If you feel as if you’ve been “dieting” for years with little to show for your efforts, this article is for you!
Dieting has become a habit for an estimated 100 million people in the United States, many of whom say they diet four or five times a year! Surprisingly enough, the answer might be to — wait for it—stop dieting!
By understanding how your body reacts to dieting, you can make fundamental changes and finally attain that physique you keep starving yourself for!
Outside Your Comfort Zone
Our bodies view dieting as a stress, not some sort of weird Survivor-type fun vacation. It’s stressful, because eating fewer calories than your body needs pushes it beyond its comfort zone—the body-fat percentage (or weight) where your body feels most comfortable.
This is the weight where your body — not you you — feels most comfortable.
To get back into that comfort zone (also known as your “body-fat set point”), your body starts sending all kinds of messages to your brain to tell you to stop dieting. The two big messages it sends are “I’m tired” and “I’m hungry.”
To deal with the calorie deficit your diet has created, your body conserves energy by reducing the number of calories you burn each day. Less calories burned means less energy, so, naturally, you feel tired and lethargic!
To make matters worse, your hunger hormones (leptin and ghrelin) go through an abrupt change as your dieting ways continue. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
The more you consistently you take in fewer calories than you burn, the more desperately your hunger hormones tell your brain that you’re hungry.
Diet Induced Reactions
- Decreased resting metabolic rate
- Decreased thermic effect of food
- Decreased non exercise activity thermogenesis
- Decreased thyroid hormone (T3) production
- Decreased leptin
- Increased ghrelin
Now to explain what this means to your body:
Your RMR Resting Metabolic Rate is the energy required by your body to perform the most basic functions when your body is at rest, Like breathing, eating, circulating blood etc.
Thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expenditure above the resting metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not resting (as above) or sports – like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended by walking to work, typing, gardening, household tasks and fidgeting.
Thyroid Hormones control metabolism, growth, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, kidneys and reproductive system.
Leptin is a hormone that is tied closely to regulating energy intake and expenditure, including appetite, metabolism and hunger. It is the single most important hormone when it comes to understanding why we feel hungry or full. When present in high levels, it signals to our brain that we’re full and can stop eating. When low, we feel hungry and crave food.
Ghrelin is a hormone that is produced and released mainly by the stomach with small amounts also released by the small intestine, pancreas and brain. It has numerous functions and is termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.
How Your Body Responds to Diets
If your goal is to lose a few pounds before a holiday and you use a combination of exercise and eating fewer calories, within a few weeks you should be seeing results. You go on holiday and eat normally….when you return you step on the scales and you’re heavier than before you left! But it probably wasn’t necessarily because you had eaten more food.
Your body has grown accustomed to burning significantly fewer calories during the dieting days. When you started to eat normally, your body literally doesn’t know what to do with those extra calories, so it did what any sensible body would: it stored them as fat for the next time you go on a diet. So the next time you try and lose weight by cutting calories your body your body knows what’s coming and can go into “Operation Energy Conservation”, burning fewer and fewer calories. Even with a harsher diet! And that’s what is commonly known to most as “yo yo dieting” bigger weight gains resulting in harsher diets to try and keep control of your weight!
The answer is to NEVER starve yourself…. dont let the bathroom scale run your life, focus on energy, exercise performance, recovery and well being. This is not a strategy for sudden weight loss but about working toward a healthy more energetic body, a stable healthy weight and feeling great when you look in the mirror.
Breaking the cycle
- Cut back on “weighing in” What you weigh at any given moment isn’t the best measure of your progress, pay more attention to how you look and feel in your clothes.
- Increase your calories slightly If you’re eating a low calorie diet (1200 calories) increase it slightly with healthy snacks of good carbs and proteins, this will give you more energy and your body will respond by ramping up your metabolism…your metabolism will increase if you’re not starving yourself.
- Stay patient, and be consistent As you increase calories, you should start feeling more energetic, which will improve workout performance. The more calories (within reason) you take in, the more you’re able to exercise, which increases your metabolism and helps your body burn even more calories. Plus, once you’re taking in enough calories, your appetite hormones no longer need to send those hunger signals to your brain.
- Give your body a chance Your body weight will find its own happy, healthy weight if you don’t over eat, make healthy choices, stay active, get enough sleep (Sleep-deprived individuals have a decreased ability to manage blood sugar levels and also may find themselves hungrier particularly for high carbohydrate foods), drink plenty of water (Hydrating with water also saves calories and plays a key role in helping to regulate whole-body metabolism) and don’t forget protein (protein intake has a profound effect on metabolism and results in a higher energy expenditure at rest).