Why is it hard to lose weight?
“I can’t lose weight! I am doing everything I can!”
Inability to lose weight is a very common grievance. Weight loss is unquestionably difficult. An important reason for this difficulty is the misconception regarding food “values”. However, some fundamental principles will help us in understanding this and the process of weight loss. To bring about clarity, let’s compare our body weight to a bank account and understand the approach to weight loss. We will also discover the concept of BMR – basal metabolic rate.
It’s oversimplified, but you will get a general idea.
Picture this: your body weight is like a bank account
Most of the concepts of our body’s energy handling are similar to that of currency handling by banks – depositing, saving, spending, various currencies, and their values.
Depositing Vs Spending
How much we deposit or spend determines the balance in our account. If we deposit more and spend less, our account grows. The way to reduce your account balance is to accumulate less and spend more.
Similarly, with regards to our body, the only way to lose weight is to eat less and spend more. We spend on our activities and exercise.
To lose weight, we need to spend more than we consume.
Fixed Deposit concept
Have you heard about the Flexi deposits in some banks that sweep your balance in the savings account to higher-interest paying Fixed Deposits? Our body is also like a Flexi account.
The unused energy in our circulation (glucose) will eventually get converted to long-term energy deposit – fat.
Very old fixed deposits are generally challenging to withdraw and spend, so are fat deposits.
Various currencies and their “value”
In a multi-currency account, account balance increases according to the value of the currency deposited. For example, 100 Indian rupees and 100 US dollars have different “values”. Higher valued currencies, when deposited, will increase the account balance much higher.
Similarly, vegetables, fruits and cereals are like low-value currency. Eating sweets, oily or fast food is like depositing US Dollars or British Pounds. Your account balance will jump through the roof.
Although the weight of a 100 rupee note and a 100 dollar note are almost the same, their “value” is very different. Similarly, the weight of a bowl of rice and a bowl of a fried chicken may be the same, but their “calorie value” is quite different. The weight of a spoon of rice and a small piece of sweet (like a laddu or jalebi) may be almost the same, but the sweet has much higher “energy”. After consuming it, if we do not “spend” it, you know which account it will get deposited in.
These comparisons apply to expenditure too. Some activities consume less energy and others high, even if we spend the same amount of time. Walking for one hour is different from running or speed-cycling for one hour. Vigorous physical activities will help us spend more and reduce our “balance”.
|Bank Account||Body Weight|
|Immediately after depositing||Savings Account||Blood Sugar (Glucose)!|
|After some time, if unused balance||Fixed Deposit||Fat Deposit!|
|Relatively low-value deposit||Currencies like Indian Rupee, South African Rand etc.||Food with a high glycemic index like cereals, pulses, high-fibre vegetables etc.|
|Relatively high-value deposit||Currencies like British Pound, Euro, US Dollars etc.||Sweets (containing sugar, glucose, jaggery etc.), carbonated drinks, juices, fried food (with oils/fat).|
|Relatively low-value expenditure||Buy essentials like vegetables, grocery, essential clothing etc.||Sitting, slow walking etc.|
|Relatively high-value expenditure||Buying expensive items like cars, diamonds, houses etc.||Vigorous physical activity like running, jogging, cycling, etc.|
To give you an idea, if you eat an extra medium-sized banana, you have to walk swiftly for an additional 1.5 kilometres to spend it. Just ate a single slice of a medium crust pizza? Run for about 3.0 kilometres to spend it, if you want to maintain your weight.
Why do some people tend to lose weight easily?
Well, there are different kinds of banks. Banks offer different interest rates, some give 3% per annum, while others 11%! In some such cases, the account grows even without much deposit.
Banks in Japan are not just known for “no-interest” accounts, but they actually charge us to maintain our account! Here, the account gradually tends to diminish.
This concept is called BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate.
High BMR is like “maintenance charges” that the Japanese banks charge you. Call it “Body Maintenance Rates”, if you will.
People with high BMR do not gain weight easily. Sometimes, this is also due to medical conditions like thyrotoxicosis (over-functioning thyroid gland) etc. Some inflammatory conditions also produce this and checking ESR may be useful in some individuals.
People with low BMR tend to gain weight easily and find it very difficult to lose weight. This can also be due to medical conditions like hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid gland) etc.
The importance of body weight
Obesity (increased body weight) is a significant risk factor for non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancers. Increased physical activity helps in reducing weight, especially when food consumption is of low-value food and in lesser quantity.
Tilt the balance in your favour.
Knowledge is power. Now that you know, it shouldn’t be hard anymore.
The author has earlier published a basic version of this article on Quora.
Dr Shashikiran Umakanth (MBBS, MD, FRCP Edin.) is Professor & Head of Internal Medicine at MMMC, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, and has clinical responsibilities at the Department of Medicine, Dr TMA Pai Hospital, Udupi, Karnataka, India.