Why Is Regaining Weight So Common?

Weight RegainIt’s an age-old story. A person has a huge amount of weight to lose and gets rid of most of it through a combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification. And they feel fantastic. They’ve got energy for days, their skin glows, they exude newfound confidence, and they experience other small miracles. Many of you have lived this. But then something happens: the weight loss stops, or, worse, it reverses. They can keep the weight at bay as long as their diet is ironclad and they don’t skip any workouts, but as soon as they slip up even a little bit, they gain weight. And when they gain, they seem to gain it faster and more easily than should be normal. It just doesn’t seem fair.

What’s going on here?

It comes down to how we gain and lose weight.

See, there are two kinds of fat gain: hypertrophic and hyperplastic. Adipose tissue hypertrophy is when your existing fat cells get bigger. Adipose tissue hyperplasia is when entirely new fat cells are created.

The vast majority of fat cells are created and established during childhood and adolescence. During early infancy and from ages 9 to 13 appear to be especially crucial stages for adipose hyperplasia (PDF). After adolescence, you’re pretty much stuck with the number of fat cells your body has made. There are some regional differences in how adults gain body fat, with overfeeding creating new fat cells in the lower body fat but not upper body fat, but for the most part, the number of fat cells a person has is fixed during adolescence and only increases in adults with obesity. If your existing fat cells are filled to the brim and there’s nowhere else to put the incoming energy, the body will make new ones.

In fact, adult adipose hyperplasia is a safety feature. As much as we hate the idea of adding entirely new fat cells to our body, they’re storage depots for excess energy. If you don’t have the extra fat cells for spillover, you’ll start depositing fat in the liver and around the other organs — basically, anyplace that’ll take it. This can have disastrous effects on our health. Animal studies show that inducing adipose tissue hyperplasia in energy excess alleviates the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in obese mice, while hypertrophic obesity (bigger fat cells) is associated with type 2 diabetes. In that respect, hyperplastia delays the development of fatty liver, diabetes, and other diseases of severely excessive nutrient accumulation by providing a place to put the nutrients.

Weight loss doesn’t remove these fat cells, though. It pulls fat from existing ones, leaving the (mostly) empty cells behind. A formerly obese person who’s dieted and exercised down to 15% body fat still has the same number of fat cells he did when he was at 35% body fat. The fat is just spread more thinly, which makes avoiding weight regain more difficult. Why?

It has to do with leptin.

People tend to say that leptin reflects fat mass. That’s true, but it’s not the complete story. Leptin levels reflect fat mass and the size of each fat cell. That means that total adipose tissue (body fat across the body) and the size of the individual fat cells affect the secretion of leptin, with small fat cells (of which the formerly obese have an abundance) secreting about 1/7 as much leptin as a larger fat cell. If you’re walking around with a ton of tiny, mostly empty fat cells after weight loss, you will secrete far less leptin than a perpetually lean person sitting at the same body fat percentage. This has several effects that predispose the formerly obese to weight regain:

  • Your energy expenditure will drop. Leptin regulates how much energy you burn (and how much spontaneous physical activity you engage in). If leptin levels are low, you’re not going to want to move or exercise as you otherwise would, and you will burn less energy doing it.
  • Your appetite will increase. In a perpetually lean person whose fat cells are larger and less numerous, adequate leptin maintains proper appetite homeostasisIf the leptin receptors in your hypothalamus aren’t getting much action, though, the brain assumes you’re starving and need more food. The effects of postprandial satiety hormones are inhibited (so you get hungrier faster after meals) and appetite signaling is upregulated (so you get really hungry). The drive to regain the lost weight is increased.
  • Your peripheral tissues will become primed to store, rather than burn nutrients. Your small fat cells have a kind of “fat memory.” Once established, a fat cell is more likely to regain the lost weight in the presence of excess energy (which, as you remember, your low leptin levels are prompting you to consume).

This makes things harder for the formerly overweight or obese. Even if they’ve lost a hundred pounds and gotten down to ideal body fat percentages, they still have all these fat cells that want to gain weight, make you hungry, and stop you from expending too much energy.

Are there any methods for culling “extra” fat cells? There are methods that work but are probably unfeasible or have undesirable side effects:

Adipotide is an experimental weight loss drug that kills fat cells by cutting off their blood supply. This causes rapid weight loss in monkeys, and human trials are underway. A few human guinea pigs have already got their hands on the stuff, of course, but their preliminary results don’t look too promising unless you like kidney damage, hypoglycemia, cloudy urine, iffy bladder control, strange bumps at the injection site, and constant pain. I’d take a real long wait and see on adipotide.

Leptin can program cell death in fat cells. Of course, since mostly-empty fat cells secrete very little leptin, the formerly obese shouldn’t count on their adipose tissue providing enough leptin to off itself. Leptin therapy works well for killing fat cells, but it’s really expensive (like, $600k per year expensive).

High-dose conjugated linoleic acid supplementation can induce fat cell apoptosis in overweight mice, but it also causes lipodystrophic diabetes, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and liver swelling. These aren’t side effects of fat cell deletion. They’re features. Better to get your CLA through grass-fed meat and dairy.

There are a number of plant compounds that work in animals or petri dishes, like green tea extracts and resveratrol. Will sipping matcha green tea and Chilean malbec destroy your fat cells? Probably not, but it can’t hurt to try and they can certainly be healthy additions to a diet in their own rights.

Liposuction removes fat cells from desired regions, though the feasibility of long-term maintenance of these losses isn’t clear. Animal studies indicate that surgical removal of fat cells redirects subsequent fat gain to different parts of the body. In a recent human trial, liposuction subjects regained their lost weight within a year, all of it going to the belly and visceral stores.

There is one method that works in animals and live humans, but it doesn’t actually kill fat cells. It converts them into a more useful type of fat:

Cold exposure. It turns out that cold exposure has the potential to transform white adipose tissue cells into metabolism-stimulating brown fat cells. In one recent study, researchers took belly fat samples from the same people during the summer and winter. Biomarkers of brown adipose tissue activity were higher in the winter belly fat. In another portion of the study, people held ice packs against their thighs. Thigh tissue samples revealed greater conversion of white fat into brown fat in the lean members of the group, while the obese had less brown fat conversion, probably due to higher baseline inflammation levels. A more recent study found that cold applied to human neck fat initiated the conversion of white fat cells into brown ones. If you can’t kill ’em, convert ’em.

One problem with this: it’s not a one-and-done deal. Cold-converted brown fat can revert back to white fat if the stimulus is withdrawn, though not immediately. Periodic cold exposure, even if it’s just taking early morning walks in short sleeves or cool showers or regular dips in cold water several times a week, might be required for people trying to maintain the browning.

There are no easy answers, unfortunately. It’s a simple fact that the formerly-obese have to work harder, exert more willpower, and be more fastidious with their diets to avoid weight regain. But it can be done, and until we have safe, effective, and long-lasting methods for removing or prompting the clean death of unwanted fat cells, or until leptin therapy becomes cost effective, I expect those of you who have lost weight and want to avoid regaining it will have your work cut out for you.

Just remember: you have a home here and a supportive community ready to help and provide support, camaraderie, and empathy. You have a solid framework — or a blueprint, if you will — for maintaining healthy eating, moving, and living habits.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns in the comment section below.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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111 thoughts on “Why Is Regaining Weight So Common?”

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  1. I love the idea of cold exposure. I go on morning walks all the time.. I might have to start going without the extra layer!

  2. Great article! Is there a protocol for ‘easing’ into cold therapy? I like going from the sauna into a cold pool and jumping into the Pacific ocean once a year on my birthday but other than that am a wimp about cold showers, ice baths, etc.

    1. I find starting the shower at lukewarm and easing it down as you acclimate works pretty well. Also helps if you just worked out and are still warm as the cold shower will feel much better.

      1. Every body’s different! I start with a really hot shower & then turn the hot water off all as once. For some reason I find this much more tolerable than a slow decline, despite the initial shock.

        I used to have a real dread of cold or even slightly cool showers but now to my amazement I actually look forward to my cold blast (not always but sometimes). It’s very energizing! And an interesting thing I’ve noticed is that whereas getting out of a hot shower in Winter often caused me to shiver & feel chilled, now my body starts to warm itself up immediately. It has also improved my cold tolerance outdoors. 🙂

        1. p.s. The main reason I started doing this was not for weight loss, but for “toughening up” physically & emotionally. It seems to help with my anxiety & especially with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

    2. Check out jackkruse.com for info on cold therapy. Most days I end my shower with cold water. I also try to take walks even on bitterly cold days. On not so cold days, say 20+F, I will walk a bit in my shirt sleeves (after warming up). It does help me with cold tolerance. I am not sure if it helps with SAD because I also take 6000 IU/day of vitamin D in winter.

  3. Anyone have thoughts on the Coolsculpting thing where they freeze your fat cells to supposedly kill them off?

    1. I was just wondering about that myself!
      There is a billboard in my town advertising cool sculpting. I figured it had to do with some sort of freezing, but wasn’t really sure what it is. Or if it’s actually safe.
      Now I’m curious.

  4. How disheartening!!! To know that my fat cells are lurking around, just biding their time, waiting for me to slip up – it just seems futile to fight them. And I HATE cold water, being cold while outside, having cold hands… Brrrrrrr!

    1. I agree about the cold! The only way I can enjoy it is after some time in the sauna. I wonder if that changes the brown fat conversion rate…
      But keep putting in the effort! It’s worth it and you can do it!

    2. I am even more disheartened when I think about the stunningly high percentage of 7-12 year old kids who are already obese from modern (post-1980) junk food. Are they going to screwed for the next SEVENTY YEARS???

    3. +100. I detest cold so I guess I’ll just have to be meticulous about eating right and moving a lot.

  5. This is incredibly depressing. I had originally lost 100lbs. I’m now at a loss of 75. Granted I was too thin before but as I age the battle is real. I constantly watch my diet and exercise only to notice gains but not gainz????

    1. I agree! This is incredibly depressing. It explains why it takes me 2 months to lose weight and 1 week to regain it though. To be honest, it kind of makes me just want to give up completely and focus only on maintaining.

      1. Depressing, maybe. But I think if we keep fighting the good fight, we’ll be happy with our lives (and lifestyle), even if we don’t have the “ideal” weight. At some point, we have to reconcile our genes with our history of being overweight, and understand that if we are eating primal most of the time and doing all the other things right (managing stress, sleeping enough, moving a lot, etc), then we are going to live long, healthy lives, even if it if is with a few extra pounds.

        I’ve been reflecting on this a lot over the last few days–coming to terms with where I am, where I want to be, and where I come from. It’s helped me focus on things besides the number on the scale, and it’s been a very positive experience.

    2. Sounds like my situation, Piper. It seems that I’ll have to get my “stubborn” up again. I’m not a cold shower fan either. Nor do I think it would be good to hike around in the current blizzard wearing a t-shirt. Back to lchf discipline! :p

    3. Also agree that this is not only depressing but demoralizing. Like, do I even have a chance of losing 50 pounds now that I’m in my late 40s? After a lifetime of struggling with weight? Without having to be 100% perfect 100% of the time?

      1. Please don’t get discouraged. I lost 100 pounds when I was 50, and maintained that loss for 10 years. Last winter I participated in a challenge at my gym and managed to lose another 17 pounds, which I’ve kept off. For me, weight lifting and walking are key components to keeping the weight off. I’m not perfect with my eating, but I never let myself gain more than 5 pounds before I kick myself back into losing mode.

        1. Agreed Paw print!
          My plan is lifting weight to build muscle and raise my basal metabolic rate, or burn, if you will…while eating low carb, high fat for satiety and fat loss.
          I think it is truly the only way to achieve lasting weight loss, especially as I get older. I’m past 50 now!

        2. Paw print are you male or female?? If your female that gives the rest of us 50 + year old females hopeIf you are male then really really way way not so much.As I try more methods to lose weight and fail I am becoming more convinced That female weight loss occurs When we are Well nourished with micronutrients Minerals and vitamins With the fewest number of macronutrientsSo from a dietary perspective we’re getting the most bang for our buck in the micronutrient department. Lots of nutrients With the fewest number of calories Would have meant for a prehistoric female And abundant diet with no threatIt would have meant plenty of food with no starvation insight and times of plenty There would have been no reason to pack on a lot of fat and keep a lot of fat around. Therefore she would have said it because it would have made of movement more difficult. At least that’s what I’m going to try next

      2. What PawPrint said. Don’t be discouraged. I am 58 and I lost 50 pounds last summer and fall. It was mostly switching to a paleo diet, because I didn’t really begin working out until after the summer passed. I am continuing to lose, but more slowly. Most encouraging to me is appearance rather than weight. As Mark and others often say, weight loss isn’t always a good indication of fat loss. But a measuring tape and a mirror are pretty good indicators. For me, the real benefit came from my blood work. Huge improvement in blood sugar, blood lipids, blood pressure. All are way down! Good luck to you!

      3. You must maintain Primal/Paleo as a “way of life,” not as a diet that helps you lose weight. Once you have totally realized that your life has changed for the best, you will find that your weight will no longer yo-yo. You won’t even have to look at the scale anymore, because you will not gain and lose, gain and lose. The up and down problems people experience happen because they do not adopt Paleo as a lifelong eating plan. It is “temporary” until weight loss goals are achieved, then the old ways of eating creep back in, slowly, until the weight also creeps back up.

  6. Inspired! Just went for a walk/jog/sprint on my block in a thin rash guard and nylon pants. It’s 30 outside.

  7. With Primal this is not happening to me at all. Both my wife and I exercise a lot less than we should. Although I do get some body weight exercises in almost every day. I am talking minutes a day.

    We can also eat a few heavy meals and even have started having custard (more egg yolks yeah!) on a semi-regular basis. I just do not regain weight now at all. In fact for around 20 months in a row I am always less at the end of the month then beginning. Although my weight has stabilized at 165. Which is fine with me.

    I might want to shoot for 160 or so. But 165 is absolutely effortless enjoying whatever I want. Note I eat Primal at least I would say 90% but this is no hardship because the food is fantastic. But minimal exercise, no calorie counting, and delicious food all the time on Primal and no weight regain.

    Of course the above article is mostly for people doing eat less, move more. Yeah life kind of those stink for them. C’mon over to Primal I say.

    1. Larry, you are blessed, enjoy it! I have been strictly Primal for 8 years. It has kept my blood sugar very low and staved off the effects of T2 diabetes, but to lose weight and keep it off, I cannot eat more than 1000 calories a day. I don’t get hungry, it just isn’t really enough to live on, so I take supplements, fast at least one day a week, and have to be constantly vigilant about what I put in my mouth, even though that never involves carbs. It sucks but it works.

    2. Larry, since going Primal I have experienced the same thing as you. I don’t seem to gain weight even though there are days now and then when I’m not seriously primal at all.

      According to this article, the whole thing was mostly a done deal while we were still kids. Were you a skinny kid? I was always very thin growing up. I never had a problem with weight until I hit middle age, and even then it wasn’t excessive. But when I adopted a mostly Paleo lifestyle the excess weight melted right off and didn’t return. I was never obese, and maybe that’s what made a difference. Maybe some of us really do have fewer fat cells.

      1. I was always having to buy what they used to call Husky jeans growing up. Was I obese, maybe not. But at best Husky. Probably more obese than overweight but not as bad as a lot of kids nowadays.

        But definitely obese, morbidly, for most of my adult life. My metabolism seems to have fully healed. And I am grateful for that.

  8. I guess it can happen to those going Primal. Does it have anything to do with when first very overweight? I remember being always at least husky. I’ve read numerous places over the years that if you were thin say until your 20s, weight loss is easier later?

    I don’t know though. I’ve found from family members this doesn’t hold.

    But one thing me and my wife have done is lost our fear of good natural fats. We have a lot of fats. Keeps us full and I believe is super nutrient dense and helps the body work very well. Maybe that is one of the keys for maintaining fairly easily, keep up the good natural fats on a consistent basis.

    And probably the less cheating the better. I find people keep a sweet tooth that still have stevia or unrefined honey more than they probably should. Once you start embracing bitter and the full range of flavors, I think that really helps control hunger once and for all. If you keep finding sweet alternatives that are ‘healthy’ I think that just draws out the process at best or derails it for some at worse.

  9. I stopped my cold showers when i went in for surgery in november. Post op i quickly lost half a stone, but now i find myself feeling starving all the time And i know the fat is building again. Looks like low carb and cold showers are going to be necessary to get me back down to the size i want to be.

  10. I can’t say this is one of the more inspirational posts I’ve read here. :/ And of course I start ruminating and analyzing my own history…I was a little chubby during early puberty, but then was very athletic until I was 19 or so. But I’ve never been lithe…always had a little softness especially in my belly. I’ve gained and lost the same 20-30lbs or so numerous times throughout my 20s. It just makes me wonder how hard this is truly going to be in the long haul. BUT it’s also a really good reminder to not wait for certain conditions to be happy in my life. I need to embrace what is – right now and at all times. We can’t lament and judge ourselves for things that happened when we were young and and not in charge of what we were eating and doing everyday.

    1. I hate to bust your bubble but all that Mark said is probably true and I didn’t know all this. I am 71 now and have been dieting and exercising for the past 50 yrs just to keep my wt in check. The minute I don’t, then I gain a few pounds. so in those past yrs of trying to keep my wt down and exercise it has been a fighting battle. Every year I add on a couple pounds by not being strict with what I eat and now those extra pounds have been accumulating and are very difficult to lose. It takes extra hard work just to lose them and keep them off and at my age, who wants to do that?? So the only thing I’ve learned about this article is that don’t stop!! OMG! It’s so difficult to take off. Now I weigh more than ever in my life and trying to not go over 165 lbs is a pain. That’s a lot for me cause I’m only 5’2″ . So the morale of the story is, The fat cells don’t go away, and you get more. So keep them in check!

  11. We’re actually in the early stages of setting up a university group experiment on the Cool Fat Burner which will test (amongst other things) it’s effects on the hormone “irisin,” which is involved in (amongst other things) the “browning” of white into beige/brown fat.

    Or course, we’ve already shown (twice) we can activate BAT, as confirmed via PET scans. The second time I had maximal brown fat levels, and that was even at the end of summer. Only took wearing it 1.5hrs a day, 6 days a week.

    (check out the Cool Fat Burner site or our YouTube channel to see our vids of the various experiments)

    1. Very cool! Ok, sorry for the lame pun…it just rolled off my fingertips.
      ..but I am interested in the research. Please post some ongoing results if possible?

      1. We actually have 2 experiments going right now. Results of the first should be in within a few weeks.

        The second will take months.

        Can’t say what they’re about yet, sorry. 🙂

  12. What about the fat cell apoptosis that Cate Shanahan says can occur as a result of reducing inflammation?

    1. I thought the same thing! I would love to hear Dr. Cate’s thoughts on this subject.

  13. I subscribed to the Primal life about a year ago. I love it, but am not always 100%. No excuses. Genetically (I say that because photos of my family all the way back to the early 1900’s reveal a certain body type) I am predisposed to carry a little more weight. I do a better job of maintaining my weight than does anyone else in my immediate or extended family. I have watched frustrated family members lose and regain for years, and ultimately give up. It also seems like we all have a cap weight no matter the diet (baring excessive caloric intake with no regard). Just some info about my plight.

    I learned in college anatomy and physiology that the amount of adipose tissue is pretty much set, and only swells and shrinks with non-excessive weight gain or loss. Drastic caloric increases can cause the creation of new adipose cells, but if that is the case, why wouldn’t some semi-frequent keto dieting have the reverse effect? This is terrible disconcerting.

    1. Chronic yo-yo dieter here. Went primal with ease for over a year then KABOOM everything hit reverse. Additional stress factors probably triggered it – moving, writing my PhD dissertation, being kinda broke – but even when I had added stress before (like taking my PhD qualifying exams, for instance) I never really felt like my diet (and I mean “diet” as in the things you eat, not “diet” like a temporary change for the sake of losing weight) was hard to maintain. It really felt like something snapped as soon as I hit what has traditionally been me “set weight.” Same as every other attempt to lose. I was a normal-ish (slightly heavier than my peers, but far from obese) sized teenager but went through some emotional trauma in my early twenties that dramatically affected my lifestyle choices. I gained fifty pounds in about three months, and my body has never been the same since. I always get to the same point, which is about twenty pounds overweight, and then completely lose focus and motivation. I’ve always attributed it to getting to “comfortable” – I’m finally comfortable in my own skin again and start being more lax. But this time, the fact that I started having such severe cravings for things I haven’t had any desire for in a year and a half and overeat even when I’m eating primally all tells me that there is something more at work than meets the eye.

  14. I also thought of this. My wife and I were not chronic dieters. We got obese and frankly staid there. When we did really try our first knuckle down attempt was basically Primal. I’ve heard that a lot of conventional yo yo dieting can take a toll on subsequent attempts. Especially as regards weight regain.

    I don’t know how Mark and staff feel about this. If they have posted in the past on if this is ‘real’ or not.

    It would be interesting to follow yo yo dieters who go Primal and then succeed and see if they keep it off. I think many of the Friday success stories do mention the past yo yo attempts. But then as far as I know pretty good success at keeping it off with PB.

    1. The average time of success lasts about 2 years.

      Losing the last 5 or 10 lbs of vanity fat by doing extreme work outs and keto dieting pushes the body over the edge and shortly after the human body becomes exhausted, hormones change and the brain will SCREAM for Calories…lots of them.

      To rebalance homeostasis after this ordeal takes several months, if not even years.
      It’s best to leave the vanity fat alone after the initial weight loss.

      This is why the Hollywood Actors always get so fat when the acting job is done. They’re notorious for doing this.

  15. I lost 140 lbs in 1988 thru 1991. Its been a fight to maintain loss.I have been searching for years to understand why I gain weight so quickly. Thank you. knowledge is power!

    1. Gail, I am curious… I too have lost weight over a few years. It took me about 3 years to lose 40 or so lbs. I notice that I do gain some back if I’m not careful, but I definitely don’t gain as much or as fast as I did in the past before eating real food all the time. I think, for me, it is because when I do indulge, it’s not junk food – just too much good food and not enough exercise. When I do get back on track, it comes right off. Is there anything to the notion that if you lose it more slowly, it doesn’t come back as quickly, or “hang on” as hard when you do gain?

      1. Kari Very,
        When I first lost the weight, I could gain 20 lbs in two weeks of not being careful. I dont think losing it slowly really helped. I think I lost slowly because my body is resistant to weight loss. Fat all my life. Now things have changed. I no longer gain as rapidly. More like a normal person.I think it takes time for the hormones in the brain to hear different signals.I was super morbidly obese so im sure I made lots of new fat cells that are skinny now, or maybe they died?

  16. As a yo-yo dieter for most of my adult life, going Primal and not counting calories but relearning how to tell when I was full worked for me. I’ve dropped 10kgs and kept within 1.5kg of that weight for over a year.

    Yes, occasionally I get an upwards creep but as this lifestyle is so easy to maintain a day or so of eating more fish and salad puts me back on track again.

    What helps tremendously is there is now no guilt about eating full fat tasty food, so no real thoughts around cheating. If I really want a treat, then I make a primal/paleo cake or cookie, knowing exactly what is in it and enjoy every bite.

  17. Fasting does nothing to aid in the breakdown of excess fat cells?

    1. I would think that it makes existing fat cells smaller, but would not “kill” existing fat cells.

  18. Thanks for the info. It’s not very encouraging for those of us who struggle with this.

    I’m one of those people (female) who was skinny as a child, and then slim as a teen and into my late twenties. Then I gained a lot of weight at around age 28 from a combo of birth control pills and poor diet. I have not been successful at losing all of that extra gained weight, or keeping off the pounds I lost over the years.

    I eat Paleo and I exercise, and I keep having to eliminate foods in order to maintain any weight loss. (Like dairy, nuts, seeds, some fruits, some starchy veg, etc.) I’m hoping I don’t have to eliminate too many more foods.

    It’s depressing.

    Some days I feel like the only foods I’ll be able to eat for the rest of my life are proteins and salads.

  19. This has been my experience too. Primal (100% of the time, no 80/20 for me) made weight loss effortless. But now that I’m exactly at just under the overweight/average line for my height, I’ve reached a strange point. For almost 2.5 months now, I’ve been at this exact same weight +/-3 lbs. And the moment I relax for just a second, (by skipping a PEM or getting slightly too little sleep) the weight tries to raise. I feel like I’m tottering on an edge, not a plateau. And I have a great deal of fear that I will regain. I’m not to my ideal weight yet. I cannot be. So what remains for me but to do more exercise or reduce calories? I have no idea. That’s the kind of conventional wisdom that got me into the mess in the first place.

    At any rate, this article was exceptionally well-timed. Thanks Mark.

    1. Just guessing, but maybe you’ve lost too much weight for your particular body makeup. I think there is homeostasis in weight loss as well as other things, and maybe you’ve dropped to a level that your body is fighting against. Perhaps you should allow a small amount of weight gain to see if your body is happier there. Or possibly cycle between low carb and a higher intake of carbs, as with 80/20. I know that must sound counterproductive, but it might work for you.

    2. I have been tottering on the edge for a year now. Its tiring.

  20. I could be wrong about this but If people cleared the emotional reason to why they ate so much in the first place they probably wouldn’t ever have the urge to over eat again regardless of how many fat cells they have

    1. Perhaps, but many of us aren’t overeating at all, and still cannot maintain a weight loss without cutting out yet another food or increasing exercise.

    2. But our hormones often tell us that we’re NOT overeating, despite a person’s good intentions. It’s clearly not all emotional.

    3. This can certainly be true for some, however once the body has issues regulating fat tissue there is a lot that goes on in the body to continue store fat as opposed to using it for fuel.

      I’ll use myself as an example: I was heavier as a kid, and very much aware of it. So I developed a bad emotional eating habit to “deal.” Psychologically, this was was pretty damaging. But it was also damaging physiologically, as my insulin hormone was probably over stimulated one too many times and my body started storing too many calories as fat. That means there were actually less calories to burn for energy for all the other things I needed. That sent messages to my brain that I was either hungry and needed to eat more, or I didn’t have energy and needed to move less. I continued to store calories as fat. Since I was fat, I would continue to emotionally eat, as well as eat because my body was telling me I was hungry.

      It’s a terrible cycle to end up in, and it’s why so many people become overweight and obese. The old adage “move more, eat less” along with sentiments that people who are obese just have no will power or control are reasons why we as a nation are getting so fat.

      As one of the posters above said, knowledge is power. We need to better inform the public about the real reason people get fat. That has been a huge misconception for decades now.

        1. Not always! I was fanatical about my calorie intake, holding it at 1200-1300 calories per day. I walked 2 1/2 miles to work and another 2 1/2 back every weekday. I worked out at Curves every single day as well, alternating the machines with cardio. Not only did I not lose weight, I gained 5lb over the 18 months I did this.

          The irony is that when that job was downsized, and I found another only a mile away, and did Curves only 3 days a week, I dropped 12lb in 6 months. Same calorie intake!

          I’ve never been obese, and my heaviest weight has been 142lb – I’m 5’6″ tall. I’m now holding pretty steady at 132lb, don’t count my calories any more (I just eat 80/20 to satiety), and my exercise consists of walking about 2 miles a day on weekdays, and swimming 1/2 mile at a slow pace 3-4 days a week.

          I think that ideal weight and sustainable weight may be completely different things. My ideal weight would be 123lb, mostly because I like that number, but that is not sustainable for my body and – looking at photos of me when I did weigh that little – too thin. I had deep hollows around my collarbones and my shoulder blades stuck out like wings. I think my sustainable range is 128-134lb. I wouldn’t be unhappy if I lost some of my belly fat, but it doesn’t haunt my days and nights the way it used to.

          I think there are better numbers to focus on than the one on the scale. Fasting glucose and insulin levels, blood pressure, bone density, triglyceride count. These are truer reflectors of health status, so aiming for good numbers would improve health regardless of weight. Feeling well increases our joy in living – and surely living well is more important than living thin, especially if trying to stay thin sucks all the vitality, all the lovingkindness, all of the zest, out of us?

        2. Except when they don’t.

          When we move more, we expend more energy. Thus, we need more calories. This is why a lot of “diets” don’t work–you can only half starve yourself for so long.

          If you really want to understand how it all works, read Gary Taubes “Good Calories, Bad Calories” or “Why We Get Fat.” Highly informative, based in science, and blows the “eat less, move more” myth right out of the water.

  21. After 8-solid months of sticking with it, and amazing results, I started to compromise. A little. I would put myself at 70/30 over the last year. And while I am nowhere close to my previous lifestyle and weight, I can’t help but notice that something small for me has more noticeable (and non-noticeable) consquences than something major does for my sister who has always been fit until she had her first child five months ago (and who already looks fantastic again! Go sis!) Every morning I wake up with resolve to do better, and some days I do and some days I don’t, but I always feel it when I don’t.

    All that to say, I needed this post. Both as a reminder that compromise for me means more noticeable differences, and encouragement to get back to 100% so I feel 100%. Thanks.

  22. I’ve been doing the cold-shower bit this winter. In Texas, the water temp hasn’t gotten lower than 65F. Not ideal, but it still has some benefits. I finish my shower by slowly pouring a gallon of 40F water down the back of my neck to further stimulate the brown fat to burn white fat.

    Two methods I’ve learned to mitigate the initial shock of cold water is to first splash the cold water in my face a few times to activate the deep-dive reflex, and then splash the back of my neck to light the brown fat furnace. After those two steps, the rest of the cold water isn’t so uncomfortable.

    The really interesting thing to me is how warm the air feels outside the shower when I step out, even without the bathroom heater being on.

    All I’ve read on the subject coincides with Mark’s remarks today. I’ve no proof yet, except that I’m keeping my weight off. I think this is part of the reason.

  23. Well, this article is very disheartening and quite revealing at the same time.
    No answer to really help those that struggle with this type of weight loss and weight gain.
    I was raised in a time of “girls don’t exercise or sweat”.
    I hate exercising and never have felt that “feeling” many talk about in their
    exercise routine.
    It is drudgery, pure and simple.
    I love eating Primal, but that has not taken off any weight.
    I really don’t mean to sound so ……. forsaken, but at this point, well,
    I don’t see any weight loss in the near future for me.
    I really hope they rest of you have better successes.

  24. This comment line is getting a little weird. I know it’s scary to gain weight after you lose a lot, it definitely is for me and I get down sometimes when it happens, but I really, truly believe it’s important to love yourself and enjoy life and how good you feel from living and eating clean even if you slip up from time to time or gain some weight back. People make mistakes and no one is perfect. Obsessing about food and not being 100% perfect is dangerous, just like eating poorly.

    1. Plus, there are a LOT of other aspects of being Primal than just weight and food. Actually, I don’t think weight is an aspect of being primal at all. It’s just that for most, losing weight is a side effect of being primal.

      Keep your heads up everyone! There is so much more to you and your life than a number on the scale or the perfect body composition.

  25. I am flirting with staying super lean for my body type but I trace my ancestry to northern England so I have a great metabolism for surviving a famine but not so great for keeping 10% BF or less. I run about 170LBs though prefer to be 160. To stay at 160 requires about 1300 calories per day which is not a lot for a 45 year old guy.

    So what to do. I am wondering if the next step is tuning the gut biome. My sense is that some tweaking there could really help. BAT is interesting but cold showers suck and cold water immersion really is no fun at all. I like sitting in my hot tub!

    For folks really struggling to maintain I am thinking first check gut biome and also consider ancestry. My ancestry suggests I have a body type that did great in Scotland in the cold and not eating much. Would an optimally tuned gut biome help…. I really think it could.

    In the meantime I recommend IF. IF is great for us folks needing less energy that also like to eat big. I tend to do 1 meal per day but that meal is very satisfying if done right and allows me to maintain close to the body comp I like.

    Hope this helps.


  26. The KEY is quite simple. No matter what “kind” of fat you have. The key is sustainability. Five years in I am having a paleo donut for breakfast. Not strictly paleo as it is a bacon wrapped pineapple ring with onion and cheese. But hey I could easily eat these for the rest of my life. I can easily eat good close to the source food that I cook at home for far less cost than going out FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. Eating FOREVER in a truly health manner is what keeps the weight off…no “diet” that you use for a time then go back to your old eating habits is EVER going to keep the weight off…I am sticking to HFLC for the rest of my life…

  27. I think it would be helpful to follow up this article with one that discusses how those fat cells are filled and depleted, the mechanism; while examining which processes that seem to influence this.

  28. I was slender most of my life, didn’t gain weight much at all. Then (forboding music plays here) menopause hit and I gained about 5 pounds at a time here and there until I was 30 over my “normal” weight. Nothing worked until Medifast melted the first 20ish off and it was threatening to come back on until I did HCG and there went the rest. That showed me that when I was hungry I did NOT die from not eating like it felt, then after a bit I didn’t get hungry because I was basically keto. After the weight came off I noticed that grains/beans/etc were not in my best interests and found Primal/Paleo. So far so good, I’ve been around 5 pounds of my goal depending on the season and what my gut is doing.

    However, when a woman hits those years when her hormones start to change it’s almost impossible to lose weight EVER. I had been eating about 1200 or less calories just so I wouldn’t get “fatter” for years. It didn’t work to lose weight but at least I didn’t get bigger.

    The only thing that works to keep me stable is to be Primal. If I gain for some reason I just eat lunch and go without dinner. A few days of that and I’m back to “normal” for me. However, it was very painful to go from 38 to 50 being trapped by the extra weight and “starving” the whole time.

  29. I find this article encouraging and overdue. For many of us, increasing weight loss, improving body composition and then maintaining the results is tough work. That is to be what is expected. No false promises, no guarantees. I would rather “plateau” at twenty-five percent body fat than still be at the forty percent I was. Not that I should complain though as I really haven’t stopped improving, it’s just slowed down and easier to lose ground. Certain things, talents, gifts and results come easier for some than others. That’s life.

  30. This post of fat cells reminds me of a joke:

    Brain cells live and brain cells die, but Fat Cells live forever!

  31. So this explains a lot. I think it may be part of the answer by not the entire answer. While it’s true that each cell would be producing the amount of leptin equivalent to a starving person, the total combined amount from all the extra fat cells that still exist should make enough of a difference that the effect shouldn’t be that massive to be the only explanation. I think this is a case of lower than normal leptin amounts combined with leptin resistance that is never fully addressed simply by losing weight.

  32. Hi Mark,
    in 1988 I Had, had enough.I weighed 297 lbs at 5’3″.I was 47 years old.I took matters into my own hands.Turns out I went on a low carb diet, though I didnt know it at the time.Three years later I was 140 lbs lighter.
    To the people who are discouraged about the extra fat cells and leptin issues I can tell you if you hang in there your body will finally start to give up on the weight gain.Just dont give up!
    I found LCHF and Paelo four years ago, after 23 years of struggle and hunger. (Thanks to Dr. Oz) I am now at a stable weight.Thanks Mark

  33. “maintain the browning”…don’t know what that’s so funny to me.

  34. This is a lifestyle for health, and I encourage everybody (including myself) to look at their own reaction to this news. If one didn’t read Mark’s post, but only read the replies, it looks like we’re on some beauty blog here, because it is so focused on the extra pounds! I include myself in this group–but fortunately I haven’t had a chance to post until now, after the benefit of a few hours of…digestion.

    I just want to encourage us all to focus on what we can do, and understand and cut ourselves some slack for what our bodies can’t do. Tomorrow’s a new day, and a new start.

    1. Go to jackkruse.com. He has a cold thermogenesis protocol that starts with face dunking. I am not affiliated with the site and don’t follow all the practices. But it is interesting reading.

  35. I think I’ll sleep on my stomach with a bag of frozen peas under my belly to spot-freeze those stubborn fat cells.

  36. I started doing mda september, 2012, lost 30by december. Didnt lose g or 2 more yrs, but l kept exercising primal way 215lb at6foot2inches. Started trying to eat only when hungry . lodt another 15.total cholesterol 130.been heavy 40years. Never gone this long before without gaining weight, paleo gives you more energy and waking up before alarm for work. Give this an honest try. believe in MDA

  37. Hey, Mark. Great article. The idea linking cold exposure to brown fat and calorie burn goes back at least to the 1960s when Canadian researchers were studying hibernating animals. (Yeah. Canadians. We understand cold really well. 😉 I’ve written a very short, non-comprehensive history at https://ColdSh.com/science. That’s the “Science” page of a website for The Cold Shoulder, which is a vest filled with ice designed to provide mild cold exposure to those unable or unwilling to get it in more painful ways. 🙂 See https://ColdSh.com for details.

  38. Suddenly my local swimming pool, which I always dread doing laps in because the water is so cold – for the first five laps or so at least – doesn’t look like such a bad alternative after all.

  39. Thanks for this article, it is timely, though sobering. I think the comments miss a few points. Weight gain is complex, it’s hormones, it’s diet, it’s emotions, it’s culture, it’s endocrine failure, not so much an exercise issue. At the moment I have pain from fibromyalgia and can’t exercise much. A very low carb primal approach has kept the hcg weightloss I achieved late last year off. However I know this is my lifestyle now. I have always been chubby, as a kid, fed the same as my siblings, who are slim, I was active, and struggled even more with my pregnancies and PCOS and syndrome x.
    We are all different. Loosing weight is not just cosmetic, as some would imply, but it is very hard for some like me, and I empathise with you all. Focus on diet, health, gut health and love life.

  40. Finally, an article that is not too dumb and presents something more nuanced than the “primal bliss” that spills in most of the place.

    Seriously, there’s good and bad in this:

    – the bad: if you were a very fat kid, you’re screwed. That’s typically one of my brothers, he can’t lose and maintain, he has been yoyo’ing all the time

    – the good: if you were not and only grew fat as an adult (mostly ectopic fat), you have a much better chance at staying lean once you have reduced your inflammation and body fat through any diet / lifestyle changes.

    So to all parents: make sure your kids are healthy until they reach adulthood.

  41. I’m a physician who has specialized in treating overweight and obese patients since 1988. During all these years, one thing has continued to be missing in the weight loss world and that is any focus whatsoever on the near inevitability of regain. With a recidivism rate of something in the 90% range, it is mind boggling that weight loss diets continue to garner most of the attention. As Mark has written, it is the biological elements that encourage regain that should concern us most. I recently posted about this at my own blog which solely supports weight maintenance. https://www.refusetoregain.com/2015/02/successful-weight-loss-stop-celebrating-and-go-to-battle-stations.html

  42. Great, I’ll move to Alaska and live in an igloo and only go out in shorts.

  43. Tim Ferris of “The 4 Hour Body” fame has addressed this (page 122), and recommends, among other things, an ice pack on the back of your neck as one option to achieve the fat loss.

  44. the cold therapies just seem to painful to me. Converting unwanted fat into brown fat and then burning it sounds good but dealing with the cold is no fun at all.

    I have read about how stubborn fat tends to get less blood supply and supplements which deal with receptors in the stubborn fat such as yohimbine HCL can help. My theory is that actually heating up the stubborn fat whilst in a caloric deficit might actually be more effective. Add yohimbine or other stimulants and activity for more impact.

  45. Cold exposure sounds a little extreme to me. I don’t doubt that there is something to it, but I’m just not sure it’s what we really need for sustained weight-loss.

    In my experience, the most effective way to keep weight off is by building up a strong community of people who want to see you succeed. Doing it alone (even with cold showers!) is much too difficult. Old habits really do die hard and there is so much temptation that willpower alone won’t defeat.

    Yes, it can be tough to ask for help, but that’s how we can stay accountable and on track during those difficult times. Find a partner and do it together.

  46. This is not very motivational Mark!!!!!!!!
    However now I can blame my grandma for my weight. She told me when I was 12 that if I wanted boobs I needed to eat lost of whipped cream!! I guess they didn’t went there but to the hips, creating lovely fat cells…

    One thing I did learn is that when I ever get kids, sweets, candy and junk is a no go until they turn 14… after that they can decide for themselves…

  47. I think the real moral of the story here is for us parents. Keep your kids healthy and muscular. Feed them to nourish strong lean bodies, get active with them, and lead by example, teaching a healthy lifestyle. You will be helping them avoid decades of struggle later in life.

  48. I wonder if therapeutic fasting would kill not needed fat cells via autophagy. Say doing a 4-7 day water-only fast every quarter for 1 year.

  49. The biggest hope for us former fatties I think comes from increasing muscle mass, which elevates metabolism naturally. That’s why serious weightlifting and high intensity cardio are so important for sustainable weight loss.

  50. This is probably one of the most helpful podcasts I’ve ever heard. One of my fears has been the idea that I’m working so hard to create a body that I won’t be able to maintain. Understanding why it is tricky, and why what I call the “Monica myth” is just that (Monica from Friends went from being fat to a stick but eats whatever she wants and remains a stick) is huge. I am curious to know whether there are natural ways to boost the desire to move more, I am currently very motivated but I’m talking about on a cellular level, leptin signaling being what it is.

  51. I’ve read about this before, but golly this article caught me at a terrible time. A stark reminder of what I am facing but somewhat comforting at the same time. I started out about 80 pounds overweight, lost fifty, felt great, and I’ve regained twenty. Once I found primal, I really believed I could go all the way and that I had found the key to finally being healthy AND thin, or at least not feel like I’m overflowing on the airplane seat. After a year of really being very disciplined with no problem, it was like someone flipped a switch in my brain. My body did NOT want to get below 168 – which has been my “set” weight for years. I always get down to about that and then revert, usually gaining back more than I’d lost to begin with. I thought it was just because I was doing it all wrong. And I thought this time was different. But I guess I was just fooling myself. At least I know that I’m not alone and that there is a perfectly good explanation for my struggle. Onward and (unfortunately) upward, I guess.

  52. This put some things into perspective for me. I discovered MDA a couple years ago and used it to lose 61 pounds in 6 months, most of it without too much effort. However, I got a new job, started traveling, got lazy with my primal discipline, and pretty soon my new pants were getting tight. I stepped on a scale for the first time in a while and could not believe how much weight I had regained. I was still nowhere near my peak weight, but I had gained half of it back again.

    I have regained my primal focus and am losing weight again, but that sudden, rapid weight gain terrified me. I guess this is something I am going to have to watch out for. Time for some cold showers.

    Mark: as always, thanks so much!

  53. Wow, finally an explanation presented in an intelligible way for a conundrum I have had since 2009 when I lost 30kg in 3 months. I have never been able to get rid of that last bit of fat around my waist and experimented with so many different things to no avail. This explains ALOT. Thank you.

  54. How come Mark says absolutely nothing about exercise in this article? Yes, the body wants us to regain lost weight to save us from what it perceives as starvation but it doesn’t mean we can’t manipulate our lifestyles to keep it from happening. It means you might have to work harder but it isn’t impossible. There are lots of people who have lost tons of weight and kept it off by exercising every day (usually by walking a lot).

    1. “….There are lots of people who have lost tons of weight and kept it off by exercising every day (usually by walking a lot)….”

      Yes, I do know people who can exercise away their fat. Good for them. But there are many, many more who exercise equally hard or harder, without losing an ounce… or even get fatter while exercising very, very hard!

      Common response: “But… but… but all runners are skinny!” That’s selection bias. Some runners are naturally skinny and would be skinny even if they didn’t run. Some of them maybe did slim down and stay slim by running. But there are plenty for whom running didn’t work, or (worse) who even got fatter while seriously running. The true reason why you rarely see fat people running is b/c the excess weight forces them to quit running by provoking overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, etc. So it’s not that running invariably makes you skinny (*sigh*… if only!), it’s that only the skinny ones can stick with running long term.

      The medical community is just now starting to break down and admit that for a larger proportion of the population, exercise has little or no effect on weight. For many people, the weight issue is ultimately ALL DIET. Too bad most of the dietary advice is also wrong…. grrrrr…..

      This matches my own experience. I started as a skinny 15 year old, hoping to avoid getting fat with age as my parents did. I ran for decades, made a serious attempt at being a bodybuilder, I hiked and swam at every opportunity… yet got fatter and fatter as I got older. Exercise simply DID NOT WORK. (I love it, I still do it, but I’m no longer harboring any illusions that it will control my weight.) Oh, and I might add, I wasn’t a junkfood junkie either, I ate supposedly “healthfully”.

      A ketogenic, mostly Paleo regimen — the one thing that the establishment seems to loathe the most — turned out to be the answer for me.

  55. I also quit any restrictive diets and just ate whatever I wanted in moderation, taking calories down when I wanted to lose a bit more. Since nothing is off limits I don’t go on binge eating cycles and food is not that big of a deal. I’ve never been overweight its true but I’ve been maintaining a body weight at least 15-20 pounds below my set point, giving me a 25-1/2 inch waist. I slashed calories and walked on a treadmill at 10% incline every day to get where I wanted to be and still exercise every day and eat in moderation to maintain it. The weight fell off and hasn’t come back. Paleo may be healthy and organic but I think the stress from obesssing over it all will kill you faster and put more pounds on than just eating junk food.

  56. Oh and I step on the scale once a week, every week, to monitor my weight to catch any slip-ups if there should be any in the future so I can take action promptly!

  57. Do people realize that our bodies here on earth are just temporary vessels? What matters is our eternal salvation. If we look at our bodies as that, it may be easier to let go of desires to feed the flesh. Instead, we should feed the spirit. Maintaining a healthy weight comes from a spiritual mindset. Once we let go of our flesh, it will be so much easier to keep weight off for life because we feed our spiritual bodies.

    When we leave this world we go to heaven or hell. Hopefully people chose heaven- through our Lord Jesus Christ. With God nothing is impossible.

    1. “….If we look at our bodies as that, it may be easier to let go of desires to feed the flesh. Instead, we should feed the spirit. Maintaining a healthy weight comes from a spiritual mindset….”

      Spiritual beings we most assuredly are, yet, by God’s design we have bodies that obey physical laws.

      I spoke to a missionary friend at Bible study, and asked for his prayers about my weight problem… and shortly thereafter, discovered ketogenic dieting. Keto is truly a gift from God, yet, it required a physical change in my diet — not merely a spiritual realignment — to make it work. I didn’t “let go” of my flesh, I brought it into subjection as the Apostle Paul tells us to do.

      As for heaven & hell… I believe as you do, but if it’s all the same to the Lord I’d prefer to live long enough to teach the Bible to my great-great-grandchildren. Heaven will still be there whether I die at 65 or 105. And frankly, at 53 I don’t like the “65” option at all!