We’ve all been there.
You were eating maybe 2000 calories and wanted to lose weight. You dropped intake to 1500-1600 calories. The weight started coming off (yay!). You were holding strong for a few months.
Then it all plateaued. Weight-loss stalled. Maybe it even spiked.
Here you’ve got three options.
Go more into a deficit.
Stay where you’re at and hope for the best.
Come out of that deficit you put yourself in.
Now if I had to guess, speaking both from personal experience and having talked to so many people in this same situation, you did either the first two options, and definitely not the third.
Likely if you did either of the first two options you felt a couple of things over time:
Fatigue or burnout
Worsening sleep (maybe waking up wired at 3am or having to pee a couple times during the night)
Increased reliance on caffeine
Increased cravings and binges
Reduced sex drive
Worsening PMS symptoms for females
Worsening gym performance and recovery
Why is this?
Your body isn’t meant to be in a caloric deficit. It just isn’t.
Your body uses energy for everything it does, from pumping blood to all parts of your body to laughing and dancing with your friends on a Saturday night. This energy comes 100% from food you put in it. If you’re eating as much food that it accounts for all of the energy you expend in a day, then everything is going to be working perfectly (or close to it). If you’re eating more food—and in turn calories and energy—that your body doesn’t need, then your body will store this excess fuel as fat for a later use. Now, if you’re eating less food—and calories and energy—than your body is expending, your body will respond two-fold. While stress is low and your body hasn’t adapted to the new stimulus of this reduced intake, your body will burn excess fat as fuel, causing you to lose weight. However, your body can’t do this forever or else you’d wither away to nothing. Our bodies work on survival mode, so this doesn’t work out. Instead, your body will start downregulating or slowing down nonessential processes that aren’t needed for survival. It’ll slow down your reproductive system, hormone production, appetite, digestion, and more. Most importantly, it’s going to slow down your metabolism to adapt to the new intake. When you drop your intake to 1500 calories, even though your metabolism was set to work off of 2000, your body will soon match its energy expenditure to that new low…which is why your weight loss stops. To lose any more weight in the future, you now have to go into a deficit off of 1500 calories…not 2000.
This slow-down process is a big stressor on your body. Processes aren’t working as efficiently. You’re more prone to injury because energy stores aren’t fully replenished. Stress and cortisol are high. This increases cravings and binges and makes for a pretty poor mindset…raising stress even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
This is why you can’t be in a deficit and can’t diet forever. You have to have planned and programmed periods of time where you’re not in a diet or in a deficit.
Your body and your mind need to recover, and you need to allow it if you want to be successful in other future diets.
After dieting for 8-12 weeks, which is the time we typically see bodies able to sustain deficits without too much adaptation, you have to bring that intake slowly up in what is called a reverse diet. This is the slow, methodical caloric increase from deficit back to maintenance.
“Wait…won’t I gain weight doing that? What if I gain all the weight I lost back??”
Now it is likely you’ll gain a pound or two simply from extra water retention from the increased food, but if a reverse diet is done correctly, by working with an experienced coach, there should be very minimal weight gain and 100% no where close to your initial weight before your diet.
Once you get back to maintenance, you need to hold here for at least a 1:1 ratio to how long you dieted. If you dieted for 12 weeks, then you need 12 weeks at maintenance. Allow time for your metabolism to reset, your hormones to regulate themselves, stress to go down, digestion to improve, muscle composition to maintain. Dieting too soon after the reverse diet process will only get you to that plateau quicker.
This maintenance period is crucial and so important to mindset. Constant restriction is what leads to cravings and binges. If you constantly treat yourself like you’re in a cut and every calorie and macro matters, then you’re always going to have a poorer relationship with food.
Cuts and diets are the time to be restrictive and strict on food quality. This is where you want to consider minimizing processed foods and foods high in sugar. You want to minimize how much you’re eating out to eat because you’re unable to track accurately and this could stall weight loss.
Maintenance periods are your time to be less restrictive. It’s the time you’re supposed to include more alcohol, date nights, nights out, treats, etc. Not only is your intake higher to allow for these added bonuses, but mentally you’re not in a place where you need to be restrictive. Allowing yourself the space and freedom to include treats for 3-4 months (or even longer!) makes times where you are dieting that much easier. It’s much easier to eat foods you love…maybe even a bit too much…6-9 months out of the year and only remove them for your 2-3 month stretch where you’re dieting.
Dieting forever is what takes the fun out of eating. It creates a restrictive mindset and often forces you into an “all-or-nothing” mentality. This is where you develop a poor relationship with food because you’re always focused on the result and consequences of a treat.
To be more successful at weight loss, rather than keep dieting and dieting, you instead need to not diet. It may seem counterproductive but it’s what guarantees success, health, and happiness.
If you’ve been dieting forever and ready to not, apply here for nutrition coaching.