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The Facts About Weight Loss

Find out how weight loss affects your sexual health.

A man and woman stand, stretching, with the sky behind them.

Losing weight can be difficult because your body has a prime directive to store as much fat as possible for times when food is scarce. Even though this can prove annoying, it's unlikely humans would have evolved the way we have without this basic safeguard built into our DNA.

Some civilizations recognized excess body fat as a sign of prosperity and wealth, as the general population may have had less body fat due to poor nutrition, starvation or poverty.

What is healthy weight loss?

In modern times, weight loss is viewed as a positive thing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half (49.1 percent) of Americans attempted to lose weight in the past year. To further break down the number, this included 56.4 percent of women and 41.7 percent of men.

There are countless ways to lose weight, but not all methods improve overall health.

In order for weight loss to be considered healthy, it should involve a decline in weight over a reasonable time interval with non-abrupt adjustments to diet or consumption and exercise.

This looks different for everyone. You wouldn't assign an individual with obesity the same weight-loss regimen as someone whose weight is slightly above average. Plus, there is a timeline variation because healthy weight loss doesn't happen rapidly.

Healthy ways to lose weight

Lifestyle changes are undoubtedly the healthiest ways to lose weight. This isn't to say you need to become a fitness junkie and eat only from the organic area of the grocery store, but rather that you should focus on burning off excess body fat by making nutritious choices and getting regular physical activity. Establish a realistic diet and exercise plan that you can follow long term for lasting effects.

Fruits and vegetables are your best friends, but don't neglect the other food groups. Consistently balanced diets make weight loss healthy, and using physical activity to burn more calories than you consume can help you shed unwanted pounds in an optimal way.

Unhealthy causes of weight loss

When losing weight, having unreasonable expectations about the rate and methods adopted is known as "unhealthy weight loss." People might take extreme measures to lose weight, such as severe caloric, fat, carbohydrate and/or sugar restrictions, which could deplete them of essential nutrients. It can also lead to life-threatening eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, for some individuals, especially those with underlying mental health issues.

Fad diets, diet pills and foods or drinks prepared specifically for losing weight often have temporary results. Additionally, products advertised as miracle fixes could cause detrimental health effects as these items are often not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Finally, overexercising, with or without excessive caloric restriction, is another example of a method for unhealthy weight loss.

Procedures for weight loss

People with obesity are often eligible for weight-loss procedures. They can be surgical—also known as bariatric surgeries—or nonsurgical. Obesity is commonly defined as having a body mass index (BMI) in excess of 30. A BMI of more than 40 is classified as severe obesity. BMI is a measure of body fat based on weight and height.

Bariatric surgeries primarily work by removing a portion of the stomach and/or rerouting the transit of ingested food, which ultimately affects satiety due to limiting the quantity the stomach can hold, as well as its absorption of calories.

Certain procedures can also block nutrient absorption and suppress the production of certain hormones such as ghrelin, the hunger-triggering hormone.

Nonsurgical methods don't remove any part of the stomach, and instead restrict its capacity by tying it off, inserting a gastric balloon or implanting a device to remove stomach contents.

Causes of weight gain

Many factors affect weight gain. Metabolic rate—the speed of digestion and breakdown/storage of ingested food and nutrients—is directly correlated to weight, as people with slower metabolisms often weigh more over time. Being sedentary can lead to a slowing of metabolism compared to physical activity, which increases metabolism through the use and building of muscle mass, which requires more energy and nutrients for maintenance. Diets high in unhealthy and/or processed foods contribute, too, as do "yo-yo" diets where your weight fluctuates.

Certain medical conditions are also connected to weight gain:

  • Lack of sleep is a major contributor, especially for people with sleep apnea.
  • Medications often have weight gain side effects.
  • People with excessive cortisol—the primary stress hormone—are susceptible to weight gain because of cortisol's effects on insulin and metabolism.

Nutrition factors

What you eat is one of the most paramount aspects of weight loss.

Many modern Western diets are suboptimal due to excess consumption of processed foods, salt and sugar, and animal products and red meat, which is often not conducive to weight optimization.

Cutting back on added salt, sugar and prepared or fast food are beneficial habits to build. Research indicates diets higher in plant-based content—such as vegetarian or vegan diets—could be helpful for healthy weight loss.

A basic rule to gauge how effective your diet is for weight loss is to try to burn more calories than you consume. Though quality of food is important, too, quantity, portion control and moderation are key elements.

Refined carbs and sugars

One possible obstacle for weight loss is refined carbohydrates, of which there are two varieties: sugars and grains. These products are fairly devoid of nutrients and heavily processed, and are referred to as "empty calories." Their high glycemic index means they cause sharp insulin and blood sugar increases that, when prolonged, could lead to type 2 diabetes.

Diets with a surplus of refined carbohydrates have corresponded with other serious medical complications, such as coronary artery disease and other heart diseases. Dysregulated energy levels and mood are risks as well.

Socioeconomic factors

Unfortunately, in today's society, socioeconomic status impacts the population's ability to attain resources needed for weight loss. Eating healthy is, on average, more costly than eating nutritionally deficient foods, so people at or below the poverty line may be unable to afford a healthy diet. This boundary alone is enough to prevent millions from making dietary adjustments needed to lose weight.

In addition, people living in poverty—especially those in need of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—have been shown to have an increased risk of developing unhealthy relationships with food, eating disturbances and disorders.

Exercise and weight loss

Physical activity is an excellent facilitator for healthy weight loss because burning more calories than you consume is a tremendous boost when paired with a healthy diet. In fact, according to the CDC, it is one of the two most common methods used among adults.

However, in order to sustain weight loss, exercise needs to be a fixture of your permanent lifestyle, as reverting to a sedentary existence could cause weight gain.

Risks of unhealthy weight loss

Many components are present in the weight-loss process. Genetics can affect body weight: Children of overweight or obese parents are more likely to share these attributes, and mothers who drink or smoke during pregnancy, both of which disrupt weight regulation, have increased risks of underweight babies.

Though it can be a good thing, weight loss does possess the potential to cause health problems. Cardiovascular disease, degenerative bones, reduced metabolism, malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance and mood dysregulation are entwined with extreme dieting. That's why it's important to consult your primary care doctor when considering a radical change.

Additionally, psychological side effects of unhealthy weight loss could include increased mood dysregulation, irritability and chronic problems with body image and self-esteem.

Benefits of losing weight

When carried out in a healthy way, weight loss management has myriad benefits.

Obese and borderline-obese people, following medical procedures and lifestyle modifications, have been known to improve conditions such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes

Healthy weight loss also has the potential to boost self-esteem, which can improve psychological issues. Prolonged efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle can also make you more in tune with yourself, which concurrently promotes hormonal stability and energy levels.

Plus, engaging in physical activity needed for weight loss strengthens the body and has multiple physiological benefits.

Sexual impacts of unhealthy eating

Unhealthy eating habits, such as those causing diabetes and obesity, can have negative consequences for sexual health. Men with either of these conditions face an increased chance of erectile dysfunction (ED) because of disturbances related to the hormones and blood circulation needed for arousal and erection sustainability.

Women have different symptom manifestations, including:

  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) stemming from malnutrition
  • Decreased libido
  • Insufficient arousal or lubrication

Both genders tend to experience diminished self-confidence and esteem, which inherently may lower the willingness to have sex.

Weight loss and sexual health

Healthy weight loss is productive toward sexual well-being. Improvement of conditions associated with being overweight—such as cardiovascular disease—reduces their negative side effects on sexual health, including hormonal fluctuations and fatigue. Both testosterone and estrogen are reoriented when excess body weight is lost, and more energy means a more powerful sex drive.

Normal sexual functioning can be restored, opening the door for healthy body image, a wider variety of sex positions and more satisfying sex overall.

Plus, having sex is a great way to exercise.

Being happy with your body

In the right conditions, weight loss can be extraordinary for your overall health. Sticking to a nutritious diet and routine exercise are the ideal ways to lose weight.

Don't let societal views dictate your self-evaluations and don't fall prey to trendy diets or promises of quick weight-loss solutions. They aren't sustainable, and in the worst cases, dieting can evolve into eating disorders and other potentially fatal illnesses.

Learn how to listen to your body's cues, and appreciate your body and treat it right.


At what age are you most likely to lose weight?

It's easier to lose weight when you're younger because of age-related risk factors for weight gain.

Hormonal changes, such as alterations in estrogen and testosterone output, make weight loss harder. Plus, you could suffer a loss of lean tissue when trying to lose weight if you're older.

However, a pattern of weight loss tends to reemerge among elders due to height decreases and other shifts in hormone production.

Why did I gain back all the weight I lost?

Weight loss and maintenance are part of a lifestyle. Diet and exercise are not mutually exclusive, and both should be sustained to continue experiencing positive results. Following fad diets or taking pills for excessive body weight isn't a sustainable practice.

To prevent regaining weight, you're recommended to establish a healthy diet and fitness routine that you enjoy.

Are most Americans overweight?

An estimated 31 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, and 42 percent meet the criteria for obesity, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Even in regard to children, having excess body weight is a problem. About 19 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, although this rate has declined slightly in the past few years.

These trends are most likely attributed to the typical ultra-processed Western diet and the prevalence of insufficient exercise, both of which promote weight gain.