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.
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.