You’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now, and at first everything was going according to plan. A while later, however, you seemed to have hit your plateau, though you haven’t hit your goal. You cut even more calories and ramp up the cardio, but the same thing happens: a few pounds lost, and then progress comes to a complete standstill. It starts to feel like you’re dieting and exercising to maintain your weight, rather than lose pounds.
The reason is simple: your body doesn’t want to lose weight. The body, being the adaptive machine it is, is constantly striving for homeostasis – a balance between calories in and calories out that will allow your body to stay the same. When you start cutting calories, the body sends signals to your brain that slows down the production of metabolism boosting hormones, like testosterone and leptin. When you cut calories for a long period of time, the body begins to recognize that more energy is going out than coming in and, in an effort to conserve that energy, slows down the metabolism and begins storing fat and glycogen.
What does that mean? It means that at some point in your diet your body will stop responding and regulate itself by slowing your metabolism, making weight loss virtually impossible.
Think about it like this. If you are seriously trying to lose weight, and you reduce your daily calories from 1,800 to 1,300, you’re going to lose about 1-2 pounds a week. If you do that long enough, you aren’t going to waste away into nothing – your body will simply get used to it and regulate accordingly. Fat is an energy storage system, and it doesn’t like to leave the body unless it knows it doesn’t have to, and cutting calories is NOT the way to tell that system it won’t be needed in the future. Contrarily, cutting calories sends signals to the brain that fat is needed, because the amount of energy being put in to the body is not enough to cover what’s being used throughout the day.
The worst part? Once your body figures out it isn’t getting the normal supply of energy each day, not only does it send signals to hold on to fat cells, but it’s going to adjust your metabolism to create a new baseline. That means 1,300 calories will be the new norm for your body’s caloric needs. WHAT?!
Exactly. This also means that long term dieting can seriously tank your metabolism, making it so that you can’t handle many calories at all. Factor in the physical and mental strain of dieting, the temptation to binge after a long period of fasting, and the body’s need to store fat to prepare for the next calorie decrease, and you suddenly have a crashed metabolism and a body that refuses to lose weight.
So, how DO you send signals to your brain to start getting rid of fat? Simple: show your body that when energy leaves, it can trust you to refuel. Under-eating for weight loss is only a short term solution that wrecks your body’s metabolism and can do lasting damage, so the trick to weight loss is getting to your body to work with you without driving it into the ground. If you’re seriously trying to lose weight, follow these 5 unlikely tips:
- Be patient. You really want to lose 10 pounds as quick as possible. But shouldn’t you be trying to lose weight and keep it off in the long term? Crash dieting, or seriously decreasing calories isn’t the answer. The answer is finding a steady balance so your body doesn’t do anything drastic – like storing fat or tanking your metabolism.
- Have cheat days. And don’t think of them as cheating. I’m not talking about binge eating on sugar and committing carbocide until your laying in bed feeling sick; but if you’re dieting it’s important to have a day, maybe once or twice a week, where you fuel up on carbohydrates and calories. This “re-feed day” keeps your metabolism up and keeps you losing weight throughout your diet. The reason for this is leptin, the fat-burning hormone that’s released after you eat carbs.
- Say yes to fat. In moderation of course, but fatty acids create cholesterol, and cholesterol is converted to testosterone, a metabolism boosting hormone that feeds your muscles and keeps you lean.
- Eat when you’re hungry. This probably goes without say, but when you feel hungry, it’s because your body is telling you it needs more energy. Ignoring these signals not only tells your body to be more prepared (ahem, store fat for energy reserves), but is also mentally taxing and can lead to binging or stress eating later down the line.
- Add calories (slowly). Adding calories slowly to your diet will show your body that when it burns fat and energy, you’re going to feed it enough to sustain your bodily functions. By slowly increasing your caloric intake, your metabolism will start working harder to keep up (see, this works in your favor, too!). This makes your workouts more efficient, your metabolism faster, and lets you lose weight more permanently than any crash diet ever could.