There are generally two kinds of people that result from low-calorie or low-carb diets:
1) Those that lose weight initially, and then, within a few months, rebound back to their normal weight or even fatter.
2) Those that lose weight initially, and then when they see their body trying to rebound, they restrict even more, and even more … until they get to the point where they are eating hardly anything, but still not losing anything.
This second group is a particularly interesting bunch of people. They tend to be rarer than group #1, but I do work with a significant amount of people who do this. This group is interesting because these people DO indeed lose weight and maintain that lost weight for long periods of time as a result of doing this. But they do so at the expense of chronic deprivation (of calories and carbs), and usually chronic low energy levels, hormonal imbalance, and a very SLOW metabolism.
The Fate of Chronic Calorie and Carb Restrictors
When you are locked into this chronic restriction, chronic avoidance of calories or carbs, you put yourself into a trap. When you rely on eating very little food in order to maintain your weight, as time goes on, you start to find that any time you eat even a little more than your normal amount of food, you gain weight very quickly.
In turn, this weight gain only makes you want to restrict even more.
It’s a vicious cycle.
And it’s all too easy to become locked into this trap.
Let me show you how the vicious cycle of calorie and carb restriction usually plays out…
A little restriction turns into initial weight loss, which gets you excited and makes you feel like you’re on the right track. You’re seeing the scale go down, and everything is going perfectly…
But then one day, you have a little more food than you would normally, or you eat a little of those “forbidden foods,” and you see the scale go up…
So you quickly go back to an even more restrictive version of your diet (either restricting calories or carbs or both) to take the weight back off.
Then, the cycle happens again. And again. And again. Until the point where you have the metabolism of a sloth.
This pattern is a classic symptom of someone who has severely slowed down their metabolism as a result of chronic dieting and carb restriction.
If you’re eating hardly anything and still not losing the fat, this is YOU!
So why doesn’t this chronic dietary restriction work?
If things are just as simple as “calories in, calories out”, then losing fat should just be as simple as eating less.
Here’s the problem that causes people to get into this trap of chronic dietary restriction with nothing to show for it:
Our bodies are wired with a starvation survival mechanism–and the whole purpose of this system is to ensure the survival of our species during times of famine.
We are extremely well designed to survive periods of famine/food shortage. From an evolutionary perspective, anyone who could not survive periods of food shortage was weeded out of the gene pool. So everyone who is alive today is a product of this genetic selection–we are all biologically and genetically wired to be able to survive periods of food shortage.
So the most important thing you need to realize is this…
When you chronically restrict your diet in an effort to lose weight (or prevent weight gain), all that you’re doing is REPLICATING A FAMINE.
Which again, your body is programmed by evolution to deal with very easily by simply slowing down your metabolism.
(Note: It’s also decreases something called NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is all the calories you burn through simple activities of daily life, like twiddling your thumbs, tapping your feet, chewing gum, typing on your computer, standing up, washing your car, walking around the grocery store, etc. NEAT is a hugely important factor, and it accounts for HUNDREDS of calories burned each day–which is much more than most people burn in the gym, on average.)
So when you engage in this cycle of chronic restriction, you’re not on the path to permanent leanness and a healthy energetic body. What you’re really doing is training your body to regulate energy balance (calories in, calories out) on progressively lower and lower levels of calories in and calories out. You restrict calories in, so your body decreases calories out (by slowing metabolic rate, and decreased NEAT). You restrict more, and your body slows down the metabolism even more. You keep trying to get ahead by lowering your food intake more and more (or perhaps adding more exercise into the mix as well), and yet, somehow your body always seems to do something to keep all that fat on your body.
And now, you’ve put yourself into a hole where you HAVE to eat a terribly restrictive diet just in order to maintain your body weight and prevent weight gain, let alone lose any more weight. And maybe on top of that, despite all your chronic dietary restriction and exercise, you are still carrying quite a bit of body fat!
I have worked with people who were overweight despite eating less than 1,400 calories a day while doing two hours of exercise each day!
What should I tell that person to do? Eat even LESS? Exercise even MORE? Are those real solutions?
Let me be very clear: This approach is NOT the right way to achieve a lean, healthy, and energetic body!
In fact, it is precisely the OPPOSITE of what you should be doing!
The Opposite of Restriction: Athletes
Let’s think about this for a moment. The above pattern of constant restriction trains the body to regulate energy balance (calories in, calories out) at progressively LOWER levels.
Who might be on the opposite end of that spectrum?
These are people who eat MASSIVE amounts of calories, yet are extremely lean. Think of sprinters and gymnasts for example–these are pretty much the leanest people on the planet! These are people who eat far MORE than you, but are far leaner. (Michael Phelps, who is pictured above, is known to eat over 10,000 calories a day).
Why is this?
They have trained their bodies to function on HIGHER and HIGHER levels of calories in, calories out. Again, this is the exact OPPOSITE of what you’re doing when you’re constantly trying to restrict your carbs or your portion sizes.
This requires a paradigm shift for people who think “lean people are lean because they eat less calories, and fat people are fat because they eat more calories.” The shift is that this is NOT how the body works.
If the body were a machine that say, is always burning 2,000 calories every day, all that you’d have to do to lose all the fat you want is simply restrict calorie intake to 1,700 or 1,500 calories for a short time. You would lose lots of fat, and then you could just come back up to eating 2,000 calories and effortlessly maintain your new leaner body.
But the body is NOT a machine that burns a certain amount of calories each day!
It is constantly modifying how many calories it burns ACCORDING TO HOW MANY CALORIES YOU TAKE IN.
So when you drop down from eating 2,000 calories to only 1,500, instead of continuing to burn 2,000, it starts burning only 1,500.
Now you’re maintaining the same bodyweight, but regulating energy balance at a LOWER level of calories in, calories out. Why does that matter? Because now as soon as you go up in calories a bit, you will start to get fatter. If you’re now only burning 1,500 calories, it only takes eating 1,600 or 1,700 calories–hundreds of calories LESS than you would eat normally to maintain your weight–for your body to start getting fatter!
You can get fat eating LESS calories than you were before at your normal body weight.
This is the trap of restriction as the path to a leaner body. It locks you into a vicious cycle of more and more calorie and carb deprivation, and a slower and slower metabolism that puts on weight more and more easily. Eventually, it forces you to stay in this constant state of semi-starvation just to maintain your weight, let alone lose any more.
So What’s The Way Out of This Trap?
TURN UP THE DIAL ON THE THERMOSTAT!
Follow the strategy of athletes, and start training your body to regulate energy balance at HIGHER and HIGHER levels of calories in and calories out. As your turn up the dial on how your body’s thermostat (the body fat set-point system) regulates energy balance, it becomes possible to break free of this trap.
It becomes possible to eat more calories, eat more carbs, and have a lean body without all the neuroticism and constant fighting with your body and reliance on willpower.
How do you do this? How do you increase the level that your body fat set-point is regulating energy balance?
Well, this is an area that a lot of people go wrong in my opinion.
Many people try to lead with increasing calorie intake. They just start eating more food. This will work to heal metabolic function to some extent, and if you’ve been feeling fatigued all the time and depressed, this strategy of simply eating more calories will likely make you feel much more energized and psychologically healthy. But–and that’s a big BUT–you will likely get fat in the process.
So maybe lead with exercise instead of increasing calorie intake? The problem with that is that in an already chronically undernourished and overstressed body, adding more exercise to the system will just create even more stress and hormonal dysfunction. So you can’t just take a body that is already chronically undernourished and start asking it to do a whole lot of intense exercise.
So what’s the real solution?
LEAD with NEAT!
Focus on walks, and standing up (rather than sitting) and moving your body throughout the day. For someone that sits most of the day, this can dramatically increase calories burned each day by 500-1,500 calories each day. Focus on doubling, tripling, or quadrupling your current NEAT. And then allow your calorie intake to follow that (which will happen naturally, since you will feel hungrier and want to eat more).
This is an ESSENTIAL requirement for anyone who works a desk job or sits for a large portion of the day. It is virtually impossible to achieve sustainable fat loss–no matter how little you eat–if you sit all day.
So MOVE! You don’t need to exercise intensely, but you do need to find a way to stand up and move your body throughout the day.
This is how you get out of the restriction trap, and start training your body fat set-point system to function like it does in athletes, rather than anorexics or people suffering through famine.
Starvation, restriction, and chronic undernourishment is NOT a good strategy for looking and feeling good.
Turning up the dial on your body’s thermostat is!
Instead of using anorexic strategies, try using ATHLETE strategies.
If you start focusing on ramping up your daily NEAT (and allow your calorie intake to follow that), you can dramatically speed up your metabolism, increase your physical energy level by leaps and bounds, train your body to regulate energy balance more like an athlete, and achieve fat loss WITHOUT constant suffering, portion control, hunger, and deprivation.
Turn up the dial on your body’s thermostat!