You know how it is after you’ve been dieting and even have lost some weight. You’re feeling so good about yourself—til you’re feeling bad because you’re back into abusing food. It’s time to stop blaming yourself and to recognize that biology may be at work stoking your hunger. That’s why eating disorder experts keep insisting that diets don’t work long-term. So, if you must assign blame, try your hormones.

“Blame hormones for wrecked diets?,” an article by Malcolm Ritter (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/27/11) explains what’s going on. It says that the findings of a recent study “suggest that dieters who have regained weight are not just slipping back into old habits, but are struggling against a persistent biological urge.” Joseph Prioietto of the University of Melbourne in Australia, one author in this New England Journal of Medicine study, offers some excellent advice: “People who regain weight should not be harsh on themselves, as eating is our most basic instinct.” Now where have you heard this stellar wisdom before? The weight-regain culprit: six particular hormones remained “out of whack in a direction that would boost hunger” after study participants lost weight and received weight-loss counseling. “The dieters also rated themselves as feeling hungrier after meals at the one-year mark, compared to what they reported before the diet program began.” By the way, I was surprised to learn that that the lingering hormone levels did not seem to relate to the speed of weight loss, that is, returning hunger was not the result of rapid pound shedding but of substantial, slow weight loss as well.
What does this mean for you? First off, it means that unless you’re careful in following the rules of “normal” eating after weight loss, it’s likely that you’ll regain weight. When you’re hungry, you’ll do best eating small amounts of food frequently. Along with monitoring hunger, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating foods that sustain you all day long. When your body says it needs fuel, that means making choices that will satisfy refuel you well, not simply grabbing whatever food is around or thinking you can make do grazing on sweets and treats.
Give some serious respect to hunger and its biology: hunger is what has kept us going generation after generation. Stop hating, avoiding, or being ashamed of this natural biological urge. It’s time—actually, way past time—to stop blaming lack of will power or self-discipline if you’ve put back pounds you’ve lost. Instead, recognize that biology plays a part in weight regain and stick as closely as you can to the rules of “normal” eating. We can’t change our biology, but we can certainly make the best of it.