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January 5, 2012
Why Many of Us Can't Lose Weight: We Are Less Metabolically Efficient Today Than Ever

A metabolic shift has taken place in the last few decades and it has resulted in a surge of overweight and obese populations around the world. Overall calories, the types of foods we eat, decreased expenditure and an loss of self-integrity are the biggest contributors to plus-sized cultures. Due the nature of our metabolic inefficiency, more people than ever before have tremendous challenges in losing weight and keeping it off.

In part, calorie consumption is largely responsible for an increase in body fat, whilst protein intake may contribute to changes in energy expenditure, according to new research.

Protein intake has no affect on fat deposits,but may alter energy metabolism, say the researchers. Our ancestors were consuming considerably more protein and this may be one of the reason for such a dramatic shift in metabolic rates.

- Esimate Your Body Fat Percentage
- Calculate Your Daily Energy Requirement (DER)

Protein is one of the most satiating macronutrient. If you eat a donut for breakfast, two hours later people are looking for a snack. But if you eat eggs or egg whites for breakfast, people tend to last until lunch before they are hungry again.

One study -- published in JAMA -- reports that when overeating, calories alone contribute to increases in body fat. In contrast, protein contributes to the changes in energy expenditure and lean body mass, but does not play a role in the increased in body fat.

"The key finding of this study is that calories are more important than protein while consuming excess amounts of energy with respect to increases in body fat," explained the research team, led by Dr George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, USA.

In an accompanying editorial , Dr Zhaoping Li and his colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, stated that the results of this study "suggest that overeating low protein diets may increase fat deposition leading to loss of lean body mass despite lesser increases in body weight."

They argued that policy makers need to understand the role of the Western diet in promoting overweight and obesity.

"Because this diet increases the risks of over-nutrition through fat deposition beyond that detected by body mass index, the method used to assess the current obesity epidemic and the magnitude of the obesity epidemic may have been underestimated," they said.

Metabolic Shifts

Obesity has become a major international public health concern. 60% of adults in the USA are categorized as overweight, whilst more than 30% are obese.

Bray and his team explained that although many people are overweight or obese, there is a significant number of people who despite overeating have normal weight and do not become overweight or obese.

"These differences may reflect differences in the way individuals handle the food they eat each day both during weight gain and weight loss," argued the researchers, noting that "the concept that when people overeat, the amount of weight gain is highly individual, has intrigued medical science for a century."

Another possible explanation is energy expenditure. Those who appear to be overeating and not gaining weight are likely increasing their energy expenditure through some type of physical activity whether it be at the workplace or exercising.

Previous research has suggested such a phenomenon may be due to macronutrient composition and responses to overfeeding -- with various human studies supporting the view that when people overeat a diet that contains either high or low protein, they are less "metabolically efficient" than diets of average protein intake.

We Need Self-Integrity

In a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, women who wrote about their most important values, like close relationships, music, or religion, lost more weight over the next few months than women who did not have that experience. Theoretically, it means that journal keepers may have always been able to lose weight more than those who don't write in jounals, which is something of of lost hobby with the chaotic lifestyles on our century.

"We have this need to feel self-integrity," says Christine Logel of Renison University College at the University of Waterloo, who cowrote the new study with Geoffrey L. Cohen of Stanford University. When something threatens your sense that you’re a good person, like failing a test or having a fight with a friend, "We can buffer that self-integrity by reminding ourselves how much we love our children, for example," she says.

For this study, the researchers recruited 45 female undergraduates who had a body mass index of 23 or higher. A body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight; 58% of the women were overweight or obese. Each woman was weighed, and was then given a list of important values, like creativity, politics, music, and relationships with friends and family members. Each woman ranked the values in order of how important they were to her. Then half the women were told to write for 15 minutes about the value that was most important to her. The other half, a control group, were told to write about why a value far down on their list might be important to someone else.

The women came back between one and four months later to be weighed again. Women who had written about an important value lost an average of 3.41 pounds, while women in the control group gained an average of 2.76 pounds, a pattern of weight gain that is typical for undergraduates.

"How we feel about ourselves can have a big effect," Logel says. "We think it sort of kicks off a recursive process." Maybe when one of the women who wrote about an important value went home that night, she felt good about herself and didn’t eat to make herself feel better. Then the next day snacking wasn’t as much of a habit, so she skipped it. Over a few months, that could make a real difference in her life.

Many studies have found that even briefly thinking about values can have a big effect on situations where people feel a threat to their integrity. For example, Cohen used the same technique on minority seventh-graders who were underperforming relative to their white peers. Those who did the exercise were still performing better years later.

It’s too soon to say whether this could work for everybody; the women in the study didn’t know that writing about values was supposed to help them live better (although they may have wondered why this psychology study required a weigh-in).

One thing is for sure, the way you think about yourself affects everything that you are. We might even ask ourselves if the emotional component of weight loss is more of a significant factor than diet, physical activity and the foods we eat combined.


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