As a nutritionist and fitness consultant, I am often frustrated with the overabundant message that surrounds us that maintaining a healthy weight either has to come from supplements and “magic potions” or from depriving diets. When in fact, neither of these are good choices to help you maintain a healthy weight. The truth is so simple but mostly goes unheard. Maybe because you can’t sell it as easily as a pill. Who knows? Or maybe it is because people need to feel as if they are doing something drastic in order to see change. However, like most things in our life, change comes gradually, not in one big bang.
Have you ever known someone (or maybe even yourself) who is overweight or obese, yet they are always on a diet? Or maybe you only see them eat salads and healthy foods and wonder to yourself “how can they be overweight when they eat so healthy?”
The answer is that dieting, especially extreme dieting, actually causes you to stay fat. It even can cause you to gain weight. Here’s how:
Your body requires a certain amount of energy in order to function (which we usually measure in calories). First, you have what is called your Basal Metabolism. This refers to the amount of calories you need just for survival. It is the energy needed to pump blood, keep your heart beating, make hormones, send nerve messages, breathe in and out, etc… Second, you have what’s called the Thermic Effect of Food. This is the energy you need to digest and absorb the food you eat. And finally, you need calories for your Physical Activity. This includes exercise, but also includes walking, moving and even fidgeting.
Your exact needed caloric intake is determined by many factors including gender, age, activity level, height, and weight. It is also effected by genetics.
Now, let’s suppose that you require 2500 calories per day to maintain your weight and your current metabolic level (which I just discussed). But you need to lose weight, so you decide to cut your calories down to 1200 per day thinking you will lose weight.
Well here is what happens. Your body, which used to function on 2500 calories per day is now thinking that food is less available because you are taking in such a small amount of calories compared to what your body is used to taking in. Your body goes into what we term “starvation mode” and thinks that it needs to conserve what it has. Your body will now do three things. It will lose some weight due to the calorie loss but this will come from not just fat tissue but from muscle tissue. It will also store more fat tissue because, like our ancient ancestors, it thinks it needs to store energy in times of famine. Our bodies were designed to do this. And the third, most crippling of all, is that your body will readjust your metabolism to learn how to survive on 1200 calories a day, rather than 2500. In simple terms, you are now only needing 1200 calories per day to survive and not 2500. So if you eat more than 1200 per day, you will gain weight. This is the reason why so many “yo-yo” dieters lose weight on their diets, but then gain all the weight back PLUS more when they resume their old eating habits. They go back to eating the same way that they did before, only they now have a much slower metabolism.
The good news is that this vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting can be corrected and you can reset your metabolism to be much higher, once again. The best way to do this is through exercise and balanced eating. Over time, your body will readjust.
So what is the best and healthiest way to lose weight? Stop thinking you have to deprive yourself; you don’t! Create a small calorie reduction in combination with an effective exercise regime. You will lose weight, gradually, but permanently and be much healthier and happier knowing you don’t need to cut out the tasty foods in your life.
For more information on this see my other article, Why You Will Never Lose 20 Pounds in 10 Days…
Wondering how many calories you need? I am currently working on an online calculator for that. However, in the meantime, feel free to contact me via email and I can compute that for you (free of charge and I won’t try to sell you anything!). Or you can visit MyPyramid.gov and create a profile. It will calculate it for you, as well.