Do you think your metabolism is broken? Do you feel like you are stuck in a place where you feel as though no matter what you do, you can’t lose body fat. Even if you might feel as though you’re eating very, very little calories.
I did a post on Instagram recently showcasing two photos. The first one with me at the end of the very first reverse diet I ever did. And one at the end of my most recent reverse diet. The two photos show me very, very differently.
One photo shows that I’ve gained a really significant amount of body fat. The other one shows me a much lower body fat percentage. The second photo is pretty much how I look right now. There is a big difference in my metabolism here.
In this particular post, I talk about how I was stuck in a vicious cycle of restricting my calories. I did this for so long, many years ago. I remember I was eating about 1200 calories per day and really struggling to get any fat off.
After some time I found myself in a place where I was eating approximately 1200 calories a day. I was also training 6 days per week, but I did not look like I trained six days a week. I felt stuck and I felt so uncomfortable in my skin.
After posting this photo on Instagram I can see that many of you are also really stuck in this place. I can see that you may be feeling this way and you just don’t know how to get out of it.
Is your metabolism actually broken? Is that what is really happening? or is there something deeper going on here?
News Flash, your metabolism is NOT broken. Even though it might feel like it is not working the way it “should” be.
But Nina then why can’t I lose any weight?
Don’t worry let me break it down for you. Let’s get a better understanding of what is actually happening and why your body is responding this way.
Are you somebody who has been reducing calories or eating very little calories for a very long period of time? But you still can not seem to make fat loss progress?
The first thing you need to understand is that you must be in a calorie deficit to lose body fat. PERIOD. There are no if’s or but’s about that. But what happens is during that time where you have reduced calories?
Something most people are not aware of that our body likes to adapt. Thats right your body does NOT want you to eat less calories. It likes to make sure it stays fed and happy. GREAT right? it makes it that much harder to lose body fat because our bodies dont want us to do that.
You will notice this when you hit what we call a plateau. This is where you no longer see progress on the calories you started on. For example you may start your diet on 1500 calories a day. You then see progress on these calories for a few weeks. This is your metabolic rate (metabolism) adapting.
And after a few weeks, we don’t see any more progress on those calories. We’ve had a fat loss plateau. This is because our bodies are very adaptive beings. They don’t want you to lose fat. They want to conserve energy. So your body will adapt and those calories are now your new normal where you maintain wieght.
Now to lose even more body fat, you have to reduce those calories from that 1500, even further. You maybe have to reduce them down to something like 1300 calories. Then you might see progress for another few weeks or so before you hit another weight loss plateau. The trend then repeats itself. Your body will then adapt to that 1300 calorie intake and that will become your new maintenance.
If you are struggling on 1200 calories a day. And you are in fact eating 1200 calories a day and you’re stuck there. This is because your body has now adapted to these calories and this is your new normal calorie intake. This is called metabolic adaptation. Simply put your metabolic rate or metabolism is adapting.
I know what you are thinking, Yes, it sucks that our body adapts and how does this help me lose body fat? well, it’s important to be aware of it as it’s our body’s survival mechanism. That’s what’s happening. It’s a very normal response to have. This is the response that happens any time you enter a calorie deficit, whether it’s for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, eight months, it doesn’t matter.
For those of you who have been restricting calories for a very long period of time such as six months to a year or more, or constantly trying to restrict, restrict, restrict your body is going to be adapting.
Have you ever gained a large amount of body fat after a dieting/ fat loss phase? maybe gained all the weight back and even EXTRA than when you first started the diet? Why does this happen? Is our metabolism adapting?
When you’ve been reducing calories for an extended period of time, all your body wants to store fat because it thinks you’re going to be in a famine again. And again and again. So it’s like, okay, I think this energy is going to disappear soon again. This is because she keeps taking food away from me. I’m going to make sure I store as much energy as possible.
That’s where the fat re-gain comes in. If you do increase calories quickly after a fat loss phase and especially if you’ve been restricting in a pretty extreme manner, sometimes we actually say that fat cells multiply and not just expand again. You can actually gain more fat cells if you’ve been dieting in an extreme way and you increase your calories too fast.
Now that we understand why we are in a position where we can not get body fat off and you are in fact “stuck”. What do we do?
A solution to this is a post-diet recovery phase, something called a reverse diet. This is important to implement whether you’ve just been dieting for eight weeks or you’re someone who’s really stuck in a place where you have been in a vicious cycle of constantly trying to diet regaining weight restricting again, regaining weight.
If you’re just stuck in a low-calorie intake with weight regained a reverse diet is something we need to implement. What is a reverse diet? that is increasing calories slowly week to week over time. We want our bodies to now adapt to that slow calorie increase. We are trying to increase our metabolism here. So we need to increase it slowly every single week or every couple of weeks, depending on how your body responds and increase that curve of calorie intake, right? This might take three months, six months.
It might take a long time. The recommendation generally is at least half the time of your, your current diet is the reverse diet or even better. It’s going to be the full length of the time you’ve been dieting. For example, if I’ve been dieting for 12 weeks, my bare minimum reverse diet should be six weeks, but even better, it should be at least 12 weeks or more. So it is a slow process. It’s like watching paint dry, and it can be really difficult mentally more than anything, particularly if you’re somebody who’s already in a position where you’re uncomfortable with your body or the amount of body fat you currently have.
But if you’re surviving on very little calories to maintain your weight then you most likely are going to be gaining some more body fat during that Reverse diet phase.
But let me tell you this, being uncomfortable for a short period of time is so worth it in the long run. Because if you continue on this cycle of restricting calories, gaining weight, restricting, you’re not going to get out of it. You’re going to be stuck.
It really does take you to do something you maybe have never done before. Something that you’re not quite comfortable with and stick with it, to get out of that vicious cycle of calorie restriction and weight regain. Then hopefully you don’t ever have to be in that cycle again.
That’s what it was like for me as well. If you look at that “end of that first reverse diet” photo, I had gained a whole lot of body fat. I gained that body fat because I had come from such a restrictive dieting cycle that it was necessary for me to gain that much weight, just to get my calories up to a reasonable level.
This is how my body responded. That’s okay. But the second end of my reverse diet, you can clearly see that I have a much lower body fat level, and I was still able to get my calories right up to around 2100 calories a day. And I still look pretty in shape. I still look reasonably lean and that’s because I’ve allowed a lot of time reverse dieting and spent even more time maintaining on those calories. I have worked with many clients who have been in a similar situation and it’s something that can be implemented for everybody.
But the hardest part of that reverse dieting process and getting out of that vicious cycle of, you know, restriction restriction restriction, it’s more mentally challenging than it is physically challenging because you’re making such small changes to your calories each week, that it’s hard to see that end goal or you’re getting there and nothing’s moving on the scale.
So if anything, your weight staying the same or it’s increasing a little bit, and it’s mentally really challenging, but you have to remind yourself that it’s temporary and it’s necessary to get out of that situation that you are in. And if you do it once properly, okay, you most likely will never have to go through it again in a difficult way.
If you continue to implement a recovery phase or that reverse diet after any dieting period that you have, it will get absolutely easier over time. And you’ll be able to lower your body fat setpoint and increase your calories much easier over time.
I hope that gives you a little bit more clarity on what’s going on with your bodies when you’re dieting. We can now clearly see why you’re stuck on low calories and also how to get out of it with that reverse diet. If you need any more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.