Our bodies are incredibly smart vessels – much to our advantage, and sometimes, as in the case of dieting, to our detriment. Dieting schemes and programs run rife in today’s times as obesity is on the rise, but the statistics attached to long term dieting success are grim, and they simply can’t be ignored. It has been proven that up to 95% of all those who attempt to rigidly diet will gain all the weight back, and more, over time. To solve this enigma, the dieting process needs to be analyzed. There exist a plethora of adverse side effects in the dieting process, many of which most people aren’t aware of. In the bodybuilding world reverse dieting is a well-known concept used for physique competitors after low calorie prep diets to rehabilitate sluggish metabolisms. However, as a result of numerous fad diets and chronic caloric restriction attempts by the average public to achieve quick weight loss, it has become a phenomenon learned nutritional advisors employ in their dieting strategies. I would even go as far as saying that intelligently navigating this “post weight loss” period after a diet is the secret to ending all your weight struggles once and for all.
Let’s take a few steps back, and simplify the argument using a common scenario I see day in and day out. After a few months of low calorie and heavily restricted dieting, Susan achieves her weight loss goal. Susan is extremely proud of herself, for all the sacrifices she has made, and posts her transformation pictures over her social media. She thinks it’s all over, that her goal has been achieved, and that happy days lie ahead. Little does she know her battle has just begun – her metabolism is hanging in the balance. Susan has become wired psychologically and biologically to gain all that weight back, and more. What she does next is critical. However Susan is blissfully unaware of this, and becomes slightly reckless with her diet, letting a few food items slip through here and there. Give it a few months, she looks at the scale and gets quite a shock! How can months of weight loss suddenly be undone so quickly? So what does she do? She’ll make the most common mistake of all – she will try to diet AGAIN. The restrictive, low calorie eating begins again. This process will repeat itself until Susan finds she can’t eat a normal amount of food without getting progressively fatter. It becomes impossible to maintain her weight, no matter how hard she trains or diets.
To understand why the above scenario occurs it is important to understand the science behind weight loss. To initiate weight loss, your body needs to be in a state of “negative energy balance”, or in other words, you need to eat less energy than you burn. Many are able to successfully calorie restrict in this way to lose weight, but unfortunately not many understand what happens next. Caloric restriction affects your metabolism in a number of ways. As mentioned, the human body is an intelligent mechanism, and when a starvation signal is heard, a number of metabolic responses manifest. The metabolism is designed to “adapt” on a number of levels to caloric restriction in an attempt to maintain metabolic homeostasis. In essence, the body begins to slow itself down to cope with the energy gap diets create. How does it do this? Firstly, your vital internal organs begin to consume less energy, thereby reducing your overall basal metabolic rate. In other words, you begin to burn less energy whilst at rest. And it doesn’t end here. Sympathetic nervous activity begins to decline, causing your heart to beat slower. Furthermore, your body attempts to initiate a hunger response with the down regulation of vital thyroid hormones, testosterone, leptin and ghrelin. This hormonal down-regulation serves to stimulate hunger pangs and induce fatigue – a warning sign that your body needs more energy and rest. The thermic effect of food is also reduced, meaning the energy used in the digestion process by the body falls. Your muscles become more efficient and require less fuel for