It is obvious how to lose weight in the short term. Ask any wrestler, bodybuilder, or boxer how to make weight and they will tell you how to drop fifteen pounds in two days. A mix of restricted calories, vigorous exercise, and a few magical dehydration methods will change the number on the scale so fast you won’t have time to blink. In fact, if I wanted to make a quick buck, like many others in this multi-billion dollar fitness industry, I would easily create a diet and supplement plan that would have every single one of you down seven pounds in seven days. But really, what good is it to lose weight that you will gain back as quickly as you lost it? Is ‘losing weight’ really even your goal?
Let’s visualize for a second and think about an actress on the red carpet. As you speculate and dissect every inch of her body do you once think about how much she weighs? NO. You study how healthy (or unhealthy) she looks, the shape of her physique, her beautiful glowing skin, and the radiant energy that she portrays. This, my friend has very little to do with the number on the scale.
You see losing weight is the wrong goal to focus on if you are looking for fat loss, body composition change, and long-term success. If your only interest is decreasing the number on the scale and you don’t care where the weight comes from, how long it stays off, or whether you harm yourself in the process, then it is safe to say that a low calorie diet and crazy cardio plan may actually be practical for you. But, if you are looking for long-term fat loss, lean muscle gain, a healthy body, and beaming energy, then keep on reading…
I am hitting this subject hard because this concept of ‘weight’ traps so many of us in a self-destructive prison. Most people let these suggesting numbers define their progress, motivation, health, and success when really it doesn’t have a darn thing to do with any of it. More importantly, the process in which most people are attempting to ‘diet’ and make a positive shift in this category, is the very reason why the number on the scale keeps creeping higher and higher with each attempt.
If you have ever had a battle with the scale, my more then educated guess is that you have ambitiously attempted to lose weight by eating less and exercising more—calories in, calories out type of method. You have taken this route because this is what EVERY BOOK, HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, MAGAZINE, or NEW DIET has instructed you to do, right? Let me keep predicting—you started a very low calorie diet and immediately dropped a few pounds during the first two weeks. You may have kept this decently substantial weight off for a small amount of time— I’m going to guess two to eight weeks max, and then BOOM… Dumbfounded, you helplessly watched as your physiology started to outplay your vigorous eating and exercise efforts. As the days went by those numbers on the scale steadily stood still and eventually, started creeping right back to where you began.. Even worse, you ended up gaining more weight then you started the diet with!
Trust me when I say, I have stood on that scale just like you have. I have cut my portions in half, I have eliminated carbs, I starved and binged, I have done hours of cardio, I have destroyed my own hormones and body through the process. Shamefully speaking, I have even led numerous previous clients to get super quick results, only to watch them plummet down hill faster then I could turn around weeks later…This is because I too, was taught that this more than simple energy in—energy out caloric model was the only way to results.
Until finally, I GOT IT RIGHT… The research and practice that I have done in the last year and half have made it pretty darn clear that it just takes a basic understanding of the bodies hormones, metabolism and ‘defense/starvation’ mechanism to realize our constant struggle of weight loss has little to do with willpower and everything to do with strategizing our body for fat loss rather then weight loss. Why we as a society are not aware of this, who knows but lucky for you, I am going to break this morbid misconception of weight loss down in the most ‘laymen term’ version that I possibly can.
After reading this blog, you will understand why every fad-diet and new eating phenomenon that focuses on the fallacy of weight loss will have you destined to fail before you even get started. You will understand why 95.4% of diets are unsuccessful long term, with 66% of them resulting in weight regain; you will learn what actually happens inside your body when you go on a low calorie diet; and most importantly, my follow up blog will teach you exactly how to target FAT LOSS rather then WEIGHT LOSS. I am confident that this knowledge will permanently free you from your yo-yo dieting habits and life-long obsession with the stupid scale.
What Actually Happens…
Pick up any main stream diet book, sit in on any college nutrition course, or personal training seminar and the first thing they will teach you is The Law of Thermodynamics. This states, “Energy can not be created nor destroyed it can only change forms.” For years this has been translated into the reasonable assumption ‘if you just eat less, and exercise more, you will put your body in a caloric deficit state, so you MUST burn fat. Well, lets think about it… This law of physics tells us that when we are in a state of caloric deficit our body has to do something and yes, this is true. However, the physical laws don’t tell us what our bodies have to do, and they certainly don’t tell us that our body has to burn fat. When we bring biology into the picture and look at what study after study has shown us, we find that five significant things happen when we go on a reckless caloric deficient diet”
We Burn Muscle Tissue: Your body has one main function and that is to keep you alive. When it senses any kind of threat especially from caloric deprivation your survival responses kick in. No, this does not happen from not eating breakfast or missing a meal every once in a while; I am talking about a continuous process of receiving less food on a daily basis (aka a caloric-restricted diet). Your complex and redundant series of defense mechanisms within the body will do whatever it takes to protect you from what it thinks is starvation. One of these processes includes ridding the body of ‘calorie hungry’ tissue (meaning muscle) so that your body can preserve its fuel. This is because your body has no way of knowing how long it will go with less food. Take a look at this statistic…
“On a very calorie restricted diet, when you lose five to ten pounds on the scale, 70% of that weight is most likely from water, 15-20% is most likely from lean muscle tissue, and that last 10 to 15% might come from actual body fat” -American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
This is not just a little bit of muscle tissue that we are talking about, it is a sufficient amount that you strip away when dieting. There are many tricks that you can follow to prevent this from happening while still putting your body at a caloric deficit and I will go into further detail in my next blog.
Our Metabolism Slows Down: When we eat less our body does not say “Yes you are feeding me less, I must burn fat,” it reacts like this. “Oh no, less nutrition I am starving! Time to slow down, hang on to protective body fat, and burn calorie-hungry muscle. This hormonal driven event is an ancient human survival mechanism that remains with us today. It was an ideal survival tool for early humans who had no guarantees as to where their next meal would come from and how substantial that food would be. Studies have shown that the metabolism can slow up to 40% on a calorie-restricted diet.(1) If we want to keep fat off of our body and improve our health we know that 40% slower metabolic rate is not going to do the trick. On top of our internal functions moving slower because of the lack of fuel (also causing you to feel lethargic), we also have to take into account the muscle tissue that is being stripped away during this process. Just think about it, your metabolism is taking a double hit here having less food to burn and less calorie burning muscle in the body!
Our Hunger and Cravings Increase: As you decrease your food intake when dieting, the body responds with a lowering of metabolism and a slow drop in the hunger hormone leptin. This is great for a short period of time, perhaps 3 to five days, but if extreme calorie deprivation continues for a week or more, it will eventually cause raging hunger and relentless food cravings. This is why the first few days of a low calorie diet are effortless to follow! On extreme diets in the following days, you may become ravenous almost like you can’t control your hand from scooping another eight bites of peanut butter (wait maybe that is just me and peanut butter), but when famished you truly have little constraint over your own body. This happens because of the dozen of hormones that control your sense of hunger and fullness. When you just attack calories, instead of focusing on leptin, insulin, cortisol, dopamine and serotonin, hunger is going to be your constant companion.
Negative Hormonal Shifts Happen: So your lean muscle is getting stripped away, your metabolic rate is becoming slower, you have less energy and more hunger —all because these chemical messengers inside your body called hormones, are doing their necessary task to maintain homeostasis and keep you alive. Fortunately this protects you from dying but unfortunately this makes it super difficult to lose FAT and keep it off. I will list three negative hormonal shifts that happen when restricting food:
-Thyroid, specifically (T3) and (T4) levels quickly decrease especially with the elimination of carbohydrates. These hormones not only regulate your metabolic rate but they also control fat loss.
-Leptin, the hormone that sends a signal to your brain telling it that it has received (or has not received) enough food drops significantly. Your body then does not receive the message to stop eating and start burning. Huge problem in obese people as they become leptin resistant and their bodies internal processes are in constant survival mode.
-Cortisol. the muscle-wasting hormone produced by your adrenal glands in response to many types of physical or mental stress (including dieting), chronically increases signaling to your body to store the fuel coming in as fat. (Specifically around your mid-section).
We Increase Our Chance of Weight Regain: On a calorie-restricted diet almost everyone loses weight in the beginning. But as stated above, when weight-loss comes to a stand still and hormones start lashing out, most people throw in their towel and give up. And actually this is smart because you can not win a battle against your physiology. As you push against your metabolism it will push back even harder every single time just like a constant game of tug-of-war. Oh and let me remind you one more time that you will not win. Also, because of your slower metabolic rate and energy conserving internal environment, your body is primed to regain weight more easily and allow you to become heavier then when you even started. This is called adaptive thermogenesis. Like most people, you eventually will get sucked in by the latest fad- diet and repeat this whole yo-yo diet cycle all over again, each time working with a less efficient metabolism, and each time ending your efforts with more weight then you started.
So after looking at our biology, what this Law Of Thermodynamics (the law that almost every diet is based on) has proven—is that if we just exercise more and eat less, we actually set ourselves up for long term weight gain and harm our health. That is why diets have been PROVEN to fail 95.4% of the time.
What does work is refining our approach to dieting by working around our efficient bodily defense mechanisms and supporting our hormones. By optimizing leptin, regulating insulin, balancing out cortisol, turning on dopamine and serotonin—our body will not only lose weight but we will become more healthy and easily able to change our body composition. If you are like I was when discovering this information, you are probably feeling a little uncomfortable and confused. It just doesn’t seem possible that this paradigm that we have followed for so long doesn’t actually work.That is why in my next blog, I am going to teach you how to support and overcome your bodies efficient defense mechanism and end your redundant weight loss efforts for good. Stay tuned.