free varieties of foods such as ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and these other foods with way more sugar than you realize. Also, avoid partially hydrogenated foods, and look for more than two grams of fiber per 100 calories in all grain products. Finally, a short ingredient list means fewer flavor enhancers and empty calories. Sounds impossible, but you can actually learn how to give up sugar without missing it.
Even people who understand the difficulty of long-term weight loss often turn to dieting because they are worried about health problems associated with obesity like heart disease and diabetes. But our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly is mistaken. Low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all better predictors of early death than obesity. Exercise is especially important: Data from a 2009 study showed that low fitness is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the United States, while obesity accounts for only 2 percent to 3 percent, once fitness is factored out. Exercise reduces abdominal fat and improves health, even without weight loss. This suggests that overweight people should focus more on exercising than on calorie restriction.
Obviously, it’s still possible to lose weight on any diet – just eat fewer calories than you burn, right? The problem with this simplistic advice is that it ignores the elephant in the room: Hunger. Most people don’t like to “just eat less”, i.e. being hungry forever. That’s dieting for masochists. Sooner or later a normal person will give up and eat, hence the prevalence of “yo-yo dieting”.