It’s absolutely crazy to me how long an idea can last due to misconception. Today I want to inform you about a topic that I wish I had more knowledge of in the past, but my hope is that this will answer some of your questions regarding what happens to you when you diet (on and off and/or too long) and the end result will hopefully be that one less person is confused by common myths around dieting.
This might sound oh so familiar to you:
“No matter how much I restrict my eating I can’t seem lose weight!! Am I in starvation mode?”
“If I eat this little amount of calories, will I damage my metabolism?”
“Starvation mode means your body basically stops burning fat for fuel and starts storing fat instead.”
The last one is the funniest to me, as if the body is just going to transition from being a pitcher to a catcher. I’m here to say it just doesn’t work that way, but I know it’s hard not to believe those ads you see on TV and internet that have been circulating lies for too long. Who gets the raw end of that deal? You do.
If you’re reading this there’s probably a good chance that you have or are dieting to lose weight, think you’re doing everything right, and you’re…
Maintaining a calorie deficit
Eating enough protein
Sticking to your meal plan
Lifting weights regularly
Limiting your cardio
At first you’re super stoked because everything is going your way. Your weight dropped and your waist measurement is 3 inches less, and you even build up some muscle definition. And then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the scale just stops moving, your progress halted, and your reflection in the mirror stopped changing. You kind of understand the concept of energy balance, and so, determined to keep going, you further decrease your calories and increase your time spent in the gym. It worked a little, of course, but only to a point. And now you got yourself stuck again and this time you feel EVEN more haggard than before.
“Oh my god what do I do now!? Is this as far as my body will go? Have I reached my set point? Is a lower body fat percentage just not in the cards for me, ever? Shit, I heard about this thing on the internet, and I think I totally damaged my metabolism.”
Here’s the thing.
Ultimately, you just can’t avoid the repercussions of dieting down.
Where, how fast, and to what degree are just the small details. Most people think that your body will, after so long, flip a switch which no longer allows fat loss. Their reeeally well thought out “explanation” for what they can’t explain is that, “oh the process just stops working.” They say, “the body stores fat instead of burning it!” This is a dangerous line of thinking that has been at the front of why we have all of the ridiculous fad diets, diet solutions, and miracle weight loss pills that we do.
This right here is where you will have the ultimate aha! moment of fat loss. Pay close attention this might be the most useful thing you’ll ever read about fat loss.
With any amount of weight loss that takes place, significant metabolic change comes with it- a downgrade in metabolic activity. So, let me put it this way for you, in order to lose weight, you have to have a metabolic adaptation and you’re going to have to expect changes in your hormones.
The great irony of weight loss is that our modern problems were our ancient saviors. Our ability to effectively store fat allowed our ancestors to stay alive during times of famine, but it also predisposed us to store a whole bunch of unwanted energy (fat) in an era of scarce food availability.
The responses, or changes, that take place all work synergistically to decrease the rate of metabolic drop, protecting your muscle mass, and ultimately protecting you (from uh DYING), which is a good thing. You hear so many people these days cursing their metabolic behavior, but your body working against you and your goals is hardly the worst thing in the world, or even the truth. Because believe it or not, you aren’t supposed to physically manipulate your body for vanity…
Your body just plain wasn’t meant to do that, it doesn’t want to do that, it will fucking fight you if you try to do that.
Your body does not want to maintain low body fat. It will keep you hungry, slow you down, mess with your mental stability, and disrupt your hormonal state for one purpose, one end goal. And what is that end goal, Kira? Well, to basically achieve metabolic homeostasis by any means necessary. It doesn’t matter if that means stuffing your face with Oreos and peanuts in the middle of the night due to increased ghrelin (hunger hormone).
These physical and hormonal changes in your body are predictable, and you should be expecting them. Fighting against these changes is pointless. But, understanding that changes happen and working with them successfully is key to staying in an optimized metabolic state, even during a deficit (diet).
So now I know you want to know…
What are some indicators of “Starvation Mode?”
You, everyone, and their mother should be aware that there is NO blood test out there that will confirm you have achieved a slow metabolism. Having lost weight at all in the first place means the process has already begun. But when referring to the more scary side of starvation mode, There are some symptoms you can look for to see if it is time to move into a diet recovery phase.
Below I have listed some examples of what can take place when you have been in a deficit for too long. But you should know that most of these can be general side effects of fat loss or completely separate issues all together.
- Stalled fat loss
- Increased fluid retention (bloating) on a regular basis
- Feeling sluggish and unmotivated
- Decreased immunity ( higher susceptibility to colds, sore throats, and other illnesses)
- Alterations in appetite or disordered eating habits
- Performance is suboptimal; inability to complete workouts at standard level.
- Aches and pain in muscles/joints
- Elevated morning pulse
If you remember anything, remember is this- If you aren’t losing fat, it is time for a break!
There are literally a hundred trillion cells that make up our human bodies, and of those it is estimated that a billion of them must be replaced every hour. We have roughly seven hundred muscles and OVER twenty miles of capillaries. Take a second to grasp that… and it doesn’t end there, on top of that fact we obviously have blood, organs, hair, toenails, our human body is in constant and desperate need of fuel.
Our bodies are very smart and adaptable. When it senses a time of deprivation, it will evaluate all of those processes to determine an order and direction of priority. Meaning, the second that your stock of energy input is lacking, or if at any point your input of nutrients is lacking in efficiency, it will adapt accordingly.
If you provide your body with less energy, you will expend less energy, and less energy will be spent on important health functions in your body like oil production in skin and hair follicles, production of sex hormones effecting your sex drive, and fatigue will increase as well as depression. This is why when we are on a diet or subjecting our bodies to an extended caloric deficit we operate at a sub par level of our capable excellence.
Note- permanent body fat loss will alter overall calorie expenditure.
But here’s the GOOD news you all been waiting for!
If all these (negative) caloric restriction adaptations have been caused by eating less than what your body needs… then EATING MORE will reverse those negative effects.
Okay, let me explain a little more.
From my own experiences with dieting, I too hit a point a while back where I couldn’t do anymore or restrict my eating any further. Part of the reason why I couldn’t “do anymore” was because I just simply did not have enough fuel in my body to do so. To be honest, this was a darker part of my life where I thought food was the enemy. I just didn’t understand what I was doing wrong either.
Finally one day I was just so fed up with myself, how I felt and looked, and I decided to “give up” on dieting and religiously keeping track of my calories everyday. I started eating the way and how much felt right for me to be full and energized. To be honest, some days it even felt like an all out feeding frenzy. The never ending pit of my hunger was finally being filled.
It was like the magic pill I’ve been searching for.
Within a couple months I felt stronger, leaner, and ready to conquer the world. (Well at least my workouts, TO THE MAX).
I found that my psychological stress had pretty much diminished, I had more positive self talk, I wasn’t hungry or always explicitly planning out my next meals in my head or dreaming of foods that I wanted, I looked happier, I looked better, and I just became alive again.
We are finally at a point in our long diet history where you’ll see a lot on the internet or social media now about people preaching the benefits of “refeed days” or “cheat days/meals” or even “diet breaks”. And while I am so happy that people have finally reached this idea to implement into their diets, they are still doing just that. THEIR DIETING. Clinging on to their diets for mere life. They set hard parameters on their “refeed days” or “cheat meals,” and they’ll go right back to their restrictive eating after their guilty indulgences.
Humans are very habitual beings. changing up our routines in any small way or even altering our own thinking patterns can be a very difficult feat.
We know that during our entire existence we are constantly being hit with ideas, beliefs, and opinions on what we should be doing, what we should look like, and how we should act. I mean we are even told how our own shit should look like/smell like! I mean come ON, people!
We have learned to look outwardly for answers and solutions to our problems. But we were never taught to look inside ourselves. Never taught to check in on your #1, which is (and should be) you to yourself. Nobody out there in the world knows you better than you know yourself. Nobody has the same body, the same mind, or even the same gut bacteria as you. Who’s to tell you how many calories you should or shouldn’t be eating everyday? Who’s to tell you you shouldn’t be eating before bed or that eating carbs, fat, or specific proteins are bad?
Coming to conclusion, in my own experience with working with many people to help them achieve their physical goals, the one sure way to fix your “diet state of mind” and to regain your energy, vitality, and your own identity, FOR GOD SAKE, is to start eating more. Eat more, with NO parameters on how much or for how long. Listen to your internal cues. Yes, you will gain weight at first, but it will stall to a stop and your body can finally relax and feel fueled and loved again. It is VERY important for you to continue on and make progress with an active lifestyle or prescribed exercise program, whatever that means to you. I am NOT saying just give up on everything, sit on your ass, and go on a Krispy Creme binge.
I am simply saying eat the damn food, don’t fear it.
You will be delighted with the results.