Many of us have been playing this game with our bodies for quite some time. I started dieting in high school and got SUPER skinny to the point I was 104 lbs. I know some women who have started even younger!
Most of us think that weight loss is a linear relationship with calorie burning. Greater the burn, greater the weight loss. If a little is good, then a lot must be better.
Years of chronic dieting, slashing calories, and beating our self up for every last bite of something ‘bad’ we ate has left us in a rrrrreally bad spot.
Ever realize that we don’t ever lose weight in that linear fashion? I mean if calories in – calories out = weight loss, don’t you think we would have seen it by now? Or do you think lack of willpower, dedication, or motivation is the issue?
Ever think, “what’s wrong with me? I’m exercising 2 hours a day, hardly ever eating anything – why can’t I lose weight?”
Well, let’s talk about WHY this may be happening…
We’ve heard a thousand times that “we’re hardwired for stress and survival.” But what does that even me?
It means that our body’s natural inclination is to ‘store up’ when the going gets tough.
These tough times include anything that has activated our stress response. We know this and have heard it a million times, yet we still don’t apply it.
Why? Because we’re still bombarded with resilient diet marketing that lures us to kill ourselves in the gym and sustain off slim fast shakes. We’re still bought into the myth that the ONLY law governing our body composition is calories in = calories out.
To be clear, I’m not saying that calories don’t matter – of course, calories matter – you MUST create a calorie deficit to lose weight.
But our hormones ALSO matter – especially if you are a modern woman taking on 3-5 different roles (mom, career woman, caretaker, CF athlete, etc) while simultaneously dieting and over-exercising.
What do our hormones have to do with it?
Our metabolism is comprised of hundreds of hormones that feed off of each other through positive and negative relationships and thus affect down stream processes. In other words, what is coming in, affects what is going out.
“Your metabolism is a fluid, dynamic, and adaptive orchestration of hormones.”Girls Gone Strong
Think of our metabolism like a rubber band – we need just enough tension in order to make it move. Too much tension and the rubber band will snap. Same goes with our fat loss – we need just enough of a deficit to get a result, but too much and our metabolism adapts to keep from wasting away.
We see this a lot with yo-yo dieters who have essentially dieted themselves to being overweight.
Over the course of strict dieting and rebounding, we’ve likely gained more fat mass and less lean muscle and tissue mass than before we started. This is a serious issue because now we’re left with a lower capacity to burn fat.
The thing is, fat gain is a symptom of being under-nourished, nutrient-depleted, hormonally imbalanced, and over-stressed. To lose fat, we first have to reverse these deficiencies.
What to do next: The secret to successful fat loss
It’s important to know that everything that we’ve mentioned above can be reversed within reason.
Typically, the longer we’ve been chronically under-nourishing and over-stressing the body, the longer it may take to recover.
But first, we need to make sure that we are at a good starting point:
a) before starting a fat loss diet, ensure that intake has been at maintenance for at least 3-12 months. The longer we’ve been chronically depleted, the longer we’ll need to reverse diet and hold at maintenance macros. Not sure where your maintenance intake sits? Hire an experienced coach.
b) dial back the high intensity / high volume exercise. If we are exercising upwards of 2-3 hours/day and we’re not a competitive athlete, then it’s time to dial things back. Try to decrease exercise by 50% each week until you’ve reached a manageable level. We recommend strength training at least 3 x/week, yoga or body weight exercise 2 x/week along with an average of 10k steps/day.
During this process, it’s very likely that we will gain weight. But the weight is likely from lean muscle mass, organ tissue, glycogen replenishment and water. All things necessary for a properly functioning body that was likely depleted during all the years of dieting and over-exercising. This weight gain should be welcomed as it is the first step to being able to lose fat in the next step of the process.
After months of increasing intake and reducing expenditure, we are ready to lose some fat:
The key to losing fat successfully goes back to our rubber band analogy: we need just the right amount of stress on the metabolism to get the results we want. But if we push it too far, then it snaps back at you.
a) reduce calories in small increments over a 3-4 month period. We like to start at a 10% decrease from maintenance intake for the first 3-4 weeks and decrease by 5% every 2-3 weeks after that.
b) keep exercise volume and intensity low during the duration of the cut. Exercise can add a large amount of stress to the body, we don’t want to be increasing weights, increasing volume, or trying to progress in our strength or fitness level. The focus with training should be about maintaining musculature, fitness, and health.
c) maintain NEAT. Neat is easily measured and quantified by the number of steps we take in a day. We recommend maintaining 10k steps/day (or whatever goal you achieved during maintenance that best fits your lifestyle) and only increasing by 30-50% towards the end of the cut if necessary.
d) only cut for roughly 3-4 months at a time with about 3-4 months in between each cut to reverse back up to maintenance and recover. We should never be cutting for more than this and if we are, then we risk running into the same problems that brought you here in the first place.
Still not convinced?
You’ve likely heard many fitness professionalsclaim that “you have to eat more to lose weight,” but doubt that this advice is right for you. I hope that with this article you’ll have one more datapoint to help you try your hand at this new way of thinking.
I promise you that there is a reason we charge a premium to coach women in their fat loss goals. There’s more to this fat loss and health thing than just eating less 😉