Losing weight is hard, but regaining it can be frustratingly easy. It’s why so many people echo the refrain that “diets don’t work.” Diets work just fine and long term weight loss is possible, but you do need to have a plan once the diet ends or you will gain it all back.
Your body evolved to thrive in an environment where food is scarce, and weight loss triggers a host of defense mechanisms to help you rapidly regain weight so you can survive. While these systems were a blessing in the past, they’re an incredible burden now to anyone trying to shed excess body fat. New research once again emphasizes the importance of the microbiome in weight management, and it demonstrates a new trick that could help prevent post-weight loss regain. I’ll go over over their findings plus some additional strategies that will help keep the weight off.
New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that changes to the microbiome after a successful diet play an important role in weight regain.
As I mentioned in the microbiome article, a low-fiber, high-fat diet kills off important colonies of bacteria that help you maintain a healthy weight. Studies continue to show that the types of bacteria left behind are capable of causing obesity on their own. When researchers transplant these bacteria from humans into mice, it triggers excessive weight gain, even when the test mice eat the same diet as a control group.
The new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science shows a rather interesting cause for this accelerated weight gain and a novel workaround to counteract the effect. Researchers found that the microbiome of the weight gaining mice degraded two flavonoids that are normally known to promote energy expenditure from fat metabolism. Basically, these bacteria destroyed molecules that accelerate fat burning to “help” your body retain fat. The researchers could transplant these bacteria into other mice to trigger weight gain in them as well, and they could eliminate the effect by destroying these bacteria with antibiotics. While the researchers hinted that antibiotic usage might be a method to stabilize the post-diet microbiome one day, they actually came up with a more practical solution that can be used today. Since the bacteria seemed to destroy the helpful flavonoids apigenin and naringenin, the researches wanted to see if supplementing with these compounds could prevent rapid weight regain. They referred to this as post-biotic treatment. Simply adding these two flavonoids to the test group’s water did overcame the microbiome’s efforts to induce weight gain.
For anyone interested in trying it themselves, apigenin is naturally found in parsley, celery, chamomile, artichokes, spinach, peppermint and spices like cloves, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and coriander. You could also get it in supplement form here. The other flavonoid naringenin is naturally found in grapefruit or you can get it in a more concentrated supplement form here. A warning on naringenin though, it can interact with a number of pharmaceutical drugs like statins and calcium channel blockers, which is why doctors typically recommend that you don’t take those medications with grapefruit juice. Check any medications you may be taking for this warning before trying out naringenin supplements.
Early yet promising results
The research above is new, it has yet to be confirmed by other studies, and it’s only a mouse study. That said, it’s intriguing enough I wanted to share it. It confirms some things I’ve seen from past microbiome research and those supplements are pretty harmless as long as they don’t interfere with your medications. Both apigenin and naringenin have previously been shown to reduce food intake and improve fat metabolism, so it would make sense how suppressing these flavonoids would lead to weight gain. Grapefruit has been touted as a miracle fruit in many weight loss fads for a reason because it does “help” with appetite control and fat metabolism. It’s not magical, but it is helpful. If you’re hoping they will magically melt the pounds off, then it will be a disappointment, but if you’ve already had some dieting success, I would recommend adding them to your daily routine to help keep the weight from springing back on. In time, your microbiome and other defense systems will stabilize and your body wills top trying so hard to put the weight back on. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with adding some simple supplements to help.
I want to quickly point out some additional tips to help prevent weight gain. I’ve gone over these in depth in other articles, so I’ll try to keep the list brief.
1. Build a new microbiome: After weight loss, your altered microbiome will try to help you regain weight for up to five times the length of the weight loss period. The study above found that killing it off with antibiotics closed this regain window, but you can also change it with less invasive means (it’ll take longer, but it’s doable). You can read about how to create a healthy microbiome here, but it’s important to understand it will never take hold unless you eat fiber from vegetables every day. Competition for space in your intestines is fierce and the bacteria that is already there will fight hard to kill off intruders. You need to keep introducing new healthy bacteria and then continuously provide them with fiber from vegetables to feed them. Once you stop giving them the food they need, they will die off and the fat-preserving strains will take hold again. I’ve been asked a few times if I thought it would ever be possible to cure obesity with a probiotic pill or a bacterial transplant. We could probably do it today, but those healthy strains would just die off within a week because people wouldn’t switch up their diets.
2. Weigh yourself daily: Some trainers are opposed to weighing in daily while trying to lose weight since the ups and downs from water weight can cause some emotional turmoil, but if you’ve successfully lost weight and hope to keep it off, this is required. It can take a while for the easy weight regain to settle down and for your body to adopt a new set point. You need to monitor your weight closely and make adjustments quickly if your weight starts trending upwards again. Maintaining a new lower weight is much easier than losing weight but you still need to pay attention. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste.
3. CLA: A new article from the New York Times points out the disturbing fact that fat cells never go away, they only shrink. Even fat cells that die off are replaced by new ones. Since you can’t get rid of fat cells, I always recommend people add CLA to prevent them from getting bigger. CLA has many health benefits like protection against certain kinds of cancer, so I recommend it to anyone no matter their goals. However, if you’re trying to keep the weight off, one of the biggest benefits of CLA is it prevents fat cells from bloating and expanding to store more fat. You may be stuck with a certain amount of fat cells, but you can make it so they are unable to store as much fat.
4. Just walk: One of the more insidious ways that your body tricks you into regaining weight (or preventing weight loss) is by making you move less than you did before. You don’t need to do intense workouts every day to keep the weight off and improve your healthy, you just need to walk. It’s my number one exercise recommendation and taking a stroll outside will also reprogram your microbiome with healthy bacteria.