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This is the last question in a series of "5 key questions about weight loss" from Time magazine. You can read the previous ones listed below:
- Why does it get hard to lose weight as you age?
- What kind of exercise is best for me?
- Why doesn't exercise help you lose weight?
- Do diet sodas make you gain weight?
The last question in the 5 key questions is "Why is it so hard to lose those last 5 to 10 pounds?"
Time's answer is that the bigger you are, the more calories you burn. Therefore, with the more weight you lose, the fewer calories you are burning and the more you have to work to burn the calories.
That answer is true, for sure, but there is more to the story. In my opinion, there are a few combined reasons why those last few pounds are hard to lose.
First off, you do burn fewer calories as you get smaller. You burn less through living, and also less in your activities. For example, if I am 5'4 and weigh 140lbs, my basal metabolic rate would be around 1452. This means that even if I were to stay in bed all day long and mope about, I would burn 1452 calories throughout the day just by being alive. Things like hair and nail growth, breathing, heart beating, etc, all take calories in order to function, so I would burn 1452. Now if I were that same 5'4 female, but I lost weight and now weigh 115, my BMR would be around 1343. Even though my body still needs to do all the things that it did before, because it is smaller now it burns less energy through these processes. So that approximately 110 calories per day won't be a deal breaker, but equates to around one pound a month that you were losing before that you aren't losing now.
The second part of this is that your calories burned during exercise change as you lose weight. Just like your body expends less energy by simply living, it also expends less energy through exercise, because you aren't moving as much weight. For example, a 155 pound person running 5.2 mph (11.5 minute miles) for an hour would burn around 633 calories. That same person, once they lost some weight and got down to 130 pounds would burn around 530 calories doing the exact same exercise at the same speed. Again, this 100 calorie difference isn't going to be a make or break difference, but if you combine these two ideas, you are burning 200 calories less per day, which would have been a pound of weight loss every 17-18 days that you aren't having now.
The third part of this equation is that people often try to lose the last 5-10 pounds by starving off, which is not only unhealthy, but also not effective. If you are a fan of Jillian Michaels and read her books or listen to her podcasts at all, you'll know this information already, but bear with me. For someone that is drastically overweight, your body wants to get rid of the excess weight. Therefore, if you are overweight and cut down to 1200 calories per day and exercise, you'll lose weight because your body will dive into the fat stores that you have and burn them for energy. On the other hand, if you are near your healthy weight for your body, your body doesn't want to get rid of that extra fat. There hasn't always been a grocery store every mile, so our bodies have evolved to store fat for a little extra energy when food is scarcer. With a few extra pounds on you, your body is happy because it has a little safety net. So if you start to starve yourself in order to get rid of those last few pounds, your body is really going to think food is scarce, and hold onto those fat stores like there is no tomorrow. Physiologically speaking, we don't need muscle in the same vital way that we need fat, so if your body fears that it is starving it will begin to burn up your expendable muscle tissue, and hold onto the fat to keep you functioning.
All that being said to point out that as you approach the last 5-10 pound realm, you need to eat! I've heard Jillian Michaels say multiple times that to lose those last few pounds the best thing to do is to eat around your BMR level (you can calculate that here) and make the calorie deficit through exercise alone so that you won't end up starving your body.
The final part of the 5-10 pound equation is setting realistic goals. Sometimes, people have trouble losing those last 5-10 pounds because they have set their goals at an unrealistic number for their height, build, or age (here is a chart that shows a range for each height). If your goal is unrealistic, you are going to feel like a constant failure as you struggle to starve yourself thinner (see #3 above). Often times, I've heard people say that as you approach your goal weight, it is better to weigh yourself less and focus more on your body composition and how you feel/look in your clothes. It can get very discouraging and unhealthy to focus so much on a number, so just try to see how you are feeling and if you really even need to lose those last few pounds.
I hope you have enjoyed my take on Time's answers to the 5 key questions about weight loss. Leave me a comment if you have any more questions, as I would love to answer them! I know this site is mostly about healthy life choices relating to food, but often times weight loss does go hand in hand with working toward a healthy lifestyle, so I wanted to touch on that aspect as well.
I'm reading this: Why is it so hard to lose the last 5 pounds?Tweet this! Posted by Lauren on Friday, June 25, 2010