There are very many people out there that yo-yo diet and many have no idea why. Most people at some point in life struggle with weight gain and then it becomes a life time battle to lose it, but most people are fighting a losing battle.
The typical situation is the person gains about (very easy in today’s society if you don’t know how to eat right) becomes frustrated with what they see in the mirror and then join a weight loss program eat 1000 calories a day and lose a ton of weight. After they lose weight they feel great! But slowly and surely if the person doesn’t stay on this 1000 calorie regime (which almost no one does, because its too low of an intake) they always gain weight right back. Sometimes they gain more back. Why is this? The reason is because your body got use your low calorie intake.
The body is incredibly smart. Eat 500 calories a day and your body will figure out a way to keep you alive for as long as it can by conserving energy to only burn 500 calories a day. But think about it. You have been dieting on 1000 calories a day for months, so whats going to happen when you start eating “normal amounts of food” such as 2000 calories again? Fat gain, and the reason is because your eating 1000 calories over what your body has been use to receiving. Sometimes its even worse and people go on 1000 calorie diets to lose weight and then return back to their previous habits of going to fast food joints 3 times a day.
Calories in and Calories out are far from the only problem though. Your body starts down regulating just about every known hormone and energy producing enzyme in your body when you diet. Check out this chart from Lyle McDonald’s website Bodyrecomposition.com:
Basically what happens is your body becomes a fat storing machine and right after you end your diet you blow up like a ballon. Its just simple physiology. Don’t worry though there are ways around this and I feel like just about anyone can fix the yo-yo dieting struggle.
I’m going to list my tips to combat this ever increasing battle against fat REGAIN:
- When you do diet, DONT eat below your BMR. This figure in calories is your bodyweight x 10. The reason for this is because your BMR is the amount of food you need to lay in bed all day. Trust me you burn many more calories than this on a daily basis even with no exercise. If you go to low under your BMR, problems start showing up REAL FAST.
- Dont do extreme diets that eliminate certain macronutrients. Very low carb diets are really starting to annoy me. I jumped on this bandwagon, learned how bad they are and then promptly jumped right off. I’ve started eating more starches than ever and have never felt better. The main reason low carb diets work is because they eliminate a ton of foods. There are other “hormonal” reasons, but these can backfire so quickly once your body gets used to it, that the after effects are NOT worth the short term benefit. Key point- you will have to REDUCE carbs, but don’t ELIMINATE them.
- Adopt good eating habits. Don’t join weight loss programs that send you prepackaged meals. This may be easier from a calorie control standpoint, but it teaches you nothing about weight maintenance and healthy foods. Healthy foods can TASTE INCREDIBLE if you fix them right. (In my mind a lot better than fast food, which usually takes all of 5 minutes to eat)
- Eat whole foods. This is the same as above, but let me give you an example. Would you rather eat a Big Mac at 530 calories or lean beef, sweet potato and tons of veggies? The point is whole foods allow you to EAT A LOT MORE for the same number of calories.
- Adopt the 80/20 principle not the 100/0 principle. Everyone has their vices and thats why extreme diets dont work. If you eat right 80% of the time then the other 20% of the time you can some of your “favorite foods” without wrecking your diet. This works very well I might add. People that try to be right 100% of the time always fail eventually and this one failure may cause them to blow their entire diet.
- Reverse diet. I wrote about this in other articles, but basically it means if you dieted on 1200 calories, then add back in calories very slowly to maintain your weight. THIS IS WHERE PEOPLE ALWAYS FAIL. If you had the willpower to diet at 1200 calories for an extended period of time, then you should have the will power to reverse diet for awhile to get your body’s calorie level back to normal. The easiest way to do this is to slowly add in about 100 calories per week. In 2 months you’ll be back to 2000 calories (or whatever your maintenance calories are). Trust me you don’t want to skip this step as I feel like this is the main reason people are yo-yo dieters.
- In the above chart you’ll notice what happens to the body when you UNDERFEED. Well the same things happen to the body on Low Carb diets. It’s usually slower, but stay on low carbs too long and the exact same things happen as restricting calories too low. (Another reason to avoid these diets) Carbs from starches (glucose based) not sugar and fruit have a VERY STRONG EFFECT ON METABOLISM. Carbs actually reverse many of the negative effects on that chart. My advice always keep them in your diet. How to do it? Many people don’t have very good dietary control, so I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. Always have one day a week, BOTH on your diet or rebounding from a diet as a HIGH CARB refeed day. Load up on starches (potatoes, bread, oatmeal, pasta, rice) and keep fat as low as you can on this day. I can’t describe to you the number of benefits this will have on your results. This actually may be the most important tip in this article. (One thing I do want to add is that fat intake needs to be about a third of your bodyweight. Any more than this on a high carb diet and most of the fat will get stored.)
- Switch your mindset from CALORIE RESTRICTION to INCREASING YOUR METABOLISM. You think eating like a bird and running all day will get you your dream body? Think again. Your metabolism will down-regulate, you’ll make your self extremely sensitive to food and eventually you will gain weight rapidly. How to increase your metabolism? Start eating more low sugar starches. Seriously after studying nutrition for a long time, starches are incredible for the body. Basically they are very beneficial and get NO CREDIT, even WORSE STARCHES GET BLAMED AS THE REASON EVERYONE IS FAT! I used to believe this, then I realized nothing is further from the truth.
- Foods that Slow the metabolism – soy, vegetable oil, trans fat, excess fructose (excessive sugar intake)
- Foods that Increase the metabolism – All starches, saturated fat, salt and lean protein. (funny the foods that increase the metabolism the most are the ones that every says to avoid. GREAT ADVICE ;))
- Very simple diet setup – Eat your bodyweight in protein, one third of your bodyweight in fat and the rest goes to low sugar starches.
Bottom Line – Yo-yo dieting is the result of down-regulating your metabolism on low calorie/low carb diets without the proper maintenance phase of slowly increasing your calories back to normal. Slowly adding in calories at about 100 per week onto what you were dieting at will allow the body to adjust back to normal without regaining all of your fat. If you have been avoiding starches for whatever reason your metabolism may not be operating as fast as it could. The solution is to have a high carb/low fat refeed once a week on your diet and on your maintenance phase to stoke the metabolism. Even people that have stagnated in their current body composition goals can benefit from the high carb days.
PS – I used to do really Low Carb diets and it was the worst thing I ever did to my body. I’ve recently been eating between 200-300 carbs a day and never felt better. Don’t get sucked into Low Carb BS. Starches and glucose are the ultimate metabolic fuel. If more people would focus on increasing their metabolism rather than drastically slowing it down they would have a much easier time losing weight.