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Smaug's Gold

Why the Body Behaves like a Gold Hoarding Dragon

Brent Tiesma | Tech CA

All dragons love gold! They greedily hoard it and willing to torch anyone who comes too close. Anger a dragon and they will destroy cities in retribution. That is the lesson learned in Tolkien’s The Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins meets the great dragon, Smaug. Oddly enough, that was same impression I was left with after reading the recent New York Times article regarding Biggest Loser contestants gaining back a majority of their weight (if not more) in the years following their appearance on the show.

The article paints a sad conclusion for anyone overweight. The contestants after their incredible accomplishments with winning back their “health” were essentially forced back to their original weight by their own bodies. Those who still maintain their ideal body weight were no better off, hostages to a life of hunger and reduced calories as weight gain waits around every corner.

Sadly, despite teams of doctors, dietitians and celebrity trainers it’s all true. But of course, it’s true. As the recent Precision Nutrition article1 summed up perfectly, “try to outsmart your body and your body will outsmart you” and that’s exactly what happens when you drastically change your body in 6 months – Smaug is going to get very, very angry.

But it’s not like your body is vindictive. It wants to be healthy. Health after all is our natural state. However, living at a certain weight can trick your body into thinking that it’s normal state and as the Biggest Losers learned, your body will go to extreme measures to maintain homeostasis, including suppressing your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) to do so.

RMR is the level of calories needed to support the basic functions of life. Imagine if you stayed in bed and didn’t move all day, this would be the energy you’d use for breathing and all those other important functions. You can calculate your general RMR requirements using on Online Calculator HERE.

RMR numbers change with age, health and weight and can even become suppressed (for more than 7 years, if not permanently) when the body goes into drastic weight loss2 . I’m oversimplifying of course, but Biggest Losers bodies have no idea they are starting off 250lbs overweight, all the body knows is that it must protect homeostasis and get them back to their ‘correct weight’. The Biggest Losers end up going through a series of “metabolic adaptations to proportionally counter the ongoing efforts to reduce body weight”3 . Which also explains why so many people struggle with yo-yo dieting. You simply can’t restrict your dieting past your RMR and expect that ‘new you’ to stick. After all, Smaug (your body) is very protective of his gold (homeostasis).

Does that mean it’s impossible to lose weight? Not a chance. One of my biggest takeaways from the first Eat by Design I attended was that if eating and exercising wasn’t sustainable it wouldn’t last. If it’s something you can do daily, and build habits, skills and values around, it’s going to make a difference. I assure you eating below your RMR and exercising with Hollywood trainers hours a day is anything but sustainable.

So, yes, you can steal gold from a dragon. You just need to do it patiently and gradually — piece by piece.

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