Why can it be so darn hard to lose weight?

We all know people who can eat whatever they want, and it seems as though they never gain an ounce. Other people can just look at a piece of cake too long, and it seems like they gain weight.

Why is this?

It is all about numbers, all about calories “in” and calories “out.” In other words, it is about how many calories you eat and how many calories your body burns. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight.


There are four factors that affect our weight: genetics, eating habits, exercise or other activities, and time. But there is a hidden factor in the “genetics” component of these factors. It is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).

The BMR is the number of calories your body uses just to be alive and take care of all the cellular and organ requirements your body needs to function normally. In this number lies the reason why some people can eat whatever they want and why others can gain weight so easily.

You see, the basal metabolic rate can be quite different in different people. The basal metabolic rate is influenced by genetics. As a result, people from families with thin members tend to be thin, and others from families with larger members tend to be larger.

In general, of the total amount of calories our body burns just to be alive, the following organs consume these amounts:

  • 25 percent liver
  • 25 percent muscles
  • 20 percent brain
  • 10 percent heart
  • 20 percent rest and other bodily functions

For example, let’s consider two people who both consume 2,400 calories per day in their diet. If one has a high metabolic rate, they may burn 1,700 of those calories just to be alive, leaving 700 calories per day to be consumed with walking, exercise, etc. If the other person has a low metabolic rate, they may need to burn only 1,100 calories for basic living and so must burn an additional 1,300 calories every day just to keep from gaining weight!

This number of calories is a small difference every day, but over weeks and months and years it can make a tremendous difference. In fact, approximately every 3,000 calories that are not burned turn into one pound of weight gain.

It is a vicious cycle

People who desire to lose weight, they often diet. Unfortunately, the body senses this lower calorie intake, and as a matter of survival throughout evolution it has learned to decrease the metabolic rate, making it even harder to lose weight.

As mentioned above as the “time” component, over time our muscle mass is partially replaced with fat, and fat burns fewer calories than muscle, decreasing the BMR. That is why people report it is much easier to gain weight, and tougher to lose weight, as they get older.

There is good news

Everyone can increase their basal metabolic rate. This can be done through exercise and proper diet. Exercise will burn more calories and build more muscle. A higher muscle mass will require more calories at rest, increasing the total basal metabolic rate.

Eating a nutritional, balanced, non-starvation diet will also keep the body from lowering the metabolic rate. In fact, it will actually raise the metabolic rate.

Action steps

There are online ways to estimate BMR, too: Visit http://dailyburn.com/life/health/how-to-calculate-bmr/.  You can also meet with your doctor to determine your BMR with a more professional and precise approach.

Meet with a nutritionist (your doctor can help here) to plan a healthy diet.

Make sure you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night to keep your metabolism working at peak efficiency.

Develop a regular exercise program. Many health facilities, like the YMCA/YWCA, can offer fitness courses and trainers at low or no cost.

There are psychologic and behavioral factors that strongly influence food choice and eating habits; we will consider these behavioral influences in a future column. Nevertheless, for tips on eating healthy be sure to review our previous Advice column on general health, “Eat well and live well, it’s never too late to start,” in the September 15, 2016 issue of the MSR (see web link below).

Remember, there is no magic pill. Good health can be achieved by doing little things every day over a long period of time. Do not start a strenuous exercise program or rigorous diet without talking to your doctor first.

The correct food choices and regular exercise are fundamental. And remember, we all slip sometimes, so don’t dwell on that. Keep your eyes on the prize and keep moving forward. Remember, every significant journey begins with a single, small step.


For ways to estimate BMR online, visit http://dailyburn.com/life/health/how-to-calculate-bmr/. To review the previous article on general health, “Eat well and live well, it’s never too late to start,” visit https://spokesman-recorder.com/2016/09/15/eat-well-live-well-never-late-start/.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.