Do low calorie diets aid in weight loss or cause fat retention? Both.
Let’s dive into this tricky topic, enabling you to master the calorie counting labyrinth and take your health to the next level.
THE HOOK OF SEEMING SUCCESS
A low calorie diet WILL initially cause a person to drop weight. When the body isn’t provided with sufficient fuel, it starts to tap into its own stores of energy. The body will atrophy muscle, and it will eventually start using up some adipose tissue (or body fat).
Consequently, many dieters become “skinny fat.” They are ascetically thin, but their body has lost significant muscle weight because of caloric deprivation. Being able to fit into skinny jeans or that thin cut, debonaire suit does not equate to health. Looks can be deceiving. Often dieters have poor body fat percentage (BF%), meaning they have excess adipose tissue for their frame. It is not unusual for me to find thin clients who are categorized as obese according to testing standards due to heir poor BF%. (Don’t worry. I don’t tell them they are “fat”.)
BURNING SLOW & LOW
When the body is deprived of a sufficient amount of calories for a prolonged period of time, metabolic rate slows down. The body basically stretches calories to get the most out of them. Deprivation is not a long term weight loss solution but rather it can cause the body to desperately hold onto fat.
Remember how we talked about the body atrophying muscle for fuel in times of “famine”? Low muscle mass also contributes to a slower metabolism, which will thwart efforts to drop weight and keep it off. Muscle atrophy will also decrease your efforts in the gym, leaving you weak and untoned despite working out regularly.
THE POST BINGE BLOAT
When people “cheat” or come off their low calorie diets for even a day, they often gain several pounds. Why? Their body is in starvation mode. It is holding onto every calorie that enters the body and it is trying to store those calories for the next day of potential scarcity.
THE CALORIE CUTTING RAT RACE
These low calorie diets are very confusing and frustrating for dieters, who will drop the weight short-term and then hit a wall where they cannot seem to lose any more. They often cut back a few more calories and see a slight weight loss. This fuels their fire, making them think that cutting calories is the answer. The vicious cycle continues and can lead to a serious eating disorder.
STOP THE DEPRIVATION
Eating healthy is not deprivation. It is flavorful and satisfying.
On the other hand, it is a barbaric practice to consume too few calories on purpose. Stop the madness! The 1,200 and 1,500 calorie diets that are encouraged by so many “health pros” are incredibly flawed as that is not a sufficient amount of fuel for most men and women.
I used to test athletes’ metabolic rate largely to prove to them that they needed to eat more good quality food. When I tested myself, my basal metabolic rate (base need for calories) was over 3,000 a day before accounting for exercise burn! At the time, I was 135 lbs. Had I followed one of many diet programs’ caloric recommendations (and processed “diet food” suggestions), it would have burnt out my brain and body. You cannot expect the body to perform when it is starving.
PURSUE PROPER FUNCTION
Your brain has a built-in calorie counter. When the body’s foundations are supported, the body and brain work together to naturally regulate food intake and thus weight. For example, smooth digestion and hormonal balance ensure that satiation is triggered, helping to prevent overeating. Also, eating the right macronutrient balance helps a person to put their fork down. Think about it… how many fat-rich avocados or eggs can you really eat at one sitting? Natural dietary fat satiates.
If your nutritional foundations (e.g. digestion, blood sugar regulation, brain chemistry, hydration, etc.) are balanced, you will be able to drop weight when needed. (Note that if you are struggling to gain weight, the same approach of balancing the body’s foundations will help you achieve your goal.)
High food quality is also key to helping your brain regulate cravings and food intake. IF your body gets the nutrients it needs, your brain will stop signaling hunger. However, when empty calories are consumed, you have the urge to keep eating because the body has not received sufficient nutrition.
Processed food is meant to be addictive and contains ingredients, such as sugar, to keep you coming back for more. Pringles had it right when they picked their slogan: “Once you pop you just can’t stop!” You can instantly increase your will power by replacing the processed junk with real food.
Here is your plan for success as you move forward with your weight loss goal.
1. If you are on a really low calorie diet, slowly increase your calories (with real food) to help your metabolism re-regulate.
2. Eat real food. It will fuel your metabolism properly, making it more efficient at burning excess adipose tissue while retaining valuable muscle.
3. Avoid empty calories that are addictive.
4. Balance your body’s foundations. I’m here to help if you need support with this step.
5. Be patient with your body as it re-regulates. Change takes time. You may see some slight weight gain during the initial few weeks. Do not freak out. Your body is making adjustments for its long term success. If you are getting sucked into the numbers on the scale, monitor body fat percentage instead. Or you can just throw your scale in the trash and focus on inches and on how you feel.