How to reverse weight gain

You just ate way more than you needed. As you loosen your belt and wonder how many gym hours it’s going to take to work it all off, your body’s automatic weight maintenance system is already helping to reverse your excesses. Weight loss scientist Dr Amanda Sainsbury-Salis explains.

Your body has an amazing ability to maintain its weight despite the occasional excess. Instead of berating yourself for overindulging at Christmas dinner, recognise the signs and follow your body’s signals to help maintain your optimal weight. Your body’s automatic weight maintenance system is also activated whenever you’re less active than usual for whatever reason – work, family responsibilities, exams – but you keep eating and drinking the same amount as usual. This excess triggers a change in the balance of natural chemicals in your brain, switching on the following effects:

1. Loss of appetite

You may experience a reduction in your appetite, particularly for rich foods.1 The next time you have a big blow-out, watch carefully to see how your appetite responds. You’ll likely find that at your next lunch, dinner or snack you just don’t feel as hungry as you normally would, or you crave lighter foods than usual. It’s probably your body’s automatic weight maintenance system, cutting your appetite in an attempt to help you get back down to your optimal weight.

2. Urge to fidget and move

Your body fidgets and moves in an attempt to burn off excess kilojoules. Your body can help you to burn off up to 2900 additional kilojoules (700 calories) per day through fidgeting and pacing.2

3. Feeling hot

Did you ever feel hot after a particularly heavy meal? Either immediately afterwards, as you sat at the table with beads of sweat running down your face, or later, when you wake up in the middle of the night and throw off your bed covers in a lather of sweat, even in the middle of winter. That’s because your body revs up your metabolic rate in another attempt to burn off excess kilojoules. 3, 4, 5

With these three effects, if you simply listen to your hunger signals and eat accordingly, your body’s automatic maintenance system helps you get back to the weight you are meant to be without too much effort.

How to help your body maintain a healthy weight

Instead of doing this…try this…
Have a caffé latte and a raisin toast at morning teatime, even if you don’t feel hungry.Have a cup of tea or black coffee (with a dash of milk if desired) on those days when you don’t feel as hungry.
Eat lunch every day at 12.30 pm regardless of whether you feel hungry.Delay lunch until you feel physically hungry, or else eat something very light such as a salad or a miso soup.
Keep eating until you’ve cleared your plate, even if it means you sometimes eat more than you really need.Take note of how you’re feeling as you eat. Once you feel satisfied, do whatever it takes to stop eating.
Eating food that is offered to you at the time it is offered, even if you’re not hungry.Say ‘Thank you, it looks delicious! I’ll have some later’, and then eat some if you feel like it when you get hungry.

The secret to good weight management is to listen to your body. To keep weight off in the easiest possible way, make a habit of eating only when you feel physically hungry and stopping when you’ve honestly had enough. When you do this, your body’s automatic weight maintenance system can work at its best, enabling you to reverse occasional overindulgences without having to think about it all the time. However, be warned, if you ignore your body’s signals – and continue to overindulge – you will find that you will gain weight over time.


  • 1 Roberts SB, Young VR, Fuss P, Fiatarone MA, Richard B, Rasmussen H et al. Energy expenditure and subsequent nutrient intakes in overfed young men. American Journal of Physiology 1990; 259(3 Pt 2): R461–R469.
  • 2 Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science 1999; 283(5399): 212–214.
  • Leibel RL, Rosenbaum M, Hirsch J. Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. New England Journal of Medicine 1995; 332(10): 621–628.
  • Wijers SL, Saris WH, van Marken Lichtenbelt WD. Recent advances in adaptive thermogenesis: potential implications for the treatment of obesity. Obesity Reviews 2009; 10(2): 218–226.
  • Rising R, Alger S, Boyce V, Seagle H, Ferraro R, Fontvieille AM et al. Food intake measured by an automated food-selection system: relationship to energy expenditure. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1992; 55(2): 343–349.

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