In theory, and with all things being equal, fat loss should just be as easy as eating less.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case (notice how I did not say it never is) as there are more factors that need to be considered – other than just treating the body as a calculator.
Nearly all of my female clients come to me with a history of yo-yo dieting – years spent trying to half starve themselves to death to get a result, then to have all the extra weight pile back on the second they stop (and in a lot of cases end up heavier and fatter than they were at the start).
“But they just need to eat less!” The caloire zealots will cry. Hmmm, well let’s examine that singular strategy.
“The diet” round 1
You start out at 75kg, 30% bodyfat stuggling to fit into clothes from last year that used to be loose. “Time for a diet!” you think. You almost half the amount of food you are eating and for the first few weeks the diet is hard, but you feel better and the scales are moving in the right direction. The results spur on you on through the tough times.
Then after 4 weeks or so, the results start to slow. You still have some progress, but not as quickly as you want. So you eat even less, and as if by magic the results kick-start again. The weight drops on the scale and you are back on track!
Now we are at the 8 week period and the same thing has happened. The results this time though, have ground to a standstill and you are still 2kg away from your target weight. Hmm, well we know what to do here…cut calories! You do, and once again results start progressing.
At the end of 12 weeks, you have reached you goal. Well done you!
Time to get back to regular eating, this crazy diet has been tough, BUT you now have the results you wanted.
Then it happens. A dreadful, mind punishing and heart breaking period of weight re-gain. You feel as though if you even mention the word cake you will gain weight. You check the scales after 4 months and you are heavier than you have ever been. BUT HOW COULD THIS BE?!!!
Time for that diet again.
You meticulously set-up exactly the same diet. Same food, amounts and meals.
This time, however the results are slow…very slow. Some weeks the weight on the scales barely moves. You begin weighing yourself everyday to see any glimpse of progress.
Those clothes…oh those bastard clothes from last year…you swear blind they have shrunk in the wash.
8 weeks in and you are getting no-where. You feel irritable, foggy headed most days, sleep is horrendous, stress is high and your sex drive…well let’s just say its on an extended vacation. Perhaps it will send you a nice postcode, “Wish you were here”.
You decide something drastic must be done. You decide to eat even less than you did the first time around. You see that ellusive budge of the needle on the scales. You’ve cracked it again!
However, the following week the weight is the same. ARRRGH! But you cannot diet any harder! All those times you were offered treat food by friends and family and you turned it away…how can this be right? How can this be fair?!!!!
What just happened?
The trouble with just cutting caloires/eating less is that it falls down in the long-term UNLESS you have a very clear reverse-diet strategy to slowly bring calories back up.
All in all, the cutting calories method is (I don’t want to say complex) tricky, even with a well experienced coach/nutritionist monitoring you every step of the way. It needs guidance and regular objective assessment to keep you on the right track.
The long-term issue comes from the fact that your metabolism (how much energy you burn) is adaptive.
For successful fat and weight loss you need to be in a calorie deficit, that is true.
The trouble with just cutting calories is that while the amount of energy you burn is greater than the amount of calories you eat, you will get results. But as your metabolism adapts to your new energy input, the results will slow down as the difference between energy burned and calories eaten slowly decreases.
The scenario above gets played out time and again and you can begin understand why it becomes harder and harder to lose weight, as this yo-yo dieting continues for years and years.
How does constant low calorie eating affect my body?
Cutting calories and low calorie diets are effective SHORT TERM strategies. Am I saying to bin these startgies all-together? No. Just that it must be treated with respect, used in the right way and used at the appropriate times.
What happens if you follow a low caloire diet for a long time?
There are a host of adaptations that occur in your body when you adopt a low calorie approach long-term.
Thyrdoid – T3 and T4 production decreases
Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4) are the two major hormones produced by the thyroid. Between them they help to control and stimulate the metabolism (energy burning rate) of the cells in your body.
When you chronically under-eat on a low calorie diet, production of these two hormones decreases and hence your metabolism decreases. If this reaches drastic stages, your abililty to create a calorie deficit is dimished and is almost impossible unless you switch to a dust and grass diet.
Exercise induced thermogenesis decreases
This is a posh way of saying the amount of energy you burn while exercising decreases. This will show up as a performance decrease – the workouts feel much harder and you feel ‘flat’ energy wise.
You can still be training as hard as you possibly can, but its like your body is stuck in second gear and no matter how hard you push you can’t repeat your previous best efforts.
Non-exercise induced thermogenesis decreases
This is the amount of energy you burn while simply exisiting or your basal metabolic rate. How much energy you burn watching tv, sleeping, talking with friends over a coffee, etc. This is linked to the drop in thyroid hormone production.
Disturbing this is the real killer for long-term results, because the calories burned by your metabolism here can make up to 60-75% of the total energy you expend. If this is suppressed over the long-term, you can understand why you can simply look at ice cream and gain weight.
Changes in the digestive system
The long-term stress caused by chronic dieting (plus any other stressors such as excessive training, emotional, work stress, etc) can also affect the digestive system in a range of ways.
Your abilty to adequately break down your food before it enters the small intestine can become comprised. Not chewing enough (eating too quickly a.k.a ‘stress eating’) and low stomach acid strength both contribute to this. If your food is not broken down adequately, you will not absorb the nutrients effectively. A nutrient starved body, further increases stress and hence hinders fat loss.
Okay smart-ass, what is a better approach and how do I get back on track?
The approach I take, is to treat each client differently. I have to weigh up the advantages and dis-advantages of each nutritional approach based on the clients goals, their nutritional history, their health level, their current stress level and what I think they can actually adhere to long-term.
Having said that, I would recommend starting by focsuing on the nutritional quality of your food and increasing your activity first BEFORE worrying about calories.
If we focus on natural foods with minimal processing (lean meats, fish, vegetables, fiberous carbohydrate sources, more vegetables) it gives us an opportunity to manage intake without having to count calories.
As minimally processed foods tend to be less calorie dense, but slower to break down in our digestive system, it gives our bodies a chance to regulate appetitite more consistenly with what we need and minimise any tendencies to over-eat.
Activity wise, a good start is 4-5 hours of challenging exercise a week.
What is challenging? It depends. If you are a complete beginner to regular exercise, simply walking for an hour will be challenging. If you already train regularly at a gym, look at increasing your workout density (more work in the same time – super-sets and circuits work well for this) and/or the intensity (high intensity intervals for cardio)
My top nutritional tips
Here are some tips to get you started. There is no one single diet approach that works for everyone, but there some fundamentals that you can introduce to get you on the right track.
- Have 3-4 meals a day
- Eat a lean protein source at every meal – lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, pork, game
- Eat vegetables with every meal – aim for ½ your plate as salad or vegetables
- Eat some healthy fats – fish oil, walnut oil, walnuts, olive oil, avocado
- Get your digestive system checked by a functional medical practioner or an intergrative GP
Yo-yo dieting and starving yourself are far from the most effective methods for long-term results and the body you actually want.
Instead, it is better to adopt a more long-term centered mindset and achieve results you can actually hold onto.
Start thinking about positive lifestyle changes you can introduce and stick to, and less about just making that scale reading move.
Stay consistent and you may find that those clothes from last year won’t fit any more because they are too big.
Stuck with your own results?
Contact me on 0477 117 516 or email email@example.com to arrange a free chat.