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In the battle to lose weight, and keep it off, our bodies are fighting against us. Internet Explorer 9 or earlier. Go to the home trap dating to see the latest top stories.

For 15 years, Joseph Proietto has been helping people lose weight. When these obese patients arrive at his weight-loss clinic in Australia, they are determined to slim down. And most of the time, he says, they do just that, sticking to the clinic’s program and dropping excess pounds. But then, almost without exception, the weight begins to creep back. In a matter of months or years, the entire effort has come undone, and the patient is fat again.

Proietto, who is a physician at the University of Melbourne. These are people who are very motivated to lose weight, who achieve weight loss most of the time without too much trouble and yet, inevitably, gradually, they regain the weight. Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss. Beginning in 2009, he and his team recruited 50 obese men and women. Although some people dropped out of the study, most of the patients stuck with the extreme low-calorie diet, which consisted of special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables, totaling just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks.

Ten weeks in, the dieters lost an average of 30 pounds. At that point, the 34 patients who remained stopped dieting and began working to maintain the new lower weight. Nutritionists counseled them in person and by phone, promoting regular exercise and urging them to eat more vegetables and less fat. But despite the effort, they slowly began to put on weight.

After a year, the patients already had regained an average of 11 of the pounds they struggled so hard to lose. They also reported feeling far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight. While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost.