There is a very common pathway that happens with almost anyone who starts up a fat loss diet. First, their motivation levels are high, foods have been selected, and they are right on track. They are following their diet and so far, cravings aren’t overly strong, hunger isn’t too extreme, and overall they are feeling pretty good about the situation. A week or two passes and they start getting some really good results. The scale is moving downwards, they are looking leaner, and their motivation is fueled some more by the progress they are now making.
Then, things change. Cravings hit, their energy levels begin to plummet, the scale hasn’t budged an inch since last week, and they are feeling irritable, frustrated and are starting to consider throwing in the towel.
In some cases, this will happen after just a few weeks. In most others it won’t happen until about a month or two into the diet, assuming they have been following that diet quite intensely from the start.
Understanding why this situation occurs and what you can do to both treat it and better yet, prevent it in the first place, will be important for helping you achieve better diet success.
Let’s look at a couple of factors.
The Low Calorie Diet
First off, as almost anyone who has been on a diet before realizes, the main commandment for losing weight is going to be creating a calorie deficit so you are burning more calories each day then you are consuming.
The larger this deficit, the faster the weight comes off – to a point.
The problem comes when people carry too large of a deficit for too long. While under-eating by 200-300 calories each day may not pose much of an issue for the body, since most people are impatient and want to be losing more than half a pound of fat every week, they increase this so they are under-eating by 500 to maybe even 1000 calories each day.
When that happens, the body starts to revolt. Essentially, it senses that you are partially starving it and starts to do things to make it much harder for you to continue.
First, it slows down the metabolic rate. This way, you are burning fewer calories 24 hours a day, meaning the few calories you do eat will go a longer way. It does this primarily by decreasing the amount of thyroid hormones in the body. Secondly, there is a hormone in the body called Leptin, which has the primary role of regulating energy output and monitoring body fat stores. When you are on a low calorie diet for a period of time, leptin levels are going to start decreasing, which will cause you to feel much hungrier and more fatigued. This is the body trying to get you to rest and eat. When you don’t obey and continue on with the diet and workout program, the situation will just intensify.
The Low Carbohydrate Diet
Now, all of what is going on above can happen on any type of diet program. But, if you happen to be on a low carbohydrate diet plan, things will be even more dramatic.
Leptin, the appetite regulating hormone, is going to be much more sensitive to carbohydrate intake than to either protein or fat intake. Thus, just by nature of the low carbohydrate diet, you’re already going to be seeing signals of increased hunger levels and a decreased thyroid sooner than if you had been on a diet that wasn’t quite as low.
The Disaster Cycle
So as you can imagine, uninformed dieters who aren’t aware that their body is actually physiologically fighting their efforts to lose weight will just feel that it must be something they are doing wrong or that their diet isn’t low enough in calories. They will begin to lower their calories even further, causing leptin to drop even more. As this happens, the metabolism becomes slower and slower until you’re in a situation where you’re eating very little food and seeing little if any weight loss happening. Finally, they likely will no longer be able to maintain their extremely low calorie diet and rigorous exercise schedule and will end up throwing in the towel, often having a considerable binge on food in the process. As you can likely imagine, weeks of intense ignored hunger pangs, when finally obeyed, will mean a vast quantity of high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food consumed. Because of the fact their metabolism is now on super slow-down mode, if this overeating period continues on for a few weeks uncontrollably, chances are they are now going to start gaining back body fat at a rather quick rate. That is the diet disaster many people unfortunately face, however.
Breaking Free From The Cycle
So, how do you break free from this cycle? What can you do to stop this occurrence from happening in the first place?
Be Careful On Low Carb
First off, be very careful when going on a low carbohydrate diet. Many people do like these diets as in themselves (when done properly) they tend to help moderate hunger levels better. If you are going to use a lower carbohydrate approach, you would be well advised to at least be sure you are eating 100 grams of carbohydrates each day (this will help keep the thyroid hormones happier) and every week or two have a periodic high carb day of eating. The leaner you are the lower calorie your diet is, the more often you should be having these high carb days in there.
Monitor Exercise Levels
Secondly, make sure you are monitoring your exercise levels. Doing too much additional cardio training, even if your diet is slightly higher in calories can also cause problems over the longer term. Keep in mind here that you can either create that calorie deficit through food or through activity, so a high volume of exercise can just be a low calorie diet in disguise. Basically at the end of the day that deficit is still very high and that will cause problems.
Even further is the fact that a very high volume of exercise will be tiring on the CNS, which could lead you to start feeling very burned out in a short period of time.
Making sure you are on a properly planned workout program with enough rest is critical.
Take Diet Breaks
Third, for those who do want to do a very strict diet (defined as fewer than 8-10 multiplied by your body weight in calories each day), it will be very important to implement in diet breaks every so often. This would be a period of 7-14 days where you bring your calorie intake up closer to maintenance levels and be sure your carbohydrates are also more moderated because again, carbohydrates are going to have the biggest impact on your thyroid and leptin levels. After that period, then you can resume dieting once again and things should be moving along much nicer. Do note that you likely will gain back a bit of weight while you are doing the diet break, however a great majority of this will just be water weight as well as stored muscle glycogen, and this will be lost quickly once you resume the diet. The additional benefits you’ll get from this break are first, it’s also really going to help you out in a psychological sense as well. Constant food restriction definitely does impact us mentally since food is such a social part of our everyday lives. Secondly, this diet break is going to help to really gain control over the intense hunger signals that you were feeling while on the diet, making it so much easier to continue dieting once you start up again. So, be sure you make yourself aware of this diet disaster cycle and take steps to prevent it. By monitoring how you feel and the nature of your diet on a regular basis, you will learn your body’s signals and better understand when it’s time to push calories lower to keep fat loss moving or take a break from the diet and raise carbs and calories again.
Many people do get scared over raising carbohydrates or taking a diet break but you really must think long-term here. How long are you actually going to last on such a low calorie diet? Even more, in many cases, the calories are so low that it becomes very hard to get in all the required nutrients, making that diet break even more vital. The smart dieter is always going to come in ahead of the determined dieter, so while sticking with your plan is definitely important, you need to make sure your plan is sound enough that you avoid these types of problems from happening.