Avoiding the Diet Downfall
By: Jonathan Fass, CSCS
There are quite a few things in life that I prefer over being on a diet: Watching a 24-hour marathon of Barney is one, possibly wrestling Star Jones in a pool of jello is another. Oh, and not being on a diet. Without question, most of us would rather be chained to a front row seat and forced to listen to Celine Dion sing her greatest hits in concert than go through the torture of dieting. To make the experience even worse, you still may not end up with the results that you were expecting, even when it seems that you’re doing everything “right.”
Ask yourself if the following scenario sounds familiar:
You wake up one fine morning and think to yourself “Today’s the day that I lose those last 15 pounds!” You throw out your Girl Scout cookies, lock up the Cap’n Crunch, and spend the next few weeks munching on carrot sticks and rice cakes. All is going well until one day, it suddenly isn’t. Your weight loss has come to a screeching halt, a lot sooner than you had planned. Day after day the scale refuses to budge, and nothing that you do can coax it back into cooperating. You cut calories, but nothing happens. You change up your carbs and fats, but still nothing happens. And then suddenly and inexplicably, you actually start to gain back the weight!
When it comes to dieting and weight loss, Mother Nature can throw more curve balls at you than Mike Mussina in the top of the 5th inning. After all, your body loves its fat, and it’s been programmed to do everything that it can in order to keep it. It’s a winning formula that has kept your family tree growing for hundreds of thousands of years: as you decrease calories, a cascade of hormonal changes and adjustments takes place in your body, most notably decreases in Leptin, Testosterone, and thyroid hormones. These changes slam the brakes on your metabolism, and your fat loss in the process. Welcome to the “starvation mode,” a very real phenomenon that most dieters know all-too-well. But with a few tricks and some careful planning, you can still outsmart Mother Nature and hit one out of the park. And it’s actually a lot easier than you may think.
If you’re currently struggling with your metabolic rate, the best way to stop the downward plunge is to eat more – a lot more, actually, back to your maintenance calorie level, which is the intake at which no weight change occurs. At this point, your metabolism has crashed as a result of eating too little for too long, so now you’ve got to set it right again. First, calculate your maintenance needs, which is normally 14-16x your body weight in calories. For example, a 200 lb. individual will need somewhere between 2800-3200 calories to maintain weight, depending on muscle build, activity levels, and of course, genetics (knowing which end of the scale you’re on will take a little trial and error, and of course with every calorie approximation your actual needs may be somewhat different). Now, begin to increase your calories slowly to this number, at a rate of about 5% every day, shooting for a basic 40/30/30 split of carbs/protein/fat (for the 200 lb. individual in the example, it will take him about four days to make up an original deficit of 500 calories using this method). Once there, stay there for one to two weeks while your body readjusts to your new intake. If you do it right, this should result in minimal or no actual weight gain. Meanwhile, you’ve given your body the opportunity to “recharge” your metabolism and to return your hormone levels to normal, a winning combination when it comes to weight loss.
Now you’re ready to hit the dieting road again, better than ever. However, your job isn’t over yet. No matter what diet you choose, whether it’s low carb, low fat, South Beach or Zone, or anything else on the menu, your body will inevitably resist your efforts once again, and you’ll find yourself in the same predicament that you were in before. So this time, you’re going to take periodic breaks, once every six to eight weeks or so. Just long enough to lose a few pounds, but not so long that your body goes into a panic again. Just like your metabolic re-charge, you’ll want to slowly get back to your maintenance calorie level, and stay there for another week or two. At that point, you can evaluate your progress and decide where to go from there: more dieting, maintenance, or a cycle of bulking. It’s entirely up to you.
With a little planning, and a better method of attack, your hard work and efforts will pay off in the end. I can’t promise you that you still won’t hate dieting, but I can promise you that this time, you won’t hate the results!