How to tackle diet-resistant obesity and weight loss

The study reshaping the science of diet-resistant obesity by promoting personalized weight-loss programs that focus on exercise

For decades, people with obesity have been advised to eat a low-calorie diet to lose weight. Evidence shows that focusing on diet alone is not the answer for a subset of obese adults who adhere to a clinical weight management program.

Exercise training improves mitochondrial muscle metabolism in diet-resistant obesity

New research published in the journal eBiomedicine challenges this ingrained notion that diet alone is enough to lose weight. Researchers have studied how exercise improves mitochondrial muscle metabolism in diet-resistant obesity.

The conclusions reached in this study could be crucial in improving public health knowledge on how to treat, lose weight and prevent obesity. It is hoped that the knowledge gained in this study will help individuals with diet-resistant obesity.

“It is exciting and important work. These results have clinical implications and unveil molecular mechanisms that will drive research in the years to come,” comments the study’s lead author, Dr. Mary Ellen Harper.

Exercise training should be a priority

Understanding the different obesity phenotypes is crucial to gaining insight into individual variations in weight loss.

Individuals with diet-resistant obesity should focus on exercise

“Diet-resistant” obesity refers to those patients in the bottom 20% of the weight loss rate after a low-calorie diet. The study suggests that these patients should prioritize exercise because it reduces fat mass and increases skeletal muscle metabolism.

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The research team analyzed clinical data from over 5,000 records and reviewed 228 files. A subset of 20 obese women were identified as eligible participants in a closely monitored exercise program consisting of 18 progressive sessions of treadmills and weights performed three times a week for six weeks.

Exercise preferably improves skeletal muscle metabolism and promotes weight loss

Using bioinformatics and machine learning approaches to analyze skeletal muscle, the results show that exercise preferentially improves skeletal muscle metabolism and improves weight-loss ability in obese individuals who are considered diet-resistant.

This is the type of patient who has suffered from dietary restriction; one for not losing weight and two for likely being accused of not following diet plans.

Some people have tremendous difficulty losing weight

“For people with obesity who have had tremendous difficulty losing weight, the message is: you belong to a group of people for whom exercise is particularly important. And that’s going to really help you lose weight,” says Dr. Ruth McPherson.

Asian woman with ponytail drinking water in front of row of treadmills at gym
© Korn Vitthayanukarun

Two-thirds of Canadian adults are overweight or obese

Obesity has become an endemic global problem and, as a result, has made people more likely to develop a range of chronic diseases.

Over 42% of American adults are obese

In Canada, two out of three adults are overweight or obese, and in the US over 42% of adults are obese.

Unraveling the mysteries of mitochondrial energetics and genetic predictors of weight loss

Dr Robert Dent described the results of the study as the “culmination” of the research work that was carried out together with Dr. Harper and McPherson over two decades. The three partners have worked together numerous times over the years, helping to unlock the mysteries of mitochondrial energetics and the genetic predictors of weight loss.

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dr Dent concludes, “If you look at a large group of people who are overweight and are trying to lose weight, they don’t respond very well to exercise. But now we found these people in it [diet-resistant] obesity phenotype really do.

“What the results are telling us is that if we see individuals with obesity who are not responding to dietary restriction, they should be switched to physical activity.”

The study has the potential to shake up the science of weight loss and take it in a new direction. It emphasizes that weight loss programs should be individualized because a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for people with diet-resistant obesity.

The team is currently recruiting a larger sample size to continue their research on obesity and weight loss.

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