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The Cruel Truth of Weight Loss: It's Easy To Get Fat Again
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Clinton Freeman / Getty Images4/4

The Cruel Truth of Weight Loss: It's Easy To Get Fat Again

Early this year, a study in the journal Obesity revealed that TV's Biggest Losers had become its Biggest Regainers. Why? Aside from the extreme way contestants shed pounds (hours of daily cardio fueled by little more than air), the physiological explanation is simple.

When a person loses weight, about 20 percent of what comes off is muscle, says weight management specialist Jamy Ard. (This is muscle the overweight person unknowingly developed to carry the extra fat.) Along with that loss of sugar-eating muscle, the dieter's metabolic rate drops. So even after he's hit target weight, he must eat less than he ate previously to prevent regain, since his body now burns calories more slowly.

So what should you do if you need to lose weight? Go slow. Even a small amount of weight loss can help reverse the metabolic downward spiral, as blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure all improve. Aim to drop no more than 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight at a time, a goal we know is far easier for someone to sustain. To keep off those pounds, the answer is, once again, strength training. John Mikolaitis, a patient of Ard's, shed 60 pounds from his 5-foot-10 frame, and the 42-year-old has kept it off, thanks in part to lifting three days a week. "My metabolism is fast enough that I'm able to deal with slipups and extra calories better than before.

I lost the weight," Mikolaitis says. "And now I'm more V-shaped than pear-shaped."

Making it tougher still, after losing a lot of weight, the body responds by decreasing metabolic rate even further and increasing hunger even more. That's a physiological response created by human evolution, which was more concerned with preventing starvation than love handles.

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