Biology Might Be Making it Harder for You to Lose Weight

New research sheds light on how individuals lose weight at different rates


Almost everyone has that one friend who essentially eats whatever they want without ever gaining an ounce of fat, or the gym buddy who seems to easily shed pounds without much effort.

It turns out, as many of us have commonly suspected, for certain people losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is easier most likely thanks to their genetics.

A recent study from researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch (PECRB), part of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, found that “certain physiologies” lose less weight than others when following reduced calorie diets.

The results were published in the journal Diabetes.

To conduct the study, the researchers monitored 12 obese men and women using a “whole-room indirect calorimeter,” a tool that calculates energy expenditure based on air samples.

For each individual, baseline measurements in response to a day of fasting were recorded. Then, the subjects were monitored for six weeks while they followed a 50 percent calorie reduction diet.

Age, sex, race and baseline weight were all accounted for before calculating the final results; what the researchers found: the subjects whose metabolisms slowed the most during the initial fasting period lost the least weight while following the calorie-restricted diet.

The researchers described those subjects’ metabolisms as “thrifty,” as opposed to the “spendthrift” metabolisms in those who lost more weight and whose metabolisms slowed the least while fasting.

“The results corroborate the idea that some people who are obese may have to work harder to lose weight due to metabolic differences,” said Martin Reinhardt, M.D., the study's lead author and PECRB postdoctoral fellow. “But biology is not destiny. Balanced diet and regular physical activity over a long period can be very effective for weight loss.”

Additionally, the researchers noted that they do not know whether these “biological differences” are “innate” or “developed over time.”

While this study only focused on a small group of obese men and women, it still helps to serve as a reminder that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to weight loss because the “best” way to lose weight is usually different for everyone.   

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