The perpetual dieter never has the time to do it right the first time, but they always have the time to try a fast fix over and over and over. As Americans, we spent over 65 billion dollars last year in weight loss programs and diet aids. Sadly, the time and money spent on these efforts will most likely be in vain as numerous studies have shown that 95% of those who lose weight at a given point will regain all of not more within five years. What if there is no such thing as a “successful diet”? What if we are chasing after a perfect method of weight loss that doesn’t even exist?
Hold on, I promise you that I am not here to tell you that we are destined to be unhealthy or unhappy with our appearance for the rest of our lives. On the contrary, it is entirely possible for us, especially as athletes to have a lean, athletic physique, to perform well and to be healthy without deprivation.The magic pill is simple and available to us all: it is the combination of equal parts knowledge/commitment and trust in the process. It may sound too good to be true, but I have experienced it personally and have had the pleasure of witnessing the transformations first hand with client after client. Does it take hard work and patience? Absolutely. Does it produce real, sustainable results? Undoubtedly.
I am fortunate to work with predominantly CrossFitters, who as you know are by nature hardworking and very committed individuals. They also tend to have a healthy amount of “trust in the process” (not just anyone would willingly do burpees and bear crawl around the gym in pursuit of fitness…..). The portion of the magic pill that has been missing for most of my clients is knowledge, specifically an understanding of metabolic function.
What has been astounding to me (though I can completely relate to it!) is the trend toward restriction. The vast majority of athletes that I have helped have come to me in a repressed metabolic state with a higher than desired level of body fat. This state has stemmed from years of caloric restriction coupled with periods of either big “cheat” days or overfeeding triggered by being severely calorically deprived and expending too much energy in the gym.
I do have some very good news for those of you that see yourselves in this boat. Your metabolism is completely repairable. You are not broken forever. You can eat A LOT and be lean. You can remain properly fueled for your workouts and have the muscle definition you desire without terrible cravings.
Let’s talk science for a moment because this is fascinating. Metabolism as it relates to the energetic requirements of the body is comprised of several components, all of which adapt or down regulate in periods of caloric restriction:
1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The largest component of our daily caloric expenditure, this refers to the number of calories your body uses completely at rest. This is dependent on many factors including age and lean body mass. BMR is also affected by the efficiency of our cells’ mitochondria in the production of ATP and the efficiency of microbe nutrient extraction in the gut (both of which use less energy when our body is in a state of caloric deprivation).
2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The “cost” of digesting food and turning it into energy. This equates for roughly 10% of the daily calories consumed and so is obviously lower during periods of caloric restriction.
3. Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT): Amount of calories used during exercise. This is generally lower during periods of caloric restriction when we don’t have the ability to give 100% to our exercise endeavors.
4. Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): The energy we expend moving about throughout our day. This includes doing chores, getting from point A to point B, fidgeting, toe tapping and even standing in line. Most people subconsciously reduce their daily amount of NEAT when in a caloric deficit. We tend to lounge around a bit more especially when the deficit is large.
Additionally, very important hormones such as ghrelin (which regulates hunger response), leptin (which regulates energy output) and thyroid are negatively affected in periods of caloric shortage.
You see, our body is much smarter than we are. When it senses that it is in a calorically restricted state (which can take as little as 3-4 days) it begins to make adaptations to lower metabolic rate. The larger the deficit, the greater the adaptations will be.
Imagine a well intended athlete who wishes to get shredded slashes calories drastically for a period of time and maintains (if not increases) his/her expenditure at the gym. Although he/she may initially see a shift in the scale, his/her body will eventually adapt to the new intake and down regulate metabolism. The athlete will establish a new, lower metabolic rate (with potentially less muscle mass!) and the weight loss will stall. The athlete will then need to slash calories even more to see the scale drop again, thereby setting him/herself up for an even lower metabolic rate. You get the pattern. Now imagine the athlete has an epic cheat week (after all of that deprivation he/she can’t take it anymore!). He/she currently has a much slower and less healthy metabolism that is unable to use the surplus in calories for immediate energy expenditure so his/her body will then inevitably store the excess energy in adipose (fat) tissue. A few pounds “fluffier”, but “back on the wagon”, the athlete will begin the vicious and crippling cycle all over again.
This all too common story can have a happy ending however. My wish is that this little nugget will change your life as it has for so many of my clients: Metabolic Adaptations will happen in the opposite direction too. In time and with methodical increases to daily calorie consumption, metabolic rate will be restored. In a sense, we can train our metabolism to be robust and capable of using all of our daily intake (including a treat here and there!) to optimally fuel our workouts as well as to keep us energized and alert and feeling our best. No gimmicks required.