Maybe you’ve been thinking about shedding those last 10 pounds. Maybe you’re looking at getting shredded and finally getting that physique you promised you’d have when the calendar turned over in 2019.
I don’t doubt it.
It’s a great idea and plan if that’s something that matters to you.
But, have you ever stopped to consider what’s going on under the hood when we diet?
It’s an even more important thought, especially for those of us who haven untaken a diet before, whether it was successful or not.
It’s important because the history of your dieting is going to dictate how successful this diet and every other diet is going to go for you. Research suggests that the more we diet, the less likely we are to actually be successful with the diet.
Think about that.
Now, you’re probably asking, why?
The reality is that, no matter what diet you decide to undertake, you’re limiting calories to a number less than you’re normally eating--i.e creating a caloric deficit.
When you do that, you’re limiting the energy coming in. It’s great because it means we start to burn excess adipose tissue (science word for fat) but, our body isn’t geared for actually doing that. Know that from an evolutionary perspective, our body actually wants to maintain its current bodyweight. This is known as the homeostatic mechanism within our body.
In response to you starting to lose weight, your hormones (the things sending your body signals to do certain things) start to tell you to get back to that ‘normal’ bodyweight. The first one is your hunger hormone ghrelin which tells your body, “hey, we need more food.” The sister hormone, leptin (the hormone that says, “hey, we’re full”) also gets suppressed meaning that we’re more likely to be hungrier than ever and less likely to just stop at 1 Oreo.
That’s why when you do have a little binge on the diet after eating less, you’re less likely to be able to stop at one of something in today’s ever-available simple calorie food market.
If you’re able to overcome that, your body actually starts to burn less calories in everyday living. You read that right. Your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) starts to decline, meaning that even if you keep up those 10,000 steps Aunt Karen, you’re still going to be burning less calories through less fidgeting, pacing…. Even blinking.
On top of that, cognitive function declines as brain fog is on the regular. Even when we exercise, we do so at levels that are far less intense than when we were eating at “maintenance” levels with enough calories.
As the list goes on, cortisol increases because of an apparent food shortage and therefore, sex hormone goes down--sometimes to the point where men can’t maintain a hard on and women go through months without having a reproductive cycle. NO, THAT’S NOT NORMAL.
The reality is that basically every hormone regulating your body will change as a result of you eating less food. What’s worse is that your body is like a teenager who remembers every single bad thing you may have done to it or even thought about doing to it.
SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
The simple answer?
You read that right. Stop trying to diet every single week. The reality is that your body can really only handle dieting--that is, creating a caloric deficit---three months at a time separated by AT LEAST three months of eating maintenance.
Sure, there are exceptions. But to maintain good health, you shouldn’t be dieting for years on end without actively trying to maintain that weight and actively increasing your calories back to maintenance level.
So, think about when you want to diet the next time to make sure that it’s the most successful it can be. Every diet period counts so make sure there’s no holidays, no obstacles that will without a doubt get in your way. Find a period of time you can commit so you’re not dieting every single day of the year.
Who here has ever wanted to lose weight but their damned metabolism is just too slow?
Or, maybe you know someone who’s as skinny as a rake, eats whatever they want and don’t put on weight, yet you so much as look as a danish and gain weight?
Don’t worry I’ve been there. It’s easy in that situation to feel like there’s no chance you’re able to handle a night out of not tracking or eating things that you’re “not supposed to.”
For years, we’ve talked about the metabolism as it’s this physical thing we’re given at birth. We cop out on it. I remember growing up overweight thinking I have a bad metabolism so this is just the way it is for me so I’m always going to be fighting it.
What a load of shit.
I’m sorry, but your metabolism is not a body part that you’ve been given. It’s not your toes or fingers. It’s something you are largely responsible for. Thanks to some really great science that borders on ethical at best, we’ve learned that the metabolism is incredibly flexible.
Metabolic adaptation, put simply is the body’s metabolic rate responding to stressors that you are putting on the body or diet which are mostly linked to the quantity of food you are ingesting on a regular basis. It is typically thought of in the fitness world when you are entering a caloric deficit where you are eating less and your body begins to down regulate its mitochondrial efficiency (burning less calories to produce the same amount of ATP) and metabolic rate.
But metabolic adaptation also occurs on the opposite end of the spectrum through increasing metabolic rate and ergo the amount of energy you are burning on a regular basis.
The million dollar question though, is how do I do it?
The good thing about NEAT is that it comes at no cost of stress to your body. Walking the dog and getting in your 10,000 steps is not an activity where you’re breathing hard to do it. In fact, it’s often a very relaxing thing for a lot of people.
Think this is just a fad thing developed by FitBit to sell some devices? Think again, this stuff really matters.
“Walking 10,000 steps per day in association with dietary counselling improved anthropometric data, REE (resting energy expenditure), the physical domains of HRQoL and anxiety in obese adults,” reported one study.
2. Drink some coffee
Man, there’s not many times where you’ll get told to enjoy something as beautiful as coffee.
Seriously though, coffee is incredible. My infatuation for the hot drink aside, it’s also a great tool for giving that metabolism the boost it needs. In several studies, we’ve demonstrated that caffeine can be a great tool for increasing your metabolic rate and improving body composition.
Not a coffee drinker? Tea works in the same manner, particularly green tea shows proven benefits for increasing your metabolic rate.
3. Increase Thermic effect of eating
One of the things that goes into the amount of calories you’re burning through your daily energy expenditure is the thermic effect of eating. What this means is that through the eating and digestive process, certain macronutrients and foods are actually burning more fat than others.
One way to do that is simply increasing the amount of fiber you’re eating on a regular basis. Sure, you don’t want to go crazy with this and eat 50g of fiber a day starting tomorrow (for digestive reasons) but keeping it to 15g per every 1,000 calories is a great starting point. Most people should be around the 25-35g mark per day. Note, this means eating less processed foods.
When it comes to macronutrients though, know that research shows that protein burns about 20-35% of its calories through eating, carbohydrates 5 to 15% with fats much lower at 0 to 5%. So yes, protein is important for more reasons than simply just building muscle.
It’s barely November and yes, before you know it, it will be Christmas.
Then, obviously comes New Years and you’re making all these promises about becoming a new person and coming to some sort of crazy realization.
You’ll claim this is the year you want to lose all that weight and get back into shape, right?
Who doesn’t. New Year, new you.
Blah, blah, blah.
Get off the merry-go-round.
See, now is the time to get moving on this goal. The reason for this is actually quite simple.
Nearly EVERYONE needs to start working on a reverse diet. I have had less than a handful of clients come to me that are eating in a position where I’m comfortable creating a caloric deficit. Without a caloric deficit, you won’t be seeing real weight loss. That’s just a plain simple scientific fact.
The sad reality is that most of us haven’t earned the right to go on a weight loss journey. Yes, you read that right. If you’ve been undereating for months on end and want to go on another caloric deficit January 1st, I’ll save you the time, it’s not going to work.
The reality is that you can’t take blood from a stone--as the saying goes. You need to treat your body properly by giving it enough fuel for you to push the gas pedal on fat loss.
So how do you do that?
Lucky for you, this is the season of overeating and if you’re in the place where you’ve been chronically undereating, some reverse dieting (aka, controlled overeating) is going to be exactly what will get you to exactly where you need to be to crush your goals in 2019.
Reverse dieting is exactly what it sounds like. It’s gradually adding calories back into your diet after your metabolism has down-regulated over time. For me, when I started at 1,600 calories over two years ago, it was a really slow grind adding just 50 calories per week until I was up over 3,000 calories a day.
Contrary to what society tells us with eat less, move more, we are all drastically undereating. I’ve seen this is countless clients now and many people who have yet to begin working with me. When you’ve been undereating for a prolonged period of time, eventually you stop seeing weight loss and you’re left with two options: 1) go further into a deficit, even if you’re already at what I call poverty calories (less than 1,000 to 1,500 for women and less than 1700 for men), 2) reverse properly so that you’re able to build your metabolism up.
I guess you could stay in the same position you’re in but I’m sure no one has got this far into the post because that’s what they’re after.
So, when it comes to overeating around the holidays, use this to your advantage. No, I’m not saying that you should be eating everything on the table when it comes to festive dinners and work parties. What I am saying is that it’s time to dial in your food quality and gradually start to increase the amount that’s going into your mouth.
First, dial in your macronutrients.
Then start with 50 calories, maybe even 100. You might gain a small amount of weight but hey, I will guarantee you that you start to feel better. You’ll start to take control of your life again and will put yourself in an incredible position for a radical transformation in 2019.
The choice is yours. Take the smart route and set yourself up for success in the new year or continue on the road of mediocrity, feel the same, eat the same and wonder why you can’t see results.
Up to you.
So you lost a little bit of weight, eh?
Congratulations. That’s amazing.
I’m happy you were able to accomplish your goal of shaving off a few pounds. I know it can be debilitatingly hard to lose weight and the fact that you lost it cannot be overstated.
So now what?
That’s a good question because believe it or not, what you do after your diet is MORE important than what you did during it. If you can’t keep the weight off in a sustainable way than losing it in the first place wasn’t the right decision.
Of course, no one tries to put weight on after a weight loss transformation. The idea with dropping 20 pounds wasn’t just so that you could add it all back on again and start over. But that’s where we are as a society. I write this because North America does not have a problem with weight loss. Actually, America is one of the best nations in the world at losing weight. Six out of every seven people who need to lose a substantial amount of weight in their lifetime are able to do it.
The biggest problem therein lies with keeping the weight off. Within one year of weight loss, 80 percent will have relapsed to their pre-diet weight, within two years it increases to 85 percent and by three years we’re looking at 95 percent. * (1) (2)
How does this happen?
Well, welcome to the fad diet industry. See, for most people, undertaking a diet is a temporary adjustment with a defined endpoint in mind. “I’ll do the ketogenic diet until I lose 15 pounds,” some would say. They do it. They follow it perfectly and create a caloric deficit to drop the weight and boom, weight loss. Then they go back to the way they were eating before. If it doesn’t happen overnight, slowly it does because life happens.
From a physiological and evolutionary perspective, when you go into a diet, your body starts to adjust to a caloric deficit. What happens is your basal metabolic rate drops (the calories you burn through daily living), your non-exercise activity drops (yes you stop fidgeting, walking around as much), and even start burning less calories during the eating and digestive process. Evolutionarily, your body doesn’t want to lose weight even if you really want it to so it will fight like hell to maintain that bodyweight through all of these measures including increasing your hunger hormones so that you will maintain that weight.
But, somehow you fought all that off and got the weight loss. You’re happy but your body and metabolism isn’t. It wants the food back because when you went into a caloric deficit, what you told your body was that there was an energy shortage. When there’s an energy shortage your body remembers this and thus increases its fat cells to prevent any chance of this happening again.
Then eventually you cave and have that piece of cake or DQ Blizzard that’s loaded with calories. Remembering how shitty it felt when you were dieting and what being lean meant, your body increases its fat cells when you decide to go on that one “cheat” night where you eat in excess of 1,500 more calories than your maintenance level.
Those 1,500 calories begin to go straight towards fat regain. Suddenly that one night of bad eating turns into two, or three because “hey I’ve been sooooo good lately,” and the weight starts to increase before your metabolism has adjusted at all.
Enter reverse dieting. This is the process of slowly adding calories so that your metabolism can increase to accommodate your normal lifestyle while also maintaining your new bodyweight. Studies show that the longer you maintain this new weight, the more likely you are to be able to sustain that long term. Notable that when I say maintain, I mean as long as one to two years at that new weight.
So what does this all mean?
For those who lost the weight, I’m sorry but the work is not over. It’s time to really spend just as much time and attention to maintaining that weight so you don’t become another statistic.
For those of you who haven’t lost the weight and are looking to, really think hard about the dietary choices you’re about to make. If you’re going high carb, ketogenic, all-meat, paleo--do you see yourself following this diet for weeks, months and years to come or is this just a temporary thing?
If it’s the latter, find someone to talk to who can educate you on making the proper long-term decisions for yourself. Weight loss for that upcoming vacation next month might be the sexy thing at the forefront of your mind, but what about all the vacations after that in the years ahead?
If that’s not on your mind, walk the line of yo-yo dieting for the years to come as the pounds become harder and harder to shave off.
End the diet. Start the lifestyle.
1. "Long-term efficacy of dietary treatment of obesity: a systematic review ...." https://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pubmed/12119984. Accessed 28 Aug. 2018.
2. "[The mediocre results of dieting]. - NCBI." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23859104. Accessed 28 Aug. 2018.
Ever uttered this sentence to yourself: “If I could just clean up my diet and get back on track, I’d be as fit as I want to be and accomplish all my goals.”
I bet you have. I have too. If you’re me, it was likely quickly followed by trying to eat everything from whole foods, stressing over what was on nutrition labels and of course, hating myself if I chose to eat anything that wasn’t “clean.”
Hey, this isn’t everyone. There’s a few people I’m sure who went on this clean eating train and then never got off. In fact, I’ve heard they went their entire lives without ever eating another piece of cake, ingesting a single gram of sugar and are completely sober.
Does that sound kind of laughable?
If it doesn’t, it should at least sound boring, impossible or stressful. After all, what birthday party didn’t serve kale with baked sweet potatoes and sparkling water right?
The thing about eating “clean” is that it borders on illogical when it comes to what that means as well as the way that it undeniably creates a bad relationship with food. What does eating clean mean? What’s a clean food? If I wash a donut under the sink, that’s clean right? See how ridiculous that sounds?
Clean food enthusiasts would more likely say whole foods are these clean foods. Foods that are grown from the earth and are nutrient dense. Clean foods should help us lose weight, feel strong and move better.
What about those other foods? Again the zealots would say they are dirty foods. Think for a second, what does the word dirty imply?
It makes us dirty. We don’t want to be dirty. If we eat dirty foods, we become dirty. What do dirty people look like? It’s easy to tell, you can see the dirt on them as they walk around.
From a food perspective, it instantly creates this relationship that if we eat so called dirty foods, we’ll have the opposite effects of clean foods. We’ll gain weight, we will lose strength and we will feel and look better. What a load of crap.
Merely thinking that changes the way we as a society look at those dirty foods. It’s how to develop an emotional attachment to certain foods. It’s how we shame eat Oreo’s sitting on the couch or sneak treats when a family member goes into the other room. It’s emotionally damaging and needs to stop.
The point I’m trying to get across is that eating clean really isn’t a sustainable diet all the time. By sustainable, I mean one that you’re doing for weeks, months or years at a time UNLESS you have some sort of medical condition that forces you to.
This isn’t to say that we should go the other direction and eat processed foods at every meal. EATING WHOLE FOODS IS STILL SUPER IMPORTANT. But the minute you’re doing so as an exclusionary rule and attaching morals to certain types of food, you’re missing enjoyment, love and solidarity that ALL FOOD can bring.
Food isn’t black and white. Throw out the dogma, and end your negative relationship with food.
Is food just fuel?
This one drives me nuts so bear with me during this verbal diarrhea as I go through my stance on this and why you should view food as more than just fuel.
I’ll start with a couple questions. 1) Have you ever been to a social event that didn’t serve food? 2) Have you ever celebrated an event that didn’t in some way include food?
I guarantee you the answers to both of those questions is yes. If you got a no on either of them, please DM me, I’d love to hear about your life.
The thing about food is that yes, from a physical perspective, it is energy. Calories are energy and that’s the funny thing about them also because for most of us, we’re basically trying to restrict energy by eating less calories everyday (side tangent, think about how effed up that is?)
When we have excess energy, our bodies store it as fat. When we run low on energy, we burn up our stores of it (fat) and if we are out of that, we use break down muscle and convert it into energy. This is physiology 101 in just under a 100 words.
But if food was as simple as just finding the right type of energy source like going to the gas station and entering regular, premium or diesel gasoline, we wouldn’t be crying as we’re digging for the bottom of a heavenly hash tub of ice cream now would we?
No. Food and its reactions are far more complex in our lives. Our relationships with what’s on our plates, forks and spoons is far more important than that. The reality is that food can be pleasurable, enjoyable and community building in ways you may or may not have already imagined.
Since the start of time, we’ve been gathering around for events such as feasts. In the ice age, it was celebrating a successful hunt through cooking that food and enjoying it all together as a group. Over time, it’s evolved into celebrations around holidays and other parties and events. It’s a way for us to feel happy and share that happiness with other people. In fact at these celebrations, we often show off how good we are at making the most delicious foods, but have you ever been at thanksgiving and said, “man, we’re really getting in a lot of great fuel at this table now aren’t we?”
No, it’s ridiculous. It’s as ludicrous as assuming food is just fuel. This doesn’t even go into the dopamine reaction our body can go through when consuming something like ice cream when we’re feeling down on ourselves.
With that being said, how do we make a balance of using food as fuel for our workouts while also using food as happiness and in the positive ways?
It’s a million dollar question that has an answer as sexy as its definition--balance. Balance the way you’re eating and when you’re eating it. There’s going to be times when, for lack of a better term, you’re eating like an asshole and consume cake for supper and ice cream for dessert. There’s going to be times when you’re eating broccoli and chicken and are cleaner than a whistle.
Throw the good in with the bad and you get balance. Throw the good decisions out by making the bad decisions and you’re left with a f*#&ed up relationship with food. It’s that simple, I promise you.
The reality is that food is more than fuel and it’s meant to be. Some days will be good, others will be difficult and be “bad.” So what, get back on the wagon and try again.
To my knowledge, they aren’t taking Christmas off the calendar any time soon, so do you want to try to practice enjoying it manageably, or yo-yo like the millions of other people who are mentally consumed after being surprised when they overate on Christmas day?
I know I know, eat less and move more. That’s how we’re supposed to lose weight, feel the best and look the best, according to the media.
But that’s how we’ve got to this point where everyone is chronically undereating, overtraining and seeing ABSOLUTELY NO RESULTS.
Don’t worry, I was there once too. I couldn’t figure out why things weren’t working when I was eating 1,600 calories and working out 5-6 days per week. How could I not lose any body fat at 213 pounds?
Turns out I had to flip this dieting methodology on its head. I had to eat more.
1. The main reason you should be eating more is that it boosts your metabolism. You are responsible for your metabolism whether you believe that or not. If your metabolism is turtle slow, that’s because you’ve allowed it to be in that state. Sure there are reasons that are thyroid related that can slow down your metabolism but you under eating is the sure-fire way to screwing things up and making it impossible to make your metabolism the fat burning machine you want it to be.
When it comes to creating weight loss, there’s really only one way to do it (sorry fad dieters). Create a caloric deficit. If your caloric maintenance (the amount of calories you’re eating to sustain body weight) is insufficient (sub 1700 for females, sub 2300 for men), we have nothing to subtract calories from without creating hormonal damage or metabolic adaptation. It’s like creating a financial budget with $1,000 each month and wanting to take on a new monthly payment for a new car. Good luck paying for a new car while budgeting that $1,000 towards rent, hydro, food, cell phone bills etc. It’s not going to happen. You have to increase the ceiling (calories or revenue) to make it work.
2. Everyone wants to enjoy a good cheat meal and not worry about it right? Who doesn’t want to go to DQ and crush one of those new Reese’s Blizzards?
Well, back to working your budget, you can’t do that if your budget is paper thin. Like wanting to buy a new car with little to no revenue, you can’t enjoy that Blizzard with little to no daily overall caloric intake. The reason for that is that if you only have 1,000 calories to work with for the day, and you eat 800 on that Blizzard, good luck eating just 200 calories for the rest of the day.
That being said, through reverse dieting and increasing your daily energy expenditure, enjoying snacks like this and many more will be a piece of cake. When I was eating 1,600 calories per day, it was damn hard to stay under that amount without being worried about gaining fat. But through slowly increasing that amount to 3,300 calories per day, I not only felt better but was able to have a beer or “cheat meal” and it wouldn’t affect my nutrition throughout the rest of the day.
3. Balancing and regulating or hormones and function throughout the body. When it comes to undereating, you can be run through the gamut of feeling horrible on a regular basis. Undereat and your sex drive goes down, you’re moody and sleeping at night has become an unconventional mess.
Increasing your caloric intake and the amount of food you’re eating on a regular basis decreases your stress levels while assisting in testosterone production and estrogen balance which are integral to not only feeling good but making sure you’re able to meet and exceed your goals.
Let’s face it, in today’s society there are no shortage of stressors that impact our lives. All of those stressors not only impacts the way we’re making nutritional decisions in the kitchen but can also impact the way our body sees stress and responds to it. If we’re constantly secreting cortisol, our body could care less about losing body fat and eating is one parasympathetic activity that helps us rest and digest.
From an evolutionary perspective, we weren’t stressed out when we were eating. We were relaxing and this means that increasing the amount and times we are eating allows our body to relax and digest everything that’s going on. No one is saying get the tub of ice cream out and sit on the couch and watch The Office all day (although how fun would that be?), but eating enough is a way for our body to optimize hormonally and feel awesome about it.
No matter where you start, a macronutrient based diet can be hard to adjust to from the outset. For most people, knowing what a carbohydrate, fat and protein is and what they do is a step in and of itself.
Even harder is the marketing that comes with a variety of today’s products (it’s why you eat whole foods people) that tells us a certain food is high in x,y or z and that’s why we should eat it. But there’s some easy things that will help you get on your way towards hitting your macros with ease each day.
1. Fruits and vegetables are largely carbohydrates. But I thought carbs were bad? (story for another day). But fruits especially can be high in carbohydrates, particularly bananas but all contain fructose which your body eventually converts to glucose (sugar) for your body to use as energy or store as energy (fat).
Eat as much fruit and veggies (greens particularly) as you can in a day, leaning heavier on the veggies side of things. But, at the end of the day if you’re sitting there with 0 g of carbs left, 100g of protein and 10g of fat, you aren’t going to get what you need by shoving a banana down your throat.
2. Pick foods that are simple to enter into your macros. I’m not saying don’t make a recipe for a favourite dish that you enjoy, but maybe don’t do it on day 1. If one of your favourite meals is your mom’s homemade lasagna, maybe you wait until you have things figured out at least somewhat before you’re running around trying to enter all of the ingredients individually or create a recipe on MyFitnessPal.
This means trying to stick to simple things like potatoes, ground meats, steaks, any vegetable, etc so that when it comes to putting it into your macros on MFP, all you have to do is type “lean ground beef 100g,” before entering the amount of servings you had into your day. It’s that simple.
3. Eat as many whole foods as possible. This one is relatively simple to read and but harder adhere to. Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar as much as humanly possible. Why?
Because it’s not only going to help you with your micronutrient profile but filling your fiber intake of 25-35g per day is impossible if you’re filling your macronutrients eating just doughnuts everyday. There’s simply no way you can just go completely on the one side of fitting your macros but abandon quality food.
4. Don’t get lost in the minutia. Countless times I’ve helped start people out on their new tracking measures with macronutrients only to check in with them after one week and they’re worrying about sodium intake, potassium levels--the list goes on and on.
The thing with MFP is that it’s so great it includes virtually everything. So much information that it’s almost impossible to understand everything going on. There’s cholesterol (isn’t that giving us heart attacks?), sodium, potassium, vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron just to start with. All of this information can be important for sure, but let’s not start here or get lost in it.
All of that is information for further use once you’ve mastered the basics. Macronutrients are the building blocks of everything and if you’re eating like an asshole with all carbs, fats and no protein, it won’t matter if your potassium levels are king of the world, you’re not going to see results.
5. Think ahead. This one is one that crushes people’s ability to stay on point every single day and is one that can be avoided for absolutely everyone. There’s nothing worse than getting to 7 o’clock at night and having 1,000 calories left to eat and not knowing how you’re going to be able to do it. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail--it’s literally that simple.
This means different things for different people though. For some, it can mean meal prepping on their weekend and putting the foods into containers to be used throughout the entire week. That can work, although that would drive me insane. Personally, I usually rotate between eating mostly the same foods each week so entering my macros on the Monday is usually a good reference point for the entire week.
It doesn’t mean you have to be this way but try waking up in the morning and programming what you’re going to have for the entire day. This provides you a roadmap for hitting your macros and takes the stress out of wandering through the kitchen at any point with the thought, “what the hell am I going to eat?”
Sometimes, no matter what you’re doing, the scale won’t budge. I’m eating clean you’ll say, I’m watching what I eat you might add, but nothing is happening.
Unfortunately there are a plethora of reasons why you can’t seem to lose weight and none of the top ones might encapsulate your story either. I know one client where it’s almost an exercise of scratching the skin off my head to confusion to figure out how we can create weight or fat loss. But let’s go over a few.
This one is a novel concept and elementally simple. You’re likely eating too much and simply not moving enough. I know the media often berates the narrative of move more, eat less as the way to fixing North America’s obesity epidemic and from an over simplistic view, it’s true.
The way to create weight loss, not just fat loss, is quite simple and has been proven over and over again. Get into a caloric deficit through either eating less, moving more or both. I’m not kidding, it’s that easy. Assuming all things normal, if you’re eating to satiety before and you simply reduce the quantity of your foods and start exercising a little bit more, you can start to see some drastic movement on the scale and in the mirror. It’s why there’s been an explosion in the fitness industry over the last decade.
Sometimes you might actually have to do both, meaning that improving the way you eat might not be enough to get things moving in the right direction without increasing your NEAT (more on that later) on a daily basis.
2. You aren’t going the hell to bed.
Get your sleep. It’s not a myth, sleeping, when it comes to weight loss and vitality, actually matters. A lot.
You might not realize it but sleep is actually hugely important when it comes to losing weight and getting the body of your dreams (pun intended). In general, children and adults who get little sleep have larger waistlines, high body fat percentages and have higher numbers on the scale. It’s also been shown that just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to a significant reduction in insulin sensitivity which means that your body isn’t metabolizing carbohydrates as efficiently. This means you could be adding fat unexpectedly through just not being able to handle your carbs.
What happens when you don’t sleep is that you generally increase your levels of cortisol. Cortisol, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is our body’s stress hormone released when we are stressed and aids in the metabolism of fat, protein and carbs. It’s the body’s built in alarm system. The only problem is if we are constantly secreting more and more cortisol, we can’t sleep and our body holds onto any ounce of body fat it can get.
Evolutionarily, if our body was stressed out (either from running away from a Sabre-tooth tiger, not having enough food or struggling to make a fire) our body held onto fat as a way of survival because we simply didn’t know when we would be able to eat again. Your body has changed since then, but a lot of the same principles apply today.
Simply put, increase the stress and you’re going to have a very hard time reducing the fat.
3. Increase your NEAT
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, the cute and scientific way of saying all the exercise that isn’t actual exercise. Fidgeting, walking around, breathing, cooking, literally anything that involves moving around and burning calories is important to burning fat. Yes more important than you probably even can comprehend and realize.
While basal metabolic rate accounts for most of the total daily calorie expenditure, with exercise coming in closely after that, NEAT can account for between 10-50 percent of total daily energy expenditure. That can make a significant impact when it comes to how many calories you’re burning per day and then how much fat you’re able to burn on the scale.
It should be noted that increasing your NEAT does not mean exercising more. A mountain bike where your heart rate is relatively low (180-age) would be considered NEAT but you telling me you just like to run so you run an extra 20 km per week, does not count as NEAT. That’s exercise. Don’t fool yourself.
When you look at a variety of people who are “naturally lean,” there’s a good chance that their NEAT is higher than average. How do you do this?
Simple, get out and get your 10,000 steps a day. Walk with your dog, walk with a friend. Get out and get moving.
4. Hormonal imbalance
As we alluded to in the sleep deprivation point, hormones can play a significant role in whether or not you’re seeing any success on your weight loss journey. Testosterone and estrogen (male and female sex hormones) can play a significant role in burning fat and gaining muscle which can be hindered in a variety of ways depending on the foods you’re eating and the products you’re using.
For more than 20 years, testosterone levels have been declining in general populations and no, it’s not because people are just getting older. Sure, age plays a role in testosterone decline, but diet, muscle mass, activity, chronic stress (which we seem to be getting more of) and toxic chemicals around us are playing an even larger role than we’re willing to acknowledge.
Don’t sleep, hormones are affected. Don’t workout, hormones affected. Eat the wrong foods for your digestive system and body….see where I’m going here?
There are hundreds of hormones giving your body signals every single minute of every single day. They tell you to eat, they tell you when to stop eating and tell you when you’re craving something. Basically anything you think you’re deciding to do, your body is getting a signal from one of your hormones. Get your hormones off kilter and it’s like a set of dominos, one goes and they all fall and next thing you know, your hormones are giving you incorrect signals, you’re overeating while crying in front of the TV watching Netflix and just can’t figure out why the scale won’t move (been there).
5. You’re not eating enough
Given the answer for number one, this one might seem bizarre but it’s true. Despite society telling you to move more and eat less, some people have damaged their metabolism to the point where there is no lower. This is because of the principle of metabolic flexibility or adaptation.
What this means is that your metabolism can adjust based on the amount of food you’re taking in. I’ll use the analogy of a budget, like the episode of the Office when Oscar explains it to Michael. Your mommy and daddy give you $5 to run a lemonade stand but you find out it only costs you $4 to run the stand. Now, you can give the $1 back to mom and dad but then they’ll know next time it only costs $4 to run the stand.
In this example, mom and dad are your body and you running the stand is your metabolism. If you start out by eating 2,200 calories per day but drop down to 1,800 to say lose weight in a caloric deficit, sure you’re going to get some weight loss but eventually your body will realize what’s going on and adjust its daily expenditure so that you’re no longer burning 2,200 calories a day, you’re burning 1,800 and thus weight loss stops. You reduce calories again, repeat the cycle a few times and next thing you know you’re eating half a chicken breast, one stalk of broccoli per day and can’t see the scale move.
Believe me, this is way more common than you think.
What needs to happen instead is begging a reverse diet. Gradually, you start adding more and more calories to stimulate the metabolism into burning more calories so you can burn fat. In a short example, I was once 213 pounds eating 1,600 calories per day. Over two years, I doubled my caloric intake, kept my exercise levels the same and dropped more than 20 pounds. No deficit, just feeding my body to help stimulate the metabolism.
Sometimes you have to go up in order to go down. It doesn’t always work as simple as that, but in that situation you have two options.
Seems like an easy solution to me.
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.