It’s that time of year again, and the 66-billion dollar industry that is “weight loss” is getting its annual boost in sales. Working in the gym is a great avenue to find out what everyone is doing and what they hope to accomplish with the newest, latest, and greatest product. In some ways, this time of year feels nostalgic.
For fourteen years of my life, I was a yo-yo dieter. I was always either getting ready for a body building show or trying to gain size. My first diet was an 1800-calorie diet, and I lost twenty five pounds in twelve weeks. I felt like shit the whole twelve weeks. It required low carb foods, low fat foods, and lots of protein. I ate the same thing almost every day.
For my third diet, I had recruited the help of a biochemist who had me eating 3500-calories—lots of protein, moderate carbs, and low-fat. This was a lot of food. I lost thirty pounds in twelve weeks and felt pretty good. Unlike my first diet, I didn’t lose so much muscle mass, but it was just so much food.
Beyond that, most of my diets were in the higher calorie range and I normally worked out two to three hours a day. Fast-forward to my last show. I could only lose fifteen pounds and my body fat was up around 8%, unlike my early shows where I competed around 2%.
What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the slowing of my metabolism over time because of all the dieting I had done. I’ll explain this a little later.
There was an article in the Washington Monthly a couple of years ago about “The Biggest Loser” where a scientist followed the contestants for six years after their final night(s) on the show, The goal was to see what happened to people after losing large amounts of weight using intense dieting and exercise, What they (once again) found was that the metabolisms of these contestant had drastically slowed down. They slowed down to the point where the contestants weren’t burning enough calories to maintain their new, thinner size. This is very counter-intuitive, so let’s talk a little bit about how it works.
If you were a car, a ‘69 Impala, which was my mom’s old car, and you put two dollars worth of gas in and then tried to drive from Ivy to Richmond, when you got just outside of town the car would run out of gas and stop. But your body, unlike this car, is super smart and when we don’t give it enough fuel it slows down its processes instead of running out of gas in order for you to go where you want to go and do what you need to do. The big problem with this is it’s very hard to get it running again at a normal rate.
Earlier in this piece, I told you that the number calories that I dieted on to get ready for a show was around 3500-calories. This is not a number that says deprivation, but quite the opposite. For me, it was almost too much food. Knowing that my goal was to not slow my metabolism, but to speed it up, I had to keep it fueled like a fire. Sadly, over the years I have been caught in the low-calorie trap a couple of times with dire consequences. Each time, I regained all the weight that I had lost, and then some. On top of that, I also lost muscle when I lost weight, so what I gained back was not calorie-burning muscle, it was fat, which just took up space.
In addition to this, as we get older, our caloric needs decrease and our metabolic rate slows down, making weight-loss even harder. It seems like the cards are stacked against us, but with some tweaking of what you do and some patience, any goal can be met and maintained.
There are several points to take from all of this:
The first and arguably most important: stop doing fad diets—they are built for you to fail. If it has an end date to it, then that’s the date your failure starts. Get better habits; good habits have no end date to them and they won’t fail you down the road. Habit-based eating plans are built for success, as they tend to conquer the root problems that cause the bad habits in the first place.
Eat throughout the day. In other words keep, putting wood on the metabolic fire, and don’t let it go out. You should be hungry every two and a half to three hours, and if you’re not, your metabolic rate has slowed down. Sometimes putting in small meals or snacks even when you’re not hungry will reignite your metabolism. This may sound crazy, but your body likes to know that it’s going to get fed, and as long as it does, it will run.
Move more! Body fat hates heat. Get up and move more. Get your heart rate elevated and see if some good things don’t start to happen. And build some muscle. It takes more calories to maintain and move muscle around. Most people would benefit from adding some muscle mass to their frame, not just for weight management, but also to counteract the natural loss of muscle as we age. The more muscle you start with or build as you get older, the better off you will be later down the road. Keeping up your strength and stamina will help to keep your metabolism elevated.
Remember lifestyle changes are never a quick fix, but it’s the fix that lasts. Every decision you make will affect you in the long term either positively or negatively, so take your time, start thinking long-term, and your outcome will be better. There is no cool, flashy, or hip way to get the body you want long-term, it’s making sound choices every day.
I understand that lifestyle change is difficult, and like with anything else in life, without people who have been where you are to help you go forward, it’s almost impossible to make good decisions. So as usual, I’m here to help. If you have questions or need help, feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.