I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions before, but after talking to a friend who is much smarter than me, I’m going to give it a go. Every year she gives something up and starts something new, and this year I’m on board. The question is, what do I change? Do I make a teeny tiny adjustment that I can definitely stick to, or do I construct a large, earth-shattering shift in my life? Where diets are concerned, the standard instruction is to make as small a change as possible in the hope it will result in weight loss without feeling too different to your normal diet. Like a lot of advice, though, it’s wrong.
Sustainability is a huge buzzword in the weight loss industry and the diet that works, we’re told, is the diet that you can stick to. However, while diet gurus preach a gently gently approach to avoid the horrors of starvation mode and bingeing, the scientific literature paints a different story. If you want to lose fat, starting with a bigger deficit not only gives better results, it’s easier to stick to.
The first, and biggest, concern about cutting calories hard at the beginning of a diet is the dreaded starvation mode. The fear that your body slows down your metabolism in the face of a large deficit so much that you’ll no longer burn fat at all is everywhere on the internet, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
- If starvation mode was really a thing, a large calorie deficit should result in less weight loss than a moderate one.
- However, when researchers compared two groups of people over 4 weeks of dieting on 1,200 kcal vs 420 kcal, they found people on the low-calorie diet lost 91% more weight than people on the moderate one.
Any calorie deficit will result in some form of metabolic adaptation, but instead of your body putting the breaks on fat loss when faced with a large deficit, it’s how lean you end up after the diet that makes the difference.
- When the same final body composition is achieved, there’s no difference in the rate that metabolism slows down between fast or slow weight loss.
- It’s also not true that people who have lost a lot of weight will have a permanent tortoise-like metabolism. If their body composition is the same, there’s no difference between the metabolic rates between people who have lost a lot of weight and people who haven’t.
There’s a point to all of this. The diet industry works by keeping you in the dark. Instead of the truth about weight loss, the industry is much happier to spin you a line about why carbs can’t be eaten at night, insulin is what makes you gain weight, and why acidic food is toxic to fat cells. Knowing the truth puts you back in control.
Want to lose weight in a hurry? Just consume fewer calories than you might normally and you’ll lose fat faster, without slowing your metabolism. Want to eat more on the weekend? You can cut super hard in the week without risking starvation mode and still be in a deficit by the end of the week. The next thing people will tell you that diets based on larger deficits are harder to stick to, but it turns out they’re wrong about that too.
Smaller lifestyle changes that lead to easy results is what gets peddled the most by diet gurus on the internet. on the internet. If you can’t stick to a diet long-term, they cry, you will only fall off the wagon, or gain all the weight back as soon as the diet is over. These assumptions, and that’s all they are, are false.
- A study by Nackers et al took three groups of people and put them on fast, moderate, or slow weight loss diets.
- As you might expect, the fast group lost the most weight, but, contrary to popular belief, there was no difference in weight regain after the diets were over.
- In fact, not only did the fast group not gain more weight back than the other groups after the diet was over, they actually had better adherence than the other two groups during the weight loss period.
- In a study by Heilbronn et al, 4 groups of people on 4 different diets were compared over 6 months.
- The four groups were made up of a weight maintenance diet, a 25% calorie-restricted diet, a 25% deficit from diet and exercise, and a very low-calorie diet of 890 kcal per day.
- Not only did the fast weight loss group lose the most weight, but they only dieted for 8 to 11 weeks out of a total of 24.
I may not make too many changes this January, and my New Years resolutions might not end up being the drastic kind, but I’m sure whatever I choose to begin and give up will have an impact in some noticeable way. If I decide to lose some fat, however, you can be sure I’ll make a meaningful change to my diet. Regardless of if I can stick to it long term or not, I’d rather get the job done quickly and then focus on maintenance afterwards.
People who say you should only go on a diet that you can stick to long-term are wrong. Weight loss doesn’t have to be sustainable to be effective. While you have it to lose, big changes equal big results.