If you've ever attempted to lose weight, your first thought was probably something along the lines of "I need to eat less and exercise more."
While expending more energy than you consume (AKA a calorie deficit) will in fact result in weight loss, HOW this is achieved can have a major impact on not only the sustainability of your results but also your overall health and wellbeing.
What most don't realize is that the oversimplification of "eat less and exercise more" has likely contributed to more weight gain over time when compared to total weight lost with all dieting attempts put together. This is also why our diet industry is worth nearly $73 billion. If you lose weight, keep it off, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, well that's just bad for the businesses selling diets.
If sustainable and healthy weight loss is what you're looking for, let's break down why traditional dieting protocols typically fail so we can then implement strategies that enable you to successfuly achieve your goals (and maintain them).
WHY DIETS FAIL
The title of this section is actually a bit misleading because in reality the majority of diets do actually succeed in producing weight loss. However, research shows that roughly 90% of dieters regain this weight over time. Failure to sustain weight loss typically occurs because "fad" dieting protocols and flawed weight loss guidelines fail to take into consideration the physiological changes that accompany a reduction in body weight. The main physiological changes influencing weight regain include a reduced metabolic rate and hormonal and endocrine adaptations that increase appetite and suppress satiety.
Human metabolism is a complex dynamic system that can not be deduced to simply "eat less and exercise more." Continually reassessing the factors that influence your energy balance and responding with appropriate dietary accomodations is necessary to maintaining long-term body composition changes.
HOW EATING MORE CAN HELP
Let's look at an example to see how eating more can actually help to maintain or continue to achieve long-term weight loss.
Susie has tried losing weight more times than she can count, and each failed attempt has only made her want it even more. This time she's really determined to shed the weight that has been lingering around her waist and she's ready to do whatever is required to get her there. So, she hops onto MyFitnessPal and inputs her personal information so the app can calculate how much she should be eating in a day to achieve her desired results.
The app then tells Susie that she should be eating 1,500 calories per day and performing 60-minutes of moderate-to-high intensity exercise 4-6 days per week. Little does the app know, Susie has been consistently consuming an average of 2,500 calories per day for the past 2 years with minimal exercise.
After following these instructions for 2 weeks, Susie sees the scale drop by 12 pounds. She's feeling proud and motivated for more results so she continues to eat less and exercise more.
Eventually, Susie notices that weight loss has slowed and she's constantly hungry. One night, she gives into temptation and ends up eating a large pepperoni pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Not only does this make her feel physically ill, but she also feels mentally defeated because she didn't do what she was "supposed" to do and the scale jumped up 6 pounds the following day.
This pattern of behavior continues a little longer until Susie throws in the towel after realizing she's actually at a higher weight than when she started. She blames the defeat on her lack of self-discipline and her motivation to improve her diet or exercise has completely disappeared. She returns to the lifestyle behaviors she had before working towards this goal, and her weight increases a little more.
So, what happened here? One thing that's certain is that Susie's inability to adhere to this diet was not due to her lack of self-discipline.
When you drastically decrease your food intake (in this example, roughly 1,000 calories/day) or increase your energy expenditure, your body is going to perceive this as a threat to your health and fight back. Your body does not know that you are intentionally doing this. Your body does not know that you're dieting because you don't like the way your waist looks.
Susie's brain detected this threat and responded by signaling the body to activate its defense mechanisms in an effort to protect itself. These responses included an elevated production of the hormones that caused her appetite to increase, her satiety to become suppressed, and energy storage to become a priority.
A better method would have been for Susie to have started with a less drastic decrease in calories (~300-500 calories/day) combined with a moderate increase in forms of exercise that she enjoys, for a specific and limited duration of time. If, for example, after 5 months of implementing these changes, Susie loses 12 pounds (a more realistic expectation), then her metabolism and health would likely benefit from a slight increase in calories for a specific and limited duration of time. These precisely manipulated fluctuations in energy expenditure and energy consumption continue until Susie reaches a point where she is satisfied with her body image and health and she feels she can easily maintain the lifestyle behaviors and habits she's worked to acquire over time.
This is just a very general example of how eating less is not always the answer, and nothing is black-and-white when it comes to nutrition or weight loss. Every body has unique needs and changes to one's energy system requires a deep understanding of all the factors affecting an individual's health and wellbeing.
Our bodies are very complicated machines. Get help from educated professionals who truly care about you as a human. Book a free discovery call to start working towards your nutrition goals today.