The diet conundrum (part 2)

In the part 1 we addressed the issue of metabolic down-regulation in response to prolonged low calorie diets.  We identified that these diets cause the hormones which burn fat, maintain our health, and regulate systems such as our appetite, lower in response to the stress imposed by eating in this way.


In the previous article we used a hypothetical example of a lady who had been dieting consistently for a 7 month period.  After dieting for the 7 months, she ended up with an increased bodyweight with extra fat mass.  Her body also required her to consume fewer calories in order to maintain this heavier bodyweight.


I feel that it is important to note that this type of hormonal/metabolic dysfunction is documented in all body types and is commonplace in society. It is normal to find bodybuilders, figure competitors, athletes, models etc. dieting excessively hard prior to a competition or photo-shoot only to find themselves gorging on junk foods after the event. Going from virtually no carbs, low calories, low fat etc. to drastically increasing calorie intake can see these people go from extremely low body fat measurements (less than 5% body fat in some cases) to actual obesity in just weeks and months. This is the reason you see some people get in incredible shape once and then never seem to achieve the same level of conditioning ever again.  This scenario may not apply to the vast majority of us, but the metabolic dysfunction experienced by the lady in our example certainly does.


Here are 3 positive steps you can take to reverse the ill effects of prolonged exposure to a low calorie diet. Ladies in particular take note:


1>    Train with resistance.

Muscle mass is metabolically active tissue. Active tissue requires energy in order to sustain its function and it is well documented that an increase in just one pound of muscle mass results in an extra 30-50kcal burnt per day with no extra activity or exercise. Add 10lbs of muscle mass to your frame and you will burn up to 500kcal per day extra from doing nothing.


Add onto this figure the calories burnt during the exercise required to build that muscle and you can start to see how somebody’s body composition can dramatically improve with less time investment and less restraint when it comes to eating food


Many women may be concerned about looking bulky or muscular and this is a regularly posed question but this is rarely ever the case. In fact, many women find themselves sporting smaller waists and much smaller figures despite actually gaining bodyweight from increased muscle. Not only that but muscle will add shape in all the right areas such as curving and shaping the buttocks, adding shape to the thighs, narrowing the waist and slim lining the upper limbs. If you are a weak-framed, obese individual and you lose weight without improving muscle mass then you will become a shapeless smaller version of your fatter self, only weaker.  That is all that will come of dieting if you are not intelligent with your training. It is important to note that your body fat should determine your categorisation as obese, not your total bodyweight like some are led to believe. In the view of many medical/fitness professionals you can be categorized as obese despite being underweight.  These kinds of people may look okay to you or I when fully dressed but strip off the clothes and underneath is a flabby, shapeless figure. Aside from mere aesthetics this presents some very real health issues and an all-round increased likelihood of suffering from everything from cancer to heart disease.


Gaining muscle or maintaining muscle whilst dieting is an absolute priority. Fail to do this and you will never look or feel great.   Squatting, deadlifting, split squats, pressing, rows, pull ups etc. will help you look and feel great. Your aim should be to train 3 times per week. Never be afraid to go heavy if your form and mobility are on point. If in doubt hire a coach to show you how to structure and perform these exercises and you will be far more likely to achieve the results you are after.



2>    Slowly increase your calorie intake


If you have found yourself eating very few calories and still struggling to lose any bodyweight you will need to get yourself back up to a good starting point for fat loss. Failure to do this will pin you into a corner and you will rebound as nobody can continue to deprive themselves of food for any significant period of time. If you have been restricting calories for a long stretch of time, even if you are in great shape and very lean it is important that you push your calories upwards at a slow rate. For most this should be no more than 50kcal extra per week. If your weight starts to creep up then it is time to slow the increase.  If it remains constant or even drops then you can be a little bit more aggressive and incorporate a little more in the way of total calories. Individuals who have undergone liquid-only diets or very extreme calorie-restriction diets (such as -500kcal per day) can be so metabolically “damaged” that it could take an increase of just 10kcal per week for as long as 2 years to get back on track without their health or body composition suffering. This is a very real and unfortunate issue. I find it incredibly irresponsible of people to market and promote such diets and even worse for it to be recommended by a doctor, yet this is something I see nearly every week and it is incredibly frustrating. Despite literally thousands of hours of experience, consults and sessions I am yet to see an individual experience long term success from this sort of diet.

Go slow and track your body composition, failure to do so is just guess work. Once you get your calories back to a higher point then you can start to then reverse this to start losing body fat.



3>    Do not go low fat


When dieting to extreme levels or omitting carbohydrates from your diet the biggest mistake people make is to remove or drastically reduce dietary fat. This is the worst thing you can do because eating fats will spare muscle protein.  When body fat levels drop, certain sex hormones (such as testosterone and oestrogen) can drop off.  This can lead to a decrease in vitality, low sex drive, sluggishness, mood swings, depression, infertility etc. When this happens and your motivation drops, you are going to reach for comfort foods and back away from your training and that is when the weight piles back on. Not only this but a drop in these sex hormones will lead to poor performance in your training, your sleep will worsen, your metabolic systems will slow, you may feel constantly unwell and depressed.


Interestingly enough your entire brain is made of fat, as is your CNS.  Most of your major hormones are fat soluble and every cell in your body is coated in a fat membrane. Nature supplies fats in many whole foods such as meats, nuts, milk, fish, seeds, avocado etc. yet we as a nation seem hell bent on removing it from our diets. We have been eating these foods for centuries and have never had an obesity issue as we have now.  When lowering calories or carbohydrates fat intake should actually increase. Aim for 3 servings per day from coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, oily fish, grass fed meats, avocado, full fat dairy , ghee etc. Fat is satiating, nutritious and vital for health. The only fats you should be avoiding are peanut oils, vegetable oils, margarine and hydrogenated fats found in biscuits, cakes, breads, breakfast bars, ready meals etc.


Eat the right fats and watch the body fat drop!