If you have ever struggled to keep up with a dieting plan, you are not alone: some 80 to 90 percent of dieters regain their lost weight within five years. For those who might be chalking up their dieting difficulties to a lack of willpower or resilience, here is some comfort: the secret to your troubles just might be in your hormones.
A new study by Dr. Joseph Proietto and colleagues in the October 27th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that even a year after significant weight loss, high levels of the hormones that modulate hunger can continue to persist. The study suggests that the human body is “wired” for weight regain. In effect, our hormones recognize our weight loss efforts as problematic, and shove us in a “corrective” direction.
Proietto notes this physiological push towards normalization as an evolutionary adaptation; in earlier environments and behavioral contexts, the neurological impetus to fix weight loss would have been an advantageous survival technique. Given the differences between our current patterns of physical activity, dietary content, and social expectations, and those of our Paleolithic ancestors, what was once an evolutionary adaptation has now become a bothersome inconvenience.
The conclusion here is that there is more at work than sheer power of will in adhering to a dietary plan. Obesity and weight management issues are often seen as the responsibility of the individual, but studies like these suggest the importance of other environmental or biological factors in influencing our health outcomes. To some, that might provide a fallback option: to write off weight issues as unchangeable, biological determinism. Proietto disagrees with this philosophy.
“What this all means is that people cannot say ‘Oh well, I’ve lost weight and I can now take it easy.’ You can’t. You have to keep on being very focused and maintain your lifestyle changes.” It is possible to read into Proietto’s work as an “acquittal” for those who have experienced difficulties with dieting, but more correctly, the study should spark an increased personal commitment to resisting hormonal impulses and exercising restraint.
Amol Utrankar is a sophomore from Will Rice majoring in Economics and Philosophy.