Are you trying to lose weight? If so, you’re far from alone. As a data brief by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed, roughly half of adults in the United States are trying to shed some pounds. According to the CDC, 42.4 percent of American adults are considered obese. With stats like that, it’s no wonder the diet and weight loss industry is booming.
What’s the best way to lose weight? Well, there are, of course, a myriad of diet and fitness programs to follow. Changing certain behaviors, like trimming portions or adding more steps to your day, can also encourage weight loss (via WebMD).
While many know the most common health benefits to losing weight, there are other aspects of losing weight that no one talks about — some positive, some negative. If you’re one of the millions of people who set out to lose weight this year, go into your efforts with your eyes open. There are a few things that might surprise you about weight loss.
Weight loss requires self-love
Losing weight is hard work. It requires commitment and lifestyle changes, and there are no quick fixes or solutions to get us there "overnight" (via Everyday Health). Plus, there’s conflicting opinions about which diet is best, which supplements to take (if any), which exercises to do — the list goes on and on. The uncertainty a dieter faces is enough to stop them in their tracks. However, one thing is for sure: To lose weight and maintain the weight loss over time you have to love yourself enough to commit to the hard work and sacrifice.
"You cannot lose weight and prevent weight gain if you don’t love yourself," Corinthia Loblack, nurse practitioner, lifestyle coach, and owner of the wellness aesthetic boutique and spa Triple 8, told Health Digest. "Those who succeed at weight loss do so only after finding the reasons they were holding on to the protection that the extra layers of fat afforded them," said Loblack.
Physician Lissa Rankin agrees. In an article for Psychology Today, she highlighted "radical self-love" and becoming "friends with the person in the mirror" as the best ways to lose weight.
You might feel lonely when attempting to lose weight
Eating, while primarily for sustenance and nutrition, has a highly social component. In fact, a 2009 study published in Sociology of Health & Illness revealed the many social complexities of people’s food choices. And these complexities can translate to social isolation when weight loss occurs.
"Food consumption is an inherently social activity, as people often acquire, prepare, and eat food in social contexts," the authors of the study, Kaitlin Woolley, Ayelet Fishbach, and Rongham Michelle Wang, told Psychology Today. "We found that food restrictions predict loneliness. People who are unable to eat what others eat, to some extent, are less able to bond with others over the meal."
Ask anyone who has ever tried to lose weight if they’ve felt left out of social situations in which food is at the center and the answer is likely to be yes. It’s hard to be alone in your dietary choices, especially if you’ve had to change behaviors like sharing unhealthy meals with the people you love.
It’s hard(er) for women over 40 to lose weight
Men lose weight faster and easier compared to women, it’s true (via Healthline). It’s particularly challenging for women over the age of 40 to lose weight. "The CDC, and most health professionals, will tell you to just eat less and exercise more!" Dr. Tara Scott, certified menopause practitioner, retired OB-GYN, and chief medical officer and founder of Revitalize Medical Group, opined to Health Digest. "But for women with hormone issues, that does not work!"
Reduced metabolism is a contributing factor to slowed weight loss, according to Healthline. Plus, there are hormonal imbalances that come into play as women approach and enter menopause. Estrogen dominance, thyroid abnormalities, fluctuating cortisol levels, and low androgens can all be to blame for weight gain or more difficult weight loss. So what’s a woman over 40 to do? "You must work with a hormone specialist," Scott advised, "because even as an OB-GYN, we were not trained to understand all of this."
Your blood pressure may decrease as you lose weight
You probably know that losing weight, if overweight, is good for your heart health. According to the American Heart Association, losing "even a few pounds" — from 5 to 10 pounds — can have a positive effect. How? By lowering your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, means the blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is too forceful. That forces the blood vessels to work harder, but less efficiently, and can cause damage to the heart and arteries (via the American Heart Association).
"Sometimes people (i.e., patients) may not realize that when they lose weight, their blood pressure will tend to be lower," Ben Tanner, a physician assistant and founder of the website FastingWell, told Health Digest. "As a result, they may not need to take some of their medications anymore."
It’s important to consult your doctor if you drop weight and you’re on medication to manage your blood pressure. "It could become dangerously low if they keep taking the same doses," cautioned Tanner.
After losing weight, you’ll likely have less joint pain
Joint pain can range from mild discomfort to arthritis, inflammation and pain from within the joint itself (via Mayo Clinic). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 percent of American adults have arthritis. That’s over 54 million people in the U.S. living with this painful condition, and the majority of them are of "working age" (18 to 64 years old). And Harvard’s Healthbeat revealed, being overweight stresses weight-bearing joints, like the knees.
When you lose weight, you reduce that excess pressure. "[One] surprise is that joints tend to stop hurting as much, especially leg joints like the knee," physician assistant Ben Tanner told Health Digest. "That’s because there’s less pressure on these areas, and less inflammation in the body as a result of reducing body fat."
You don’t have to lose much weight to start to reap the benefits. "Being just 10 pounds overweight increases the force on your knees by 30 to 40 pounds with every step you take," Dr. Kevin Fontaine, assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University, told WebMD.
You’ll likely have more energy when you lose weight
"One of the first things you’ll notice that accompanies shedding the pounds is an increased amount of energy — you’ll probably notice this before you notice the weight change," Dr. Chun Tang, a general practitioner at the U.K. practice Pall Mall Medical, told Health Digest. The reason for this is simple: When your body is carrying around less weight, it requires less energy to perform daily activities. This can translate to having more energy for the things that you want to do.
"Moreover, it’s easier for your lungs to expand when you weigh less, so oxygen can travel around the body much easier once you lose weight," said Tang. That means you can exercise more, or in different ways, to further support your weight loss efforts. This benefit is greatest when you choose foods to support both weight loss and an energy boost, like avocados, leafy greens, eggs, nuts and seeds (via Shape).
Your skin might sag following weight loss
A surprising thing that is rarely talked about in the realm of weight loss is the impact it can have on your skin. The reality is, your skin might sag following weight loss. The amount of sag experienced is not contingent upon how much weight you have to lose, either. Factors like smoking, genetics, and exposure to sun also play a role, Vivek Prachand, a bariatric surgeon and associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, explained to Women’s Health.
Too much sag can convert one body image problem into another. People can become disheartened with their new body if they’re not ready for the additional side effects. "It’s important to note that the relationship between weight loss and sagging skin is different for everyone," Dr. Chun Tang, a general practitioner at Pall Mall Medical in the U.K., told Health Digest. "Some people will experience minimal saggy skin, whilst others will notice large amounts of skin beginning to sag as they lose weight."
However, you can minimize saggy skin by incorporating exercise into your weight loss regime, toning skin while losing weight. "Saggy skin can also be removed with body contouring procedures," explained Tang, "although these often have a cost attached."
Long-term weight loss requires a lifestyle change
Most weight-loss diets (even crash diets) are successful in the short term because people pay close attention to their choices. A strict focus contributes to temporary
"success." But long-term goals are best achieved by making behavioral lifestyle changes.
"I encourage folks to spend their mental energy focusing on a balanced and sustainable diet and activity plan, one that can be a true lifestyle change," Stacey Krawczyk, registered dietitian and president and principal consultant with FoodWell Strategies, told Health Digest. "This is because the weight goals might be slower to achieve, but you will be more successful in the long run."
Restrictive diets, like those avoiding certain foods or entire food groups, don’t help you change how you eat on a day-to-day basis. "Only lifestyle changes with slow weight loss works," Julie Miller Jones, emeritus professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a member of the Grain Foods Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, told Health Digest. Losing just 1 to 2 pounds per week is ideal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as Jones advised, "Allow time to reset your set point and your diet and exercise habits."
You’ll need to develop new coping strategies when losing weight
We’re all familiar with the warmth of a comfort food or the "reward" of a favorite treat. These foods deliver a physiological reward to the body that goes beyond altering mood and emotions. A 2014 study published in Frontiers in Psychology confirmed that the gratification food consumption provides leads to an increase in our dopamine production, which activates the rewards and pleasure centers in the brain. This can make it challenging to lose weight.
To succeed, you’ll need to find alternative ways to up the dopamine production in your brain, like listening to music. "I have found that many of my patients tend to manage life storms with a pint of ice cream or indulging in their favorite treat too often," Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, registered dietitian, author of The Little Book of Simple Eating, and founder of Hispanic Food Communications, told Health Digest. "My advice is that when you feel the urge or desire to overindulge, practice some good healthy habits."
Instead of reaching for the snack drawer, consider downloading a new song, picking up your favorite magazine, taking a quick nap or a hot bath, or calling a friend. As Klinger explained, "Distractions often stop the desire to overeat."
When losing weight, your romantic relationship could change
A 2013 study out of North Carolina State University showed that weight loss was not always beneficial for romantic relationships. In fact, when only one person in a relationship loses weight, it can result in "negative consequences."
There are lots of reasons for the newfound challenges weight loss can bring. Someone losing weight might nudge or even nag their partner to set a weight loss goal for themselves as well, which can result in tension when that individual isn’t ready to make diet and lifestyle changes. A person might also feel threatened or become insecure when their partner loses weight, uncertain what the future might bring to them as a couple (via ScienceDaily).
Additionally, the nature of a relationship might change as a person losing weight embraces an alternative lifestyle (one including more activity) or a healthier diet (focusing on healthy foods). With a shift in shared interests and activities, couples can drift apart (via Chicago Tribune).
Your partner might lose weight alongside you
When one person in a relationship sets out to lose weight, their partner may become inspired to take on the challenge as well. When embarking on the weight loss journey together, such couples benefit from their built-in support system, which can increase the chances of success for them both (via WebMD).
Even if that doesn’t happen, though, the partner losing weight has an influence on the other and the other might subsequently lose weight without focus and effort. A 2018 study in Obesity (Silver Spring) showed that when one spouse takes part in a weight loss treatment program, the "untreated" spouse can also experience weight loss.
Deemed the "ripple effect" by the researchers at the University of Connecticut who authored the study, "spouses might emulate their partner’s behaviors and join them in counting calories, weighing themselves more often, and eating lower-fat foods" (via UConn Today). So if you choose to lose weight, you could help your partner to lose weight as well — potentially bringing the health benefits to you both.
You’ll likely sleep better after losing weight
It might be intuitive that there’s a link between obesity and insufficient sleep (i.e., not getting the recommended seven to nine hours a night). When you don’t get enough sleep, hunger and appetite increase, according to the Mayo Clinic. And increased hunger and appetite can lead to overeating and poor food choices, together contributing to weight gain or the prevention of weight loss.
Does that mean the opposite is true? If you lose weight, will you improve the quality and duration of your sleep? According to a 2014 study by the Endocrine Society, yes. It showed that obese adults losing at least 5 percent of their body weight sleep better and longer after six months of weight loss (via ScienceDaily).
Furthermore, snoring and sleep apnea, which directly impact the quality of sleep, might be alleviated by weight loss (via Verywell Health). That’s because pharyngeal fat, excess weight that deposits in a person’s neck, can block the airway during sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Women may more easily become pregnant following weight loss
Weight loss can be beneficial for pregnancy, as obesity is a risk factor. Research, like a 2009 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, have shown it increases the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia, along with other more serious complications during delivery.
Obesity is also linked to infertility. "Carrying extra weight can sometimes cause fertility problems," Dr. Chun Tang, a general practitioner at the U.K. practice Pall Mall Medical, confirmed to Health Digest. "Especially because polycystic ovary syndrome is linked to obesity, which is one of the highest causes of infertility in women."
A study in Human Reproduction also found that "obesity affects ovulation, response to fertility treatment, pregnancy rates and outcome." The study concluded that "weight loss should be considered the first option for women who are infertile and overweight." If you’re trying to conceive but are struggling, it may be worth talking with your doctor about weight loss.
Weight is only one aspect of your health
Determining whether you should lose weight is likely a question for your doctor or nutritionist. The CDC asserts that a high BMI can be an indicator of "high body fatness." An adult with a BMI over 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Nevertheless, there are those who argue that BMI isn’t the best determinant for weight loss. Waist measurement, snoring, frequent heartburn, achy joints, and chronic fatigue might be better indications (via Healthline). Additionally, a 2017 essay published on the CDC’s website suggests a shift from body weight to behavior. "We propose that a conversation between health care provider and patient about increasing the patient’s physical activity rather than focusing on body weight will enable providers to promote healthful behaviors, decrease stigma, and strengthen patient–provider trust and rapport," the essay explained.
As licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagel explained in an article for Quick and Dirty Tips, the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. If you’re currently overweight, losing weight can benefit your health. "But choosing healthy foods and being active can also help you be healthier at your current weight," Reinagel wrote. "And being as healthy as you can be at your current size may also be a bridge to being healthier at a healthier size in the future."