“How did I get here again?” That’s the question you find yourself asking as you step back on the scale for the first time in months. You had done so well, lost a bunch of weight, feeling good about yourself, but you somehow put it all back on… AGAIN. This isn’t the first time it’s happened to you, hell it’s probably not the 4th time it’s happened. But this time you’ve had enough. This will be the last time. You go back to your old routine. You start cleaning up your diet, exercising daily, doing all the right things. “Why isn’t the weight coming off?” It seems like no matter what you do now, dieting no longer works. So, you get a little more extreme, still nothing. Eventually you get frustrated and give up, go back to your old habits, until once again you can’t take it and start over. You’ve tried every quick fix, fad diet, and gimmick you could find but nothing ever sticks. Does any of this sound familiar? You’re not alone.
You probably think the reason it’s not working is because you’ve gotten older. Sure, age is somewhat of a factor, especially for women when menopause starts (I’ve written about this before here) but that’s still not the main reason. It’s actually your long history of dieting that’s making it so tough. In fact, the more times you’ve dieted in your life, the harder it likely is to lose again. (1) It’s not uncommon for people to have dieted on and off most of their life. I have clients who admit they’ve spent the last 25-30 years of their life yoyo dieting. With how adaptive the human body is, losing weight in that scenario will be next to impossible unless you take the time to improve your metabolism, which I’ll cover here soon, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
First, let’s talk about just how well the body adapts to low calories. Remember that your body doesn’t care about achieving low levels of body fat, it cares about survival and when calories are low, those survival instincts are going to take over. Your body becomes very efficient and holding onto what you give it. Your hormones change, thyroid and leptin levels drop, cortisol and ghrelin rise. Not only that but even when weight increases fast, your hormones still don’t return to normal. On top of that you burn less calories from exercise, the thermic effect of food drops and your metabolic rate slows. (2, 3)
In fact, lucky for me the day I sat down to write this article Dr. Layne Norton posted a new study showing how metabolic adaptation happens during low calorie periods. In this study they showed just 3 weeks of a 50% calorie reduction reduced total daily energy expenditure much more than predicted based on the amount of bodyweight actually lost. During this small time frame, total daily expenditure dropped 42%, resting metabolic rate dropped by 40% and non-resting metabolic rate dropped by 48%! (4) Keep in mind this is just a 3 week period, imagine if you’ve done something similar for months or even years on and off? Clearly the body is good at adapting to low calories and this is just one more sign why so few people are able to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
So what does all this mean for you? Well for one it reminds us just how important it is to NOT diet with extreme methods and keep calories as high as possible while still losing weight. It also brings to mind the importance of sustainability of your diet, which is why I believe flexible dieting is much more effective than rigid plans. But most importantly if you’re someone with a long history of dieting the last thing you should think about doing is trying to diet down once again. Yes, I’m saying even if you’re overweight and unhealthy you SHOULD NOT try to lose weight. Wait, what? What kind of a coach/trainer would tell someone out of shape NOT to diet? Well, one who actually cares about your long-term success… If calories get low, if dieting is no longer working, dieting more will only make things worse. So what SHOULD you do then? Well I’ve talked about it before, but this is where reverse dieting comes into play.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here because as I mentioned I’ve covered it all here before, but I do want to touch on it. If you have a long history of dieting, if you’re eating low calories and the body isn’t responding, you’re going to need to take the time to improve your metabolism if you’re ever going to see long-term success. Think about it this way. If you’re eating 1200 calories and not losing, what are you going to do? Eat 1000? 800? 600? At some point it’s just not realistic. I’ll be honest too, reverse dieting isn’t a fast process. It’s going to take a lot of patience, you may gain some weight in the short-term, but the trade-off for an improved metabolism and a LIFETIME of success is well worth the trade-off of short-term frustration. It can’t be any less frustrating then dieting hard and not seeing any results, can it?
Hey I get it, this isn’t what you want to hear. And believe it or not I completely empathize with your frustration. You didn’t know this was happening, you didn’t know you were doing more harm than good with all this dieting. You had good intentions! Unfortunately, that doesn’t change reality and it’s important to operate from a position of acceptance, rather than blame or anger. Now you know better. Now you know what you’re up against. You don’t HAVE to reverse diet and take the time to do things the right way, but if you don’t you’re also probably better off not even thinking about getting in shape. I’m not here to tell you what your priorities in life should be, and there’s nothing wrong if health and fitness isn’t your priority. That is completely up to you. But if it IS a priority, this is your new reality. What are you going to do about it? Starvation diets and extreme methods have never worked, restrictive dieting only leads you to binge. It’s time to give up the quick fixes and start doing things in a sustainable manner. Remember, if what you’re doing to lose the weight isn’t something you can do when the weight is gone, you’re doomed to fail. Break the cycle!
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Colin DeWaay holds a personal training certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He’s the owner of Colin DeWaay Training LLC, an online strength and nutrition consulting business that fully customizes training and nutrition programs for those interested in general fitness all the way up to advanced powerlifting programs. He specializes in helping people with a history of yoyo dieting create a more sustainable healthy lifestyle, improving metabolism through reverse dieting if necessary, and helping make binges a thing of the past by creating a healthy relationship with food utilizing flexible dieting. His goal is not to produce quick results, but to help produce realistic, sustainable results that last.