A large percentage of those who reach out to me are seeking weight loss, and more specifically fat loss. One thing that I consider, that may not be commonly factored into the approach of other coaches or template plans, is if the person is ready for a weight loss phase. Of consideration is current psychological and physical state. The most common issue of a potential client that would exclude them from being ready is having a history of chronic dieting. I will use this write-up to dive into that scenario to help you decide if perhaps a weight loss phase is the last thing you need to be seeking at this moment.
Chronic dieting can take many forms; hopping from one dietary approach to another, being in a caloric deficit for an extended period without a reset (return to maintenance), only focusing on fat loss (lack of nutritional periodization) over and over. Those whom find themselves in this scenario more commonly do so as a lack of, or poor coaching, and simply not knowing any better.
A few of the telltale signs that you are not ready for fat loss are; poor sleep, stalled weight loss, losing hair, feeling weak, poor immunity (getting sick easily), irregular bowel movements / constipation. These are all physiological symptoms of being in a caloric deficit for too long. And sometimes it isn’t a byproduct of an intentional deficit but rather a case of under eating. As such, jumping into another form of restriction / diet is ill-advised.
Before I go any further, I must address the misconception that starvation mode is a real thing. If you are not familiar with this term, it is basically the concept that the body will not allow you to lose weight based on the activation of an internal survival mechanism to keep your from dying. Starvation mode can be grouped along with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. I apologize if this is the first you are hearing that none of these are real things.
Starvation mode or that idea that not eating enough will cause a person to stop losing fat or possibly even gain some despite being in a caloric deficit simply doesn’t exist. A quick list of examples that disprove its existence are:
· The Minnesota Starvation Experiment
· People whom battle with anorexia
· Impoverished children in Africa
· The law of thermodynamics
OK, so back to chronic dieting and being ready for a fat loss phase. Just because you aren’t keeping score doesn’t mean your body isn’t. Some would refer to this as “dietary age” or the impact / compounded impact on the body from past years of dieting. If you are tracking accurately and are under 1200 (female) or 1500 (male) calories a day then you are NOT ready. This is not a starting point for fat loss and honestly for most lifestyle clients, this would be an ending point if not ending slightly higher of a fat loss phase. Now there are of course exceptions to the rule and specific numbers truly depend on the unique individual, but this gives you a base point of reference.
A chronically underfed and under recovered system will not respond to further driving down calories. At least not for long. Not without greater potential for a nasty rebound and not without larger hormonal down regulation risks, a very general recommendation provided by nutrition coaches is as follows: If you’re maintaining or gaining weight on 10 to 12 calories per pound of body weight or less, you aren’t ready for fat loss.
What do you do if this sounds all too familiar to your current situation?
Spend a minimum of around 3+ months gradually increasing calories and decreasing cardio while focusing on resistance training, recovery, stress management, sleep, and other aspects of overall wellness. The gradual caloric increase is referred to as a reverse diet. Bringing up calories and decreasing cardio help to ensure the body can recover and will help with a return to homeostasis (normal hormone and physiological function).
Emphasis needs taken on having your entire mind and body in a primed position. Focus on long-term goals over short-term, ego-based desires (insert statement about visible abs). Learn to work with your body, rather than against it. This will make the process more efficient and lasting. If I only I had a nickel for every time a client told me, “I was on diet XYZ and it worked, but then I gained everything back and some extra.”
Lastly, as an additional point of reference, I have had numerous clients whom I first had to increase caloric intake and have them gain some weight before we could go into a fat loss phase. In many of those cases, the client was then able to lose fat and end eating higher calories at a lower body weight, than when they first started with me. It simply takes trusting in the process (and coach) and patience, because the overall transformation takes time: reverse diet > maintenance > fat loss > reverse > maintenance (at new lower body weight).