I made a huge mistake.
About two months out from my first competition of this season I cut calories to a drastic low. In the past I always reduced gradually and never hit that low until a few weeks before the show.
I got greedy.
I thought I could accelerate results and save myself the longer slower way. I thought it would get me to show lean faster and then I would just have to maintain it rather than worry as the show got closer if I would drop enough body fat in time.
This foolishness backfired.
I did start to drop weight for about a month. Then everything stopped. The scale didn’t move. I didn’t get leaner. I got frustrated. I cut calories lower.
It didn’t help.
So I ended up on stage about two pounds heavier than I wanted to be and puffy and not my best. It was humiliating and disappointing to say the least.
After the show I didn’t know what to think. I had definitely gone against my better judgement. I know the body can fight caloric restriction and shut down fat loss. Especially when someone is working out as much and as hard as I am.
What I always tell clients is lets keep your calories as high as possible as long as you are losing weight. Why cut them super low if you don’t have to? Eat, be patient and trust the process.
But I didn’t.
Training yourself is tough because you don’t always take your own advice.
Thankfully I have someone in my life I trust who knows diet and training for competitions better than I do. She told me flat out – you are not eating enough. Add more protein.
This time I listened.
I increased calories almost 200 daily with more protein. Within a week the scale was dropping and I looked way better than I had at the show.
She was right. I needed food.
The idea of starving your way to weight loss is nothing new. In fact it has been around so long it is hard for us to let go of that belief. I have some clients who I just cannot convince.
Even I was one of them at one point.
But after trying it both ways I am now completely convinced.
Starvation dieting does not work. Especially when combined with exercise.
There are four main reasons why you should not use a starvation diet.
1. You can’t maintain it. If you can’t do what you’re doing now to lose weight for the next year, you’re better off not doing it at all. There’s science to this. You will fatigue and you will rebound. Hard. Habit and consistency is what leads to lasting change. If you can’t keep it up you will eventually give it up.
2. You will cheat. Take it from me- extreme dieting messes with your head and changes your relationship with food. When you put something off limits it is scientifically proven your desire for it increases. Ever found yourself unable to stop eating something like cookies when you’re dieting? You crack and eat way more than you even want or need to. Forget hunger – you eat so much you don’t feel good. Yea. That’s what happens when you push your willpower too far for too long. Your body is also primed to store fat since you’ve been starving it so you will gain fat easily and fast when this happens.
3. There can be serious side effects. You feel like crap when you hardly eat anything. Yes you do. Brain fog, poor sleep, no energy, irritability. That’s no fun for you or the people around you. On top of that you can damage your thyroid and your metabolism long-term. There is a study that found just four weeks of extreme dieting can cause a slowed metabolism that can last a year or more. That means you will gain weight easily and have twice as much trouble losing it again.
4. It’s no fun. Simply put dieting sucks! The stricter the diet the more it sucks. Sure you can white knuckle through a few weeks but then what? See number 1 and 2 above. It becomes a cycle. You do not need to be punished for your weight. That means losing weight and getting healthier does not have to make you miserable. You can enjoy it. You can have foods you like. You can go to social events. You do have to be mindful and make sacrifices but you get to choose what and how much. Which things to let go of and what you can’t live without. There is no sense in being unhappy and feeling like crap just to lose a few pounds, or even get on stage at a competition.
The first principle of weight loss is calorie deficit. That’s absolutely true. But the level of deficit only needs to be such that you are losing a sensible amount of weight. For most of us that’s a deficit of 250-500 calories a day. This can be created through a combination of diet and exercise.
Most people use more energy than they realize. Your body needs energy just to breathe, digest food and even pump blood to your heart. It takes energy to move your body. The larger your body the more energy used.
The first thing you need to figure out is how much energy your body uses at rest. That’s your RMR. From there factor in your activity level. That’s your daily calorie needs before exercise. Subtract 250 from that and get an hour of exercise 4-5 times a week and you have created a good energy deficit for weight loss.
Starvation dieting is a quick fix that creates long term problems.
The more you do it the worse the consequences. Stop trying to take short cuts and find a plan you can maintain that doesn’t make you hate life. I promise you’ll have better results.
Trust me. I learned the hard way to take my own advice. Lesson learned.