Too many people are on a perpetual diet. Constantly being a slave to a reduced intake.
The problem is you cannot always be on a diet. Diets are not meant to be a long term thing and they stop working if you are on them too long.
News flash: your body does not give two poops about your physique goal. It actually does not want you to be lean. The body wants homeostasis, and it will do just about anything to maintain that.
According to Dictionary.com: homeostasis is the tendency of the body to seek and maintain a condition of balance or equilibrium within its internal environment, even when faced with external changes.
Also known as why the eff does our body make this so freaking hard!?
The good news is there is an easy thing you can do. You can trick the body into not maintaining homeostasis and take a break from dieting at the same time. This wonderful thing is called maintenance mode.
In order to maintain homeostasis our bodies will start to compensate for the reduced caloric intake.
It’s not so neat.
One way this happens the body naturally decreases its NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis). NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or planned exercise. It is the mindless fidgeting, toe tapping, walking and playing that we do day to day. It is not planned movement, but the activity we unconsciously or spontaneously decide to do.
When we decrease the energy we put in our bodies, our bodies will decrease the energy it expends (In other words: eat LESS burn LESS). There will be less walking, less unplanned movement. Even something as simple as tapping your foot or twitching your fingers while working can be decreased. These movements don’t seem like much, but they add up. NEAT can account for 15-50% of your daily caloric burn. (That could be roughly anywhere from 200-900 calories!)
Increased Perceived Exertion
While on a diet, especially long term, eventually our workouts can suffer. You will no longer be burning the same amount of calories as you previously were even though the workout may feel harder. When we are in a caloric deficit or super low carb for a period of time we tend to have a higher perceived rate of exertion (how hard a workout feels). We think we are kicking butt in the gym when in actuality we’re not. Caloric deficits (and extreme low carbing it) can also enhance fatigability which make us feel tired and we think the workouts feel harder than it really is.
When in a deficit appetite will go up, this is true especially for women. Leptin is the hormone responsible for our hunger signals. As our body fat decreases, our leptin increases. Increased leptin means we feel hungrier. (Remember our body wants us back at the previous weight, and it is telling you to eat to get back there.)
What often happens when the appetite ramps up, we eat. Sometimes we are not even aware we are consuming more food. Cravings can become more intense, and those occasional indulges become less occasional.
When our appetite is high we tend to indulge in more licks, bites and nibbles. Like licking the peanut butter off the knife. Having a bite of the kids’ dessert. Nibbling on some leftovers while pondering what to make for dinner. Individually those things don’t seem like much (and there not) but repeatitively they add up! And when leptin is high the tendency is to have more licks, bites and nibbles, sometimes without even being aware of them.
How your body reacts will be unique to you, but here are some signs you’ve been on a diet too long and it’s time to back away:
- You’ve been in a caloric deficit for 12 week (or longer).
- Your progress has stalled.
- There has been a loss of strength.
- You’ve started showing signs of hormone disruptions. (blood sugar swings, having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you are retaining more water.)
- Ladies your menses may have changed.
- Loss of libido.
- Loss of appetite OR feeling like you are absolutely ravenously starving and unable to feel full.
- Cravings are through the roof, and they may be uncontrollable at times.
- Binge eating
- Mental fog, grumpiness
- Physique is starting to look flat and deflated or puffy and swollen.
So, what do you do now? Back away from the diet!
SERIOUSLY TAKE A BREAK.
Maintenance is where the magic happens.
You need to return to maintenance mode. Maintenance is the amount of food you need to eat to stay at your current body weight. (Not where you hoped to be. Not what you needed to eat in high school. But what you need to eat with your body as it is today.)
The pros to maintenance mode:
It gives your body a break
It gives your mind a break (which allows the next time your diet to be easier)
Now maintenance mode is NOT a free pass. It is not a time to go crazy. Absolutely do not think of it as a cheat. Or as a chance to eat all the things. It is maintenance. (if however, you find you cannot stop binging during maintenance mode, your previous diet may have been too restrictive).
A very fancy and non scientific line graph demonstrating how much better it is to include periods of maintenance in you life.
Two ways to approach this. Calorie and macro counting or intuitive eating.
The easiest way is to return to a more intuitive way of eating.
The rules are simple:
- Eat when hungry, but before you are starving.
- Eat protein at every single meal. (Men should aim for 6-8 servings/day and women need 4-6 day)
- Stop eating BEFORE you are full.
- Load your plate with lots of veggies and fruit. (6-8 servings a day!)
- Fill the rest in with healthy carbs and fat.
The trick is you really need to listen to your body. Especially your hunger and fullness cues. That is when your body tells you it is hungry, before you get hungry. And it tells you to stop eating BEFORE you feel overly physically full. If you and your body haven’t been on good speaking terms lately then food tracking may be a better choice for you.
This would be setting a prescribed set amount of calories and macros and logging your daily intake. This takes more work, but it is best if you don’t have great appetite cues (ie: you don’t know when you are hungry and or when you are almost full) or you just prefer tracking.
1st: make sure you are consuming enough protein. If you are consuming less than .8 grams/LB of body weight bring that up first. (Ex. If you are 150 pounds 150x.8=120)
Once you have been eating at least .8g protein/Lb for 2 weeks, then assess your carbs and fat.
Pick one, either carbs or fat to bring up. (If your fat intake is under 35 grams start there otherwise start with carbs.)
You can bring up the fat up by for 10-20 grams or carbs up by 25-50 grams. Continue to eat that amount for 2 weeks.
Watch your weight, measurements and progress photos. Objectively watch your body (this is hard and can help to have a second opinion). Using mainly scale weight and progress photos, once you notice you are no longer losing weight and it is holding steady, you are in maintenance mode.
Optimally you’ll stop increasing your intake right before you start to gain weight back, but if not it is no biggie just back pull back a little. (If you were low carb editing, I don’t recommend just going by scale weight, as an increase in carbs can cause the numbers to creep up BUT it is not fat, just the body replenishing glycogen)
Once you hit maintenance you should try to hang out there for at least 2 weeks.
Both methods can work, you just need to chose the best that works for you.
So, quit trying to white knuckle it through your perpetual diet and take a break! You will find that you will bust through that plateau and then next phase of dieting is even easier to adhere to.
If you would like more personalized help, fill out the contact form and I will get back to in 24 hrs and we can chat about your personal situation.