8 Hard Truths About Weight Loss That Can Help You Slim Down

December 10, 2023 by Jordan Palmer
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There are legit reasons why you have a hard time shedding those extra pounds, but if you know the facts about losing weight, you can overcome these obstacles and reach your goals.

You don’t need us to tell you that losing weight — and keeping it off — is hard. But understanding why weight loss is so difficult can help you stop beating yourself up over every little setback and increase your chances of success. Forget the gimmicks, and face the facts about weight loss.

Your Body Works Against You

It’s not your imagination: When you try to lose weight, you’re fighting not only your cravings but also your own body. According to research, weight loss decreases the hormone leptin, which signals to your brain that you’re full, and increases the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger. This hormone imbalance continues long after you succeed at weight loss, making it even harder for you to keep the pounds off, according to the research.

Plus, if you cut too many calories too quickly, your metabolism will slow, says Sabrena Jo, senior director of science and research for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. “If you cut calories drastically, and as a result, you drop a lot of weight fairly quickly, it’s likely that you’re losing some muscle. Muscle is really the engine of metabolism, contributing to a lower metabolism,” she explains. 

Eating too little also makes you more likely to rebound and go in the opposite direction by overeating because you were restricting yourself for so long. “We recommend doing things more moderately: Increasing physical activity and decreasing calories have been shown to be what works in the long run,” Jo says.

Exercise Can’t Conquer All

Yes, exercise helps you lose weight and keep it off: Research has found that people who maintain their weight loss exercise for at least 60 minutes most days. But also note that it’s nearly impossible to lose weight from exercise alone, Pettus says. Just do the math: A 135-pound person biking 60 minutes at 12 miles an hour will burn 369 calories. You can put all that back on with just a post-workout protein bar.

To lose a pound of fat, you must burn 3,500 calories more than you consume, so you can see how hard it is to exercise your way through a poor diet. Instead, you have to watch what you eat and how you exercise, Pettus says. If there’s any “magic” to dieting, it’s in that combination.

Diet Supplements Don’t Work

Those little pills that claim to supercharge your metabolism are tempting, but there’s little evidence that they work. A 2021 review of more than 1,700 articles on various supplements and alternative therapies, including green tea, acupuncture, and caffeine, found little to no high-quality evidence to support their value in aiding weight loss. Instead of using these fad supplements, try focusing on better-supported weight loss strategies, such as eating less and exercising more.

Fad Diets Don’t Work for Long

Grapefruit. Maple syrup. Cabbage. Apple-cider vinegar. Juice. All these “miracle” diets are supposed to help you melt pounds and trigger fat-burning. The hard fact: Fad diets work in the short term through calorie restriction, but fail to deliver long-lasting results, says Jo. “The problem is that people typically lack the desire to eschew entire food groups or severely limit their caloric intake, so eventually a more inclusive, calorically dense way of eating returns,” she explains.

RELATED: What Are the Benefits and Risks of the Keto Diet?

One Diet Doesn’t Fit All

Everyone’s body is unique, so the diet that works for your friend, coworker, mother, or sister might not work for you.

When looking at how best to lose weight, consider your health and family history, your metabolism, your activity level, your age, your gender, and your likes and dislikes. When you’re dieting, it’s important to allow yourself some foods that you enjoy, Jo says, or else you’ll feel deprived and be less likely to stick with an overall healthy eating plan. For weight loss success, tailor your diet to your body and accept that one diet won’t work for everyone.

Cardio Is Essential (and Strength Training Helps Too)

According to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week, plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities. And every bit counts — the recommendation is to move more throughout the day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.

These guidelines should help most people lose weight, says Jo, but obese people or people with a lot of weight to lose need to be even more active, working up to at least 30 minutes per day over time. Plus, don’t skip the strength training, which supports muscle, bone, and joint health and function, adds Jo. Increased muscle mass also gives your metabolism a slight boost — and makes you look more toned.

He Can Eat More Than She Can

It doesn’t seem fair, but men can eat more than women and still lose weight. That’s because men tend to naturally burn more calories than women, thanks to their larger size, muscle mass, and elevated levels of the hormone testosterone, which promotes muscle growth, Jo explains. Plus, the male body is genetically designed for more muscle and less fat than the female body because men do not have to store the energy required to bear children, she adds. Once you come to terms with this fact and start eating less than your male partner or friends, the scale will thank you.

It’s Not a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle Change

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you must change your behavior, not just until you reach your goal weight, but in the months and years to follow. That’s because as soon as you stop your “diet,” you’re likely to regain the pounds you worked so hard to shed. To be successful at weight loss, you need to make sustainable lifestyle changes, like making healthy food choices at almost every meal and getting plenty of exercise every week.

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