21 July 2019
Sticking to a diet or exercise plan may not result in weight loss. Photo: Reuters
Sticking to a diet or exercise plan may not result in weight loss. Photo: Reuters

The science of losing weight

Have you heard of body fat “set point”? Do you know your metabolic rate? What could we do to avoid a rebound weight gain?

Weight loss can be a continuous struggle and lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to achieve it. In certain cases, medical and surgical interventions are required for an ideal body mass.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is the official screening tool for overweight or obesity. A BMI higher than 30 falls in the obese range. Not only does obesity affect the physical presentation of oneself, it also increases the risks of many diseases.

Asians whose BMIs are higher than 27 have a higher chance of developing diseases associated with obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.

Many people are concerned about the effectiveness of dieting and excessive exercising. Research does show that a high-fat diet can influence the microbiome in the gut, so changing eating habits can avoid obesity to a certain degree.

However, not all exercises lead to weight loss. Only aerobic exercises like cycling, running, swimming and bodybuilding can help in shedding extra pounds.

In addition to convention weight loss methods, a cutting-edge medication has been developed to manipulate appetite and increase metabolism by altering signals passing to the brain.

There is also a new kind of treatment for people with morbid obesity. Bariatric surgery is a pivotal approach to achieve weight loss by altering the microbiota structure and controlling the signals being sent by the gut. Some patients may still need to maintain their weight through medication after undergoing the operation.

To help more people to achieve their ideal body mass, a theory called “set point” has been developed in Western countries.

Studies show that when one’s body weight is below the set point, body fat will release hormones signaling a “famine” to the body, causing it to crave high-calorie food. The internal regulatory system in the body will also slow down the metabolic rate until the body weight returns to the set point. Researchers believe that a low set point is key to successful weight loss.

If sticking to a diet or exercise plan does not result in weight loss, be bold and try some other methods. From adopting wholesome lifestyles to aggressive approaches such as weight loss medications, endoscopic therapies and bariatric surgery, the options are open to those who are serious about staying lean and looking good.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 18

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Specialist in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, FHKAM (Medicine)

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