Conventional dietary wisdom has always recommended eating less and exercising more if you want to lose weight. In theory, this makes sense – burn more calories than you eat, and the pounds will come off.
But there’s often a major drawback that develops when you go too far with an extreme diet, says Dr. Danny Shahad, board-certified surgeon and founding medical director of the Center for Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“Patients follow these extreme diets where they really deprive themselves of calories to the point where your body goes into starvation mode, and that’s the counterproductive part,” he says.
By setting starvation, Shahad refers to an evolutionary mechanism that developed “thousands of years ago when we used to be hunters and gatherers and had no refrigerators.” At the time, it was not uncommon for our ancestors to feed one day but then couldn’t find food the next day or for several more days.
To deal with uncertainty about food availability, the human body has adapted to reduce its basal metabolic rate during periods of fasting. The basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the amount of calories the body needs to maintain life-sustaining functions such as breathing.
“It’s the same concept for how bears hibernate in the winter or how an alligator can dive underwater for 60 minutes at a time without gills and needing no oxygen,” Shahad explains. “The crocodile has the ability to lower its heart rate from 60 to 5 beats per minute to conserve energy when it is underwater. When your body goes into starvation mode, it likewise tries to conserve as much energy and calories as possible just to work out every day.”
Everyone has a set point, or weight range in which the brain wants to maintain the body. This weight range varies from person to person and is determined by both genes and environment. The body is primed to survive, and as far as diet is concerned it is a form of starvation.
But the body is flexible. When you switch into this starvation mode, says Gabi Vaca Flores, a registered dietitian and founder of Glow + Greens, a nutrition and skincare consultancy based in Santa Monica, Calif., it creates “metabolic adaptation, which basically means your metabolism slows down as your body gets used to it.” To survive with a lower calorie intake.” This usually translates to a weight loss plateau.
The body’s tireless drive for balance and the modifiable nature of the basal metabolic rate make it even more difficult to lose weight, even if you cut calories. Of course, when you inevitably stop a restrictive diet, your body will remain in this starvation mode afterwards (how long depends on the person and the circumstances).
“Unfortunately, once you get into this starvation mode for a certain amount of time, that original set point of the basal metabolic rate located in the hypothalamus (a structure in the brain that controls metabolic functions) has changed indefinitely. So the particular set point Your basal metabolic rate, or basal metabolic rate, actually finds a new equilibrium,” Shahad explains.
Re-gaining weight after dieting
For example, if you once needed 1,200 calories to keep your body active each day, your body might be able to work on 800 calories after a period of calorie restriction. Once you start consuming more than this amount, your body has to figure out what to do with the extra calories.
This is why many people recover after losing weight and may actually end up gaining more weight than when they started the diet. “From a mathematical point of view, you’ll actually end up higher than where you first started,” Shahad says.
This process is controlled by a variety of hormones, including ghrelin – the hunger hormone your gut releases to signal to your brain when it’s time to eat – and leptin – the satiety hormone that helps your brain understand when you’re full.
Under normal circumstances, these hormones balance in such a way that the body tries to maintain balance as its natural set point. But when these hormones are disrupted by extreme dieting, it can throw the entire system out of action and make it very difficult to maintain weight after losing it.
Simply put, why so many people “fail” to lose weight has nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with the way the body tries to keep itself alive.
This fact is explained in a dramatic way by A 2016 study It was conducted on contestants who lost massive amounts of weight very quickly as part of the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser”. The show, which aired on NBC from 2004 to 2014, put obese participants into vigorous workouts while on a low-calorie diet to see who could lose the highest percentage of body weight the fastest. All of the contestants lost massive amounts of weight, but within a year of the show’s end, nearly all, if not all, of the weight they lost had regained. Some have exceeded their starting weights with this rebound.
The study authors looked at the cause and discovered that the extreme diet and exercise regimen drove these runners into starvation mode and lowered their basal metabolic rate. They also discovered that their metabolic rate did not return to previous levels even after they had regained all the weight they had lost.
a later study From the same team delved more into why this happens. Researchers have found that the body is constantly trying to maintain homeostasis.
The results were frustrating for anyone wanting to lose weight, but they also validated what people who have tried every diet and actually regained the weight already know: Unless you maintain severe calorie restrictions forever, diets don’t work in the long run. In the long run, there can be long term consequences of not eating enough.
Other effects of severe calorie restriction
In addition to changing the way your metabolism works, “severe calorie restriction often leads to some degree of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies,” explains Candice Bomber, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University. Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to a range of symptoms including:
Athletic and physical performance can also be negatively affected when you don’t eat enough calories. For some people, restricting calories too much can lead to hair loss. In severe cases, women may have irregular periods or stop menstruating at the same time.
Calorie restriction can affect mental health
Drowsiness, decreased activity, mental fatigue, mood swings, brain fog and other psychological symptoms can also appear if you do not eat. This can include the diet reaction, which occurs when the mere thought of a “forbidden” food is enough to trigger overeating, which can develop into a cycle of restriction and deprivation followed by overeating and guilt.
Diet can also erode self-confidence. Certain foods such as “good” or “bad” can make making decisions difficult at every meal time. By focusing on external factors, such as calorie counting or food rules, you reduce your ability to listen to your mind and body, and it becomes harder to hear cues such as hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
Instead, you become more susceptible to external cues that tell you what and when to eat, such as advertisements, what food is available, and the time of day. You are more likely to eat for emotional reasons or just for the sake of food, even if you are not hungry.
Although you will definitely lose weight by not eating, it is not the best way to lose weight sustainably.
So, what works?
Bamber says that “gradual weight loss versus rapid weight loss is associated with greater reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage as well as maintenance of the RMR” or resting metabolic rate, which is another term for BMR. Gradual weight loss usually means about 1 to 2 pounds per week for most people. This should be achieved through “moderate calorie restriction” rather than not eating or severely limiting calorie intake, she says.
“Weight loss requires lifestyle changes, not just a quick-fix diet,” adds Mia Sen, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, South Carolina, and author of Mostly Plant-Based. In order to stay healthy and looking better in the long run, you need to make many small changes.” These small changes must accumulate over time. Examples include monitoring portion sizes and making healthy swaps of higher-calorie and less nutritious foods for fresh vegetables. and other nutrient-dense foods There are plenty of nutrient-dense foods that you can eat with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are particularly good choices.
It’s also important to make sure you get enough sleep and exercise. Getting enough exercise is important to keep your heart and lungs, as well as your muscles, strong. It can also help you keep your weight stable. You need sleep to repair your muscles after exercise, to support a healthy immune system, normal brain function, and many other aspects of overall health.
How many calories do I need?
So how many calories should you eat each day? Well, that “depends on a few factors, including your basal metabolic rate and activity level,” says Sen. She recommends “meeting with your doctor or registered dietitian to help you calculate and set realistic goals for calorie consumption and physical activity for safe and effective weight loss.”
However, to lose one pound per week, you would need to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, which totals 3,500 calories over the course of the week. One pound equals 3500 calories. “However, your calorie intake should be no less than 1,200 per day for women or 1,500 per day for men,” Sen says.
Vaca Flores recommends maintaining a calorie deficit between 250 and 500 calories per day. “This should help you lose 0.5 to 1 pound per week consistently, which is sustainable for most people, and reduces the risk of slowing your metabolism.”
These guidelines are in line with what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends for adults looking to lose weight. They recommend that women consume 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day and men consume 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day, but there can be a lot of variation from person to person. “This information is for informational purposes only,” Bamber says. It is not intended to replace specialist nutritional advice or treatment, so it is always best to visit a dietitian for advice tailored to your specific condition.
How to lose weight with calorie restriction
Finding the sweet spot between reducing calorie intake enough to stimulate weight loss and diving into starvation mode as the body tries to maintain weight by slowing down the metabolic rate can be a complicated math. Eating less food to lose weight is one strategy, but exercise should also be part of the equation.
Shahad says you shouldn’t rely on exercise to do the heavy lifting for weight loss, considering the bigger gains that come from improving your diet. However, it is true that exercise can help in many ways, not the least of which is that it helps you retain muscle while losing weight. In contrast, if you cut calories drastically and don’t exercise, your body may start burning muscle to supply basic needs, which can slow your metabolism because lean muscle burns more calories than fat.
To help retain muscle during weight loss, Witnesses recommends making sure you eat enough protein. “You still need carbs and fat, but if you increase your protein intake, you’ll feel fuller for longer.” This can help you stick to a calorie-reducing approach while making sure you don’t get excessively hungry or skimp on the macronutrients your body needs.
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