The Wall Street Journal wrote recently that research doesn’t actually support the notion that permanently increasing your food intake by a certain amount will correspond to indefinite weight gain. Instead, the body finds a new setpoint and adjusts itself.
Consider the chocolate-chip-cookie fan who adds one 60-calorie cookie to his daily diet. By the old math, that cookie would add up to six pounds in a year, 60 pounds in a decade and hundreds of pounds in a lifetime.
But new research—based on studies of volunteers whose calorie consumption is observed in laboratory settings, rather than often-unreliable food diaries—suggests that the body’s self-regulatory mechanisms tamp down the effects of changes in diet or behavior. If the new nutritional science is applied, the cookie fiend probably will see his weight gain approach six pounds, and then level off, pediatrician David Ludwig and nutrition scientist Martijn Katan wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year. The same numbers, in reverse, apply to weight loss.
Mother Jones points out that this may not be totally new data, but I think this has been lost on many weight-loss counselors, health writers, and medical practitioners over the years: Bodies don’t gain (or lose) indefinitely. Health At Every Size discusses animal studies where rats were fed more or less calories than a control group. Yes, the rats fed more gained some weight — but then leveled off to a new, stable weight. They didn’t gain indefinitely. So did the rats who were fed less — they leveled off at a slightly lower, stable weight.
It’s almost as if those dreaded “weight loss plateaus” part of normal body functioning.