To begin, let us lay out two scenarios that I see most commonly.
The first is the individual who decides they want to lose body fat, so they begin doing some research on their own. This is great, and so much more effective than the second scenario, but there are major drawbacks that I am going to explain.
In the second, we have someone who, for years, has not followed any sort of routine or structure to their nutrition. They have simply eaten at a “standard American diet,” which is typically high fat, high carb, and low protein.
Alternatively, even more, common as we see in alot of females, shallow caloric environments, with waves of considerable spikes in caloric intake.
Let us start with scenario A.
You learn that in order to lose body fat, you first must create a caloric deficit.
Boom, got it.
So you calculate your starting macros online, or by using a general formula such as 11-13x bodyweight.
Then decide to go 1 gram of protein per pound, ok cool, then you heard that you should make up around 20% of your intake should be fat just to ensure optimal hormonal function, ok got it.
So now I’ll just put the rest of the calories into carbs. Ok perfect. Check.
(FYI: This would be a perfectly fine way to start your cut, but there is so much more to the story).
A few weeks go by, and you’re losing at an optimal rate. Clothes are fitting looser, and you’re just feeling “better” all around.
Until that awful day comes, as you so hoped it wouldn’t. The weight loss STOPS.
Now you decide to reduce food more.
Just because overeating was likely the cause of your initial weight gain, that does not mean that SLASHING calories every chance you get will bring be the solution.
It’s much more complicated than that.
What we see after these large calorie drops are feelings of extreme hunger, energy levels begin to tank, and other forms of metabolic adaptation begin to set in.
Alternatively, in other words – slashing calories at every sign of a stall will result in a cascade of adverse hormonal effects.
These include T3 and leptin quickly reducing, cortisol rising, and energy output dropping, leading to less caloric expenditure, ultimately offsetting the reduction in kcals.
On top of that, most would also increase cardio or output, which will put yourself in an even WORSE position, if you are not careful.
Let’s look at scenario B:
It is common to see females eating between 1100-1400 calories and maintaining their weight.
They can do this because of the dynamic nature of the metabolism – adaptive thermogenesis as its commonly referred to.
The laws of adaptive thermogenesis are quite simple.
Eat more = expend more.
Eat less= expend less.
Think of this as in comparison to a pendulum, or a “balancing act” of sorts.
If we chronically diet, without any strategies to mitigate the “expend less” side of things, we will eventually hit a hard plateau.
This does not come only with the chronic dieters, but also the yo-yo crowd.
The “yo-yo” crowd I refer to are individuals who will restrict food intake hard for a period of time via something like Keto, cleanses, fasting, or any other non-calculated approach to creating an extreme caloric deficit.
Then once they reach a breaking point where they can not sustain the approach, they return to their normal eating habits, often regaining all of the lost weight, and usually plus some.
Even worse though, is the unintentional chronic dieter.
This is especially applicable to females, as with alot of women at an early age they are exposed to comparative body image stimuli.
Magazines, TV shows, and especially social media portrays a manipulated standard for what the female body “should” look like.
This can cause young women to put themselves into a caloric deficit at such a young age and remain there for a prolonged period of time.
So once they reach adulthood, they are operating on a chronically under-utilizing metabolism and making then PRONE to want to store body fat.
There is good news here, though!
We can manipulate the variables in order to work with the body rather than against it.
We can use the adaptive nature to our metabolism to allow us to lose fat MORE effectively, while also feeling, performing, and looking better (all while consuming more calories).
Ok, now that we have re-lived some shitty memories, let me help you understand the science behind why weight loss stalls happen.
PLATEAU’S ARE NORMAL.
The body likes to be in homeostasis and to stay in a comfortable spot suitable for survival and reproduction.
So what happens is as we put our bodies into a caloric deficit, several adaptations begin to occur.
Just like as we lower calories, over time, our bodies’ energy expenditure will reduce.
On the flip side of this, when we raise calories, the metabolism is dynamic, and it will start to up-regulate and become more “utilized.”
I love using a car analogy here (you will see this later in the blog as well).
Think of it as driving a car on four pistons, when it should be running on 8. It needs not only more fuel, but more consistent intake, maintenance, and love.
FYI: In a later blog article, we’ll dive into why, and how someone is able to lose body fat while also increasing calories, or reverse dieting.
Let’s break down each of the contributing factors as to why our bodies eventually say “fuck you, we’re done” in regards to fat loss.
- METABOLIC EFFICIENCY
Ever feel cold all the time when dieting, or while knowingly eating low amounts of food?
Through the Krebs cycle, which is an intermediary of metabolism, the byproduct is HEAT.
So when your metabolism is underutilized, so is your core body temp.
Therefore your body’s cells become less able to metabolize calories at the same rate they did at a higher caloric intake.
Let’s use another car analogy.
Think of a Toyota Prius, compared to a Chevy Tahoe.
The Prius, god love the energy-efficient, environmentally friendly little cutie pie they are, can run FOREVER on a low amount of energy.
This is great for saving money, and the environment, but if we compare this to a human, they will have a hell of a time oxidizing body fat (expending energy).
Let’s compare this to an American made (merica voice) Chevy Suburban, which gets 3 miles to the gallon, and has a hard time even passing a gas station.
Which is going to have an easier road getting lean?
You guessed it…
Now, let’s look at the next factor.
2. HORMONAL EFFECTS OF DIETING.
As we diet longer, or chronically under-eat, Yo-Yo diet, especially your body LEARNS, how to adapt better (not good).
It becomes more “aware” of these environments and responds appropriately.
SIMPLY PUT –
“You reduce calories. Your body reduces your available energy stores”
- Leptin is a big one – regulates the synthesis of thyroid hormone, along with this, lower calls (especially carbs) result in less t3, to t4 conversion (slower metabolism)
- Leptin also affects menstrual cycle regulation. So if you are having irregular periods, this might be the culprit.
- Lastly – leptin also helps to regulate appetite, and energy homeostasis (go into down-regulated NEAT, and EAT)
- 3. The next factor involves Energy Expenditure Adaptation. As we diet, our bodyweight slowly reduces, therefore we’re expending fewer calories.
We are also eating less, so the thermic effect of food reduces, or otherwise stated, the amount of calories we burn just eating slowly declines.
On top of this, simple subconscious movement decreases.
We move less while sleeping, we talk less with our hands, and even blink slower (true story, when I’m dieting, I become a slower blinker, watch me next time while I’m talking on stories, it’s hilarious).
All these are factors related to NEAT, or non-exercise related thermogenesis.
Finally, since we have less energy available for non-exercise activity, it only makes sense that exercise-related activity also takes a hit.
We train less hard, and intense, leading to even fewer calories burned.
So now that we have an understanding around why we stop losing weight, the real question becomes, HOW DO I STILL GET SHREDDED BRAH?
It’s quite simple, we have just to be extremely objective, and follow a few key principles.
- Stress management: I cannot emphasize this enough. Stress will KILL your progress. As we diet, this is a stressor. So, as a result, we see the presence of adrenal hormones increasing such as increased cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline etc…, causing us to become CNS dominant leading to slowed, or impaired digestion and less nutrient utilization etc….
By managing the stress of all forms, we can reduce the likelihood of these adaptations occurring as a whole.
2. Sleep – “Improve your sleep and lower your stress.”
Insufficient sleep on a physiological level can and will impair glucose tolerance and create insulin resistance while also raising stress and hunger hormone levels.
Meaning that your body won’t use carbohydrates as well; the rise in stress can cause you to gain fat and lose muscle at a less than desirable rate. Research shows that those who don’t sleep enough can lose more muscle and gain more fat than those who sleep adequate amounts per night, 5 hours per night vs. 8 hours per night.
3. Stop fucking dieting!
This might not be what you want to hear…… however you might not be in a position metabolically to sustain a caloric deficit.
This is where it would be a good idea to allow yourself a period of maintenance (or allowing your body to reach homeostasis) so you can live to diet another day.
4. Lastly – utilize caloric cycling. I’m a big can of cycling caloric intake.
One form of calorie cycling would be “carb cycling”.
This just means changing your carbohydrate intake throughout the week.
I like this because carbohydrate intake often can dictate the effects of leptin regulation in the body, which, as we know, is a big driver of many metabolic processes.
So in a sense, we can “trick” the body to mitigate these down-regulations.
Most move between low, moderate, and high days. Many like this when getting into really low calories, as it allows for a psychological advantage.
You can also simply cycle between training days, or non-training days, and setting your carbs in accordance to your energy expenditure.
Another common modality of cycling calories would be using “diet breaks”. This allows for periods of caloric maintenance, to allow your body to return back to a “homeostatic point” for a period of 5-14 days depending on the individual, then returning to the caloric deficit with a “rested” system.
So the take-home point here is that the only way to have long-term success in losing body fat, and keeping it off is to become an “EDUCATED DIETER”.
The more we understand how our body works as an individual, the higher the chance we have at working with our dynamic nature, rather than against it.
If you found this helpful, please share this article with someone who might benefit!
Also – if you would like to learn more about these processes, and how your individual body would apply to different strategies, I encourage you to check out Transform 2Gether – an education-based coaching program where we not only get you results, but we teach you how to sustain success for life.