For me, I distinctly remember high school being the first time I consciously “watched what I ate.” It was my sophomore year, and I decided to add track to my regular sports of soccer and basketball. Track is when I noticed how food helps you or hurts you with performance. After nearly vomiting my Snickers bar and mini pizza with ranch dressing during a meet running the 400, my coach gave me a paper with a list of foods that were “OK” to eat and ones that were not. The specifications were what was easy to digest without delving into other aspects of nutrition. I would love to give talks to young athletes about the importance of proper nutrition past the point of “don’t get these things because you could throw up” but I digress…
From that moment, there were more and more instances my friends or my friend’s parent’s talked about their “diet.” They wanted to lose x amount of pounds; they had a wedding coming up, a beach vacation, the list of reasons were endless (not many had to do with health unfortunately which I think was half the problem). They would say they only were going to eat lettuce and drink water. They would joke about “wiring their mouths shut.” In college, my friends would have the “gummy bear and soda diet” where they only had that for the week they studied for finals in hopes they would still have energy from the sugar but lose weight due to the calorie deficit. Bottom line- for as long as I can remember- the equation to weight loss was simple.
So does this work? No. Why? Because from an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies are built to survive. Have you ever thought “Gee, I’m eating the same amount that I did when I lost that first 25 pounds, but now I’m not losing another ounce! Must be that I’m getting older.” And then most people slash some more calories. Weight loss picks up again, stalls, slash more, more cardio, now we are at a grim 900 calories per day (or even less!) with one of more hours of activity and weight loss stalls again. You will end up in one of two places: 1. Reaching your goal without being able to sustain it because you are at 900 calories per day with over an hour of training to maintain with a crappy metabolism and a lacking amount of muscle mass. 2. Unable to get to your goal because you can’t possibly eat any less or move more and the scale isn’t budging, so you blame genetics and give up.
Your body will adapt so it can efficiently use calories over time. It will cling to fat stores to stay at homeostasis (your body’s “sweet spot”). You need to tell your body it is ok to let go of the fat stores because you PROMISE it will get food again. Your body believes action speak louder than words, so it will not only need you to promise, but it will need you to SHOW it. You will need to start adding calories back in and consistently show your body enough food. The best way to do that is to take what you are currently consuming and incrementally add carbohydrates and fats slowly. In a range of 5- 10 grams of carbohydrate and 2-5 grams of fat per week depending on how your body tolerates the change. If you jump the gun and skyrocket your calories, you will store the excess as body fat. Slow and steady. When you are on a hypocaloric diet for an extended length of time, your body is just waiting for the moment it gets extra food to sock it away.
I know this is scary. Everyone thinks that by eating the extra amount of food, they will blow up! They are only maintaining or gaining on what they eat now! Karey, you are insane! You need to understand adaptation and know you won’t be able to keep slashing calories. You will have to add calories back in. One of three things will happen when you do- you will continue to maintain, you will have a slight gain but then be set up for weight loss that will shatter your previous plateaus,
The hardest part for people is trusting the science of it all. If you are stuck, what you have been doing is NOT working. It is time to try something else. When you do, give it a chance wholeheartedly for a fair amount of time. I love using the 16-week timeline and assessing at each 4-week interval with comparison progress photos and weekly assessments in between using more factors than just the scale. Keep an open mind. Don’t blame all weight gain on a few extra calories and discount any other possibilities. Relax, get rest, and fuel your body. You will be amazed at the change if you stay consistent and patient.
Let’s slowly change the myth