The Science of Weight Loss

Posted June 11, 2018 | By csponline

Woman running outdoors with large scale

If you feel like your body is overweight and want to shed a few pounds, you’re not alone.

A 2016 poll from Gallup found that 53 percent of Americans would like to lose weight, according to polling between 2010-2016. But losing weight isn’t easy, especially as we get older. It takes motivation, lifestyle changes and sometimes even a trip to the doctor for us to see results.

There are three main aspects to weight loss: nutrition, sleep and exercise. When you combine attention to all three, you’re more likely to see results.

The science of weight loss proves that those three aspects play a major role in how our body stores fat and how we can remove it. Better eating habits, getting a good night’s sleep and regular exercise have shown positive results across the board in both scientific studies and personal anecdotes from across the country.


Maintaining a proper diet can have a major impact on your overall health and can help you lose weight.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that the typical American diet exceeds the recommended intake levels of calories from solid fats and added sugars, refined grains, sodium and saturated fat. Further, about 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended as part of a healthy diet, and reducing sodium intake would save up to $20 billion a year in nationwide medical costs.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends a healthy eating plan that “emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. In terms of proteins, it recommends lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, while limiting trans fats, sodium and added sugars.

There are many different kinds of diets that you can try to help lose weight. These include:

  • Keto: The ketogenic diet is low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and high in fat. It’s based on the premise that the human body was designed to run more efficiently burning fat instead of sugar, which is in carbs.
  • Paleo: This diet is high on proteins (meat, fish nuts) and vegetables (leafy greens, seasonal veggies) and seeds. Anything processed, such as pasta cereal or candy is out. Eat like the cavemen did.
  • South Beach: This diet claims it has the answer for you to have your own South Beach body. It’s high in proteins and healthy fats, while low in types of carbohydrates, though you don’t have to completely cut them out of your diet.
  • Vegan: This is a diet based on plant-based foods and beverages, eliminating all animal-based products, including eggs and dairy products. It’s not necessarily low carb, as you can still eat processed grains like bread and pasta, but it cuts out the animal-based proteins.
  • Dukan: The Dukan Diet is high protein, low fat and low carb. It’s designed around a permanent lifestyle change that helps you reach your “true weight” and keep it there.

Portion control is also an important part of a healthy diet, making sure that you don’t overeat.

The institute also recommends that for those looking to lose 1 to 1.5 lbs. per week, daily caloric intake should be reduced by 500-750 calories.

Drinking water before and during meals can also help with weight loss, as well as maintaining a proper diet.

A study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that drinking about 17 ounces of water helped boost metabolism by 24 to 30 percent over a 60- to 90-minute period, and that drinking that same amount of water about a half hour before eating helped dieters eat fewer calories and lose 44 percent more weight.


Miscellaneous exercise accessories

In addition to dieting, adding regular exercise to your daily routine can help you lose weight.

There are so many different ways you can exercise, depending on your body type, how much you want to lose and whether you want to gain muscle as well.

Multiple studies have shown positive results from exercise. Through the release of hormones like endorphins, exercise has been shown to reduce stress, increase productivity at work and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, among other diseases.

In terms of weight loss, one of the most effective forms of exercise to help burn body fat is cardio. This includes running, walking, cycling, swimming and any activity that gets your heart moving above the regular resting heart rate. Strength training, aerobics and weight lifting can all lead to weight loss.

A study on 141 obese people found that participants who burned 400 calories with cardio exercise five times a week lost 4.3 percent of their body weight, and participants who burned 600 calories, five days a week lost 5.7 percent of their body weight.

Thankfully, you don’t have to do this alone. Both online and at gyms across the nation, there are weight loss programs you can join that will help motivate you to reach your goal.

Download our free exercise science career guide

Explore the top careers in exercise science with our free 2018 Exercise Science Career Guide.

Get the guide


More than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep every night, according to a survey from 2016 conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.

Adults 26 to 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But when we don’t get enough sleep, we increase the risk for bad health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, the CDC said.

Our infographic on the science of sleep helps explain how a lack of sleep leads to mood and behavioral issues the next day, as well as how to remedy the situation.

By sleeping well, you’re letting your brain recharge, rest and get ready for optimal performance the next day.

Getting a good night’s sleep can help with weight loss. Insufficient sleep impacts hunger and fullness hormones, two of which are called ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells the brain that the body craves food and it’s time to eat. When we haven’t received enough sleep, our bodies produce more ghrelin.

Similarly, with leptin, that hormone tells the brain when we’ve had enough. However, when we are sleep deprived, leptin levels lower, not enabling a strong signal to get to the brain. Getting a full night of sleep helps keep our hormones in order.

Ways to Improve your Metabolism

When combined, eating a proper diet with exercise and enough sleep can help you improve your metabolism, which will help you burn more calories.

According to NASA bed-rest studies, “within a couple days of non-activity, the metabolism becomes inflexible.” By exercising daily, you can help jumpstart your metabolism and even improve it overtime.

If your metabolism is slow, it will take time, but it is possible to improve it. Building muscle can also help your body burn a few more calories throughout the day, but aerobic exercises will push the metabolism even more.

Learn More about Exercise Science

If you want to learn more about the science of weight loss, then enroll today in Concordia, St. Paul’s online exercise science degree. This degree program will teach you a greater understanding of kinesiology, exercise physiology, movement science, fitness and wellness. You’ll be taught by knowledgeable faculty in courses designed with your success in mind, and you can take advantage of our asynchronous, fully-online format, allowing you to balance your education with your already busy life.

Also published on Medium.