This issue comes up time and time again in my practice and I was reminded of it again this week. I have had many clients, particularly but not exclusively women, who are afraid to eat because they think they are going to get fat. They have entirely bought into the story we have been told for decades, that the way to lose weight is by restricting calories below what we expend through our daily activity. Not only this, but the more calories we restrict, the faster we will lose weight. They eat less and sometimes exercise more and expect results. The fact is that 95% of diets fail and so clearly the advice we have been receiving is not working!
Here’s the truth about calorie restriction:
When you restrict calories your body will compensate by slowing down your metabolism. In other words, it will start burning less calories and that’s entirely counter-productive.
This is a survival mode that is programed into us because in times of famine we needed to be able to survive and preserve resources. We might know that the fridge and the pantry in the kitchen are well stocked and that the store is just 5 minutes away, but our body doesn’t receive that signal. What it hears when food is in limited supply is that we are in danger of starving and we need to hang on to fat as much as it can and expend less energy.
Ummm, yes, I did say HANG ON TO FAT!!! Not what most people are shooting for by restricting calories is it?
Often people will see initial weight loss in a calorie restriction situation but much of the weight loss will be muscle and not the body fat that they are trying to reduce.
As time goes by, the calorie restriction becomes unsustainable. If you have ever been on a diet or met anyone that has, you know!! Dieters are typically hungry, tired and in a very, bad mood. Eventually they can’t keep it up any longer and they just go ahead and eat (and usually they don’t blow it on salad greens and roasted beets!). Remember, their metabolism is slowed, so any additional calories are mostly going to be stored. Most dieters will regain the weight they lost and then some. And here’s the kicker…most of the weight regained is fat!!
That loss of muscle mass followed by regain of fat might mean the same initial number on the scale because muscle is denser than fat, but the body composition with a higher proportion of body fat is not only unlikely to be what the dieter wanted aesthetically but is also a less healthy outcome. In terms of metabolic rate, fat tissue burns fewer calories than muscle tissue and so the metabolism is slowed further.
Many people feel that they are to blame for not being disciplined enough and so will go back on a diet, maybe consuming even fewer calories than the last one, and so the yo-yo diet cycle begins.
At Ways to Optimize our passion is to get people off diets for good and get them living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle where they feel healthy and happy with their bodies. Get in touch if you want to learn more. We believe in education to empower you with your health.
Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner
Ways to Optimize – Nutrition for the Optimal You!