If you feel like you’ve lost the same 10 pounds over and over and they keep coming back…. you are not alone.
If you feel like you’ve lost weight and it not only came back… you gained more! You are not alone.
If you feel like the diet worked, but then one time out of the plan or list destroyed everything… you are not alone.
If you feel tired of dieting all the time… you are not alone.
I’ve talked about how our body fights fat loss before in a more generic way, and you can find that post here, but today I want to go in to a little more detail about exactly how your body is fighting fat loss, and what you can do about it.
It’s extremely discouraging to feel like you’re dieting all the time, to feel like when you’re supposed to be in maintenance, you’re still hungry, and when you stray from the plan by a tiny bit… it seems like you can’t find your way back.
Our bodies are designed to protect us from fat loss, even when fat loss is the healthiest option. Our bodies have what’s called a set point, which means that the human body tries to maintain its weight within a preferred range. This is not completely static, this changes somewhat throughout life depending on lifestyle, habits, exercise and how we eat, but the fact is that we have a set point, and it’s not always our healthiest weight.
Yes, we can change that, and I’ll go in to detail about that later this year, but for today I want you to know that your efforts seem hard because losing fat IS HARD. Although big diet and exercise companies and wellness influencers want you to believe that you can do it in 21 days, 60 days, or 10min a day… that’s not how this works. If it were easy we’d all be walking around in great health and maybe even sporting six packs. It’s not easy.
And here’s the scariest part: the easier we try to make it, the harder it becomes in the long run.
Fat loss is SIMPLE, but simple is rarely easy.
FIRST, A REALITY CHECK
The fact is that successful weight loss is only successful if you keep the weight off. Losing it and putting it back on is the very definition of a not successful diet. Of the people who lose weight…
after 1 year, only 20% have maintained that weight loss. 80% have returned to previous weight or gained more than before.
after 2 years, only 15% have maintained that weight loss. 85% have returned to previous weight or gained more than before.
after 3 years, only 5% have maintained that weight loss. 95% have returned to previous weight or gained more than before.
If this doesn’t scare you a little bit… it should. If this doesn’t motivate you a little bit… it should. A 5% success rate is AWFUL. A 5% success rate should pump you up to do whatever it takes, not focusing on losing the weight quickly, but to be in the percentage of people who keep it off.
HOW IS YOUR BODY TRYING TO STOP FAT LOSS?
Allright… so now you know how hard this can be. But why???? There are 3 main things your body does to prevent you from losing weight, not only as you diet, but when you stop dieting. How acutely these are activated will depend on how severe the restriction is, how long the diet lasts, and how frequently you diet.
It’s important to know that not all diets have the same defense intensity. The answer is not that dieting is wrong, or any attempt to lose weight is pointless. The point is that losing weight must be PLANNED and EXECUTED correctly, not only the diet itself, but the post diet.
Let’s take a look:
The 3 ways our body simultaneously tries to prevent fat loss and tries to return to a previous set point are:
1. Metabolic adaptation
Metabolic adaptation means our body adjusts to reduce BMR, NEAT, TEF and EA. For a detailed look at these parts of your metabolism, go to this post. In practical terms, this means that:
. smaller bodies (less mass) burns less calories, so BMR is lower. However, when dieting, the reduction in BMR is actually greater than the predicted, and the more restrictive the diet, the greater the reduction. The faster you diet the more you lose lean mass (not fat), and while you are also losing fat, lean mass has a greater metabolic activity, so losing more lean mass means more reduction in BMR.
. preservation of energy lowers NEAT. This is something you can’t control. While you can intentionally increase some movement, NEAT is by definition non voluntary, and that reduces when you intake less energy.
. with less food being ingested, your total TEF goes down, not as a percentage, but as an absolute number.
. less energy intake means less energy expended during EA (exercise).
Metabolic adaptation is not a bad thing. It’s just a thing thing. It’s just what our bodies do because the laws of physics won’t change just because we don’t like them. 😀
2. Restoration of hunger
This means that hunger is greater than the energy that is actually required to restore energy balance, in other words, our body’s hunger regulation systems (including the famous ghrelin and leptin hormones) overshoots hunger. Our fat storage systems are also enhanced under caloric restriction, meaning our body becomes more efficient at storing fat.
If you want a tiny bit more detail, what happens is that when we diet our fat cells reduce in size, not in number, as they reduce in size, they secrete less leptin, which is a major control hormone for many metabolic activities, including satiety. Other hormones are also part of this process, such as the thyroid hormone and ghrelin, but we are not going to go into this extensively here.
3. Prevention of new loss
This means that our body may increase fat cell number if weight is regained too quickly after a diet in order to defend against future energy deficits. Also, when you increase food intake above maintenance (very common after very restrictive days or a very restrictive diet) your body more efficiently stores fat.
This is why crash diets, or extremely low calorie diets tend to have a worse outcome than the original condition. This is also why cheat meals, cheat weeks or losing a lot of weight very quickly and then going on a free for all eating spree will ALWAYS backfire. When weight is regained after a quick loss, our bodies create new fat cells to decrease the possibility of quick loss in the future. This posts gives more details on this.
This third mechanism is so incredibly important because if you don’t do a diet AFTER the diet correctly, what I call an exit strategy, it can really screw up your results. We are always incredibly focused on the diet itself, and that’s important, but not nearly as important as stopping the diet process correctly to give you a shot at being in that 5%.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS
So all this can seem pretty dire, and if you’ve done the lose-gain-lose-gain cycle before you may be thinking all is lost because these systems have definitely been activated in your body.
It’s not all lost! You can lose weight successfully and keep it off, but again, it won’t be easy. Let’s see what you can do.
1. Stop looking for shortcuts
You need to understand that the easier you try to make it for yourself, be it shakes, pills, detoxes and supplements or in more severe cases cosmetic procedures, without a proper plan, execution and exit strategy, you will actually make it harder on yourself. Take a good look in the mirror and don’t approach fat loss for a party next week, a wedding in a month, or a date tomorrow night. Shortcuts lead to road blocks. If you really want to lose weight and keep it off, have a plan for how you will execute it, understand that there will be ups and downs and detours that are part of the process, and more important than anything else, have an exit strategy.
2. Slow down
The best diet is one where you will lose as slowly as possible eating as much as possible. This doesn’t mean losing half a pound (200g) a week, this means losing, on average, 1-2 pounds (.5 to 1kg) a week, remembering that this is an average number, the sweet spot for your body needs to be calculated and tested, but this is a good estimate. What this helps with is with hunger. As we’ve seen, when we diet we feel hungrier, and the steeper the restriction, the hungrier we feel. The key is to find a deficit where you are eating enough to not feel constantly hungry (a little is normal), and also enough that you’re in a deficit.
3. Build muscle
30 min of strength training will do more for your metabolism than 30 min of cardio. I’m not saying cardio isn’t important, because it is. We need cardiovascular training for a number of health reasons, and in no way am I minimizing that, however… all the time we see people doing endless cardio in the hopes of increasing fat loss, and we’ve already seen that our body becomes more efficient over time and burns less energy during exercise. Muscle, however, has a post exercise role: muscle is a very metabolically active tissue in your body, and the more you have, the higher your BMR will be. Exercise has also shown to help regulate hunger and satiety, so that is also a benefit while dieting.
4. Have an exit strategy
I really dislike the “lifestyle not a diet” propaganda we see all the time because it’s been used to sell diets under a cooler name. That being said, it’s important to understand that what GETS you to fat loss is what will KEEP YOU in fat loss, meaning that the premise behind that propaganda is correct.
You need to figure out how to leave the diet, which means that you need to do a diet that frankly you will do for the rest of your life, only with higher energy intake. Let’s look a scenario:
Current reality: overweight and has an eating style composed of rich foods such as pizza, burgers, chips and desserts
Goal: lose weight
Strategy: eat only vegetables, fruit, lean meats and not eat any “processed” foods
Result: lost weight! yay
After diet: fed up with only eating that diet food, and desperately misses their favourite “old lifestyle” foods. Go back to eating them once in while, which soon turns in to all the time.
After-after diet reality: more weight than before diet
This may sound extreme depending on what your eating style is, but it’s actually more common than you think. Your strategy should be one that lines up with your preferences, your values, your priorities, your goal and your current lifestyle. This is not a post about diet strategies, so I’ll simply say that a good diet strategy is not about cutting everything out, it’s about including more.
A good diet is one that, when you exit it, will be roughly maintained with simply MORE food, not a complete change in all the foods you love to eat. For a diet and sustained loss to be successful, you need to be able to adhere to it, if it’s too hard, too expensive, or too incompatible with your life… it simply won’t stick.
WHAT DO SUCCESS CASES HAVE IN COMMON?
There are a few things that we see in common in that 5% of people who successfully keep the weight off:
. Some sort of restraint. Maintaining weight is not a synonym for eat whatever and whenever you want.
. Monitoring. Having something that shows you where you’re at. Like a speedometer in the car, you don’t drive while looking at it, but you glance to check that you’re driving as you should. Successful weight maintenance has some sort of monitoring.
. Exercise. 70% of people who maintain weight loss do some form of exercise. Any exercise is important, building muscle should be essential.
. Support. Environments matter, people matter. The most successful people have worked with a coach and/or have a family or friend support system that is positive (not 10 friends giving you an opinion on how to lose weight).
. Lifestyle. This is a broad brush, but includes types of food eaten, amount of sleep and stress, emotional control, etc.
I want to finish with a very important note. We have seen an increase in self medication when it comes to weight loss, there have also been some very promising medications that have been around. Obesity is much, MUCH more than simply eating too much. Obesity is not about laziness, and the solution does not boil down to eat less and move more. In some cases the lifestyle strategies are not enough, and in those cases, it is important to talk to a doctor that specializes in obesity (usually these are endocrinologists) to asses what medication could work for you. That being said, self-medicating is, at best, a waste a money, at worse, it’s damaging your health. A good nutrition coach or counselor will definitely suggest you talk to your doctor if it seems like you need a medical intervention.
That’s it for today! This is a lot of information, and I hope it helped you find a light at the end of your weight loss journey. If you have any questions or would like support, contact me at email@example.com or fill out my form here.