Restricting calories suppresses metabolism and thermogenesis ("burning" energy), so you don't necessarily lose weight (and may actually gain weight).
Even if you are "successful" at losing weight, your body will have suppressed your metabolism because it thinks you are in a famine, and it has utterly no awareness that you would like to fit into your skinny jeans. So, it does you this favor. Additionally, because your body loves you, it will stay suppressed for a bit causing you to put on weight once you stop dieting so that next time you’re faced with a famine, you can get through it. (Don't worry, your metabolism CAN recover after a period of eating sufficiently.) Bodies are pretty amazing. Why?
We have to eat to live.
This is a biological need. Wanting to eat more when dieting is not a lack of will power. It is not a failure. It is your brain and body doing what it is supposed to in response to the biological need to eat to live. It is not “bad” that you want to eat, that you need to eat.
On top of this, when you are dieting/semi-starving, your body releases hormones designed to both drive you to eat AND make food taste better. Your body is all, “well, food’s not coming. Let’s make it taste even BETTER to eat, and maybe it will come.” This sets you up for overeating or binging while dieting. Your brain and body are pulling out all the stops, trying to get you to feed them.
Besides, dieting is stressful. So stressful that you will release cortisol in response to undereating, making you more irritable and (again) more likely overeat.
“What about ketogenic diets?”
There is no reason for you to be on a ketogenic diet unless prescribed by a physician, and usually then only to treat seizure disorders.
See above re: brain fuel. You see, when the brain gets no energy (aka carbs) from your meals, it will switch into a process called ketosis. Long story short, it will convert fat in your body into something sort of like glucose that your brain can sort of use. Only, ketosis can only meet about 75% of your brain’s daily needs. Additionally, prolonged ketosis will break down not only fat, but your muscles, leaving you more prone to injury and breaks.
This means your memory will suffer, your sleep will suffer, and your mood will suffer.
Sounds totally healthy, huh?
“Then why do I feel so energetic when I cut out carbs?”
I can’t say for sure. People with a genetic predisposition to eating disorders will often experience a calm or even ecstacy when restricting or eliminating food groups. If you experience this, you need to be extra vigilant in eating adequate amounts.
The opposite is more common, and there are TONS of articles out there on “how to overcome low energy when low carb.” Reframe this as “how to ignore the fact that your brain is starving when refusing to eat carbs because you want to lose weight,” and it starts to sound more and more questionable.
“I'm not on a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.”
Oh, ya’ll. This one really gets under my skin. In what life do you want to miss out on the glories of cheese, ice cream, melty pizza, or a perfect croissant?
Let me tell you about the lifestyle you have chosen.
You started X diet (excuse me, lifestyle) and you were committed. You counted calories or macros or exchanges. You took up spin classes. You lost weight, you met your goal, and you started to feel more comfortable with the occasional indulgence. You told yourself you “earned” it. Over time the constant need to meal prep and hit the gym every day became hard to sustain. The weight came back, and then some. You vowed to "get back on track" to lose the weight. You have repeated this cycle every few years (or months or less), each time blaming yourself for "falling off" the diet, when your body was never built to diet at all!
“I don’t feel hungry, so why should I eat more?”
Dieting messes with your hunger and fullness hormones. For most people, dieting results in a drop in fullness hormones and a rise in hunger hormones (that whole your-body-doesn’t-want-you-to-undereat thing).
After long-term dieting and/or overeating (disordered eating), the signaling can be so damaged that you no longer feel hunger or fullness. The paradox here is that not having hunger is actually a sign that you need to eat more to repair those hormones.
(This may not hold true you eat often and don't allow yourself to feel hungry, in which case exploring any fears or feelings about hunger may be useful.)
“I’ll eat normally once I lose the weight.”
I’m going to pick on religion for a second here. Does anyone else remember True Love Waits? Is it still a thing? When I was in high school, participants signed a pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. Participants were frequently told that sexual desires are sinful and in need of control. What do you think happened once participants married and have sexual relationships? There are often years of association between sexual desire and shame to undo. (More on this in this month's podcast.)
Now, if you lose weight, your brain will not stop wanting to fix the malnourishment, and you will also need to undo years of association between eating and shame.
“But what about all the negative health outcomes associated with obesity?”
Did you know that people in BMI category 25-30 tend to live longer that those in BMI range 20-25? Weight is associated with some health outcomes, but I think/hope we all learned at some point that correlation does not equal causation.
We need to ask why the link exists, what are the contributing factors – like job type, diet, physical activity, the stress of stigma, and disparities in medical care that may all play a role in negative health outcomes. Regardless, dieting is known to end up in greater weight gain. Why risk more weight gain by dieting if weight IS the issue?
“Okay, fine. What do I need to do?”
Stop dieting. Seriously. ASAP. Stop counting calories, creating a meal schedule, leaving out food groups, “earning” calories, and on and on. Eat enough, eat from a variety of food groups, pay attention to how different foods make your body feel, eat foods you like, and let your emotions play a role in what you eat (they do anyway).
Easier said than done, right?
Start focusing on healthy habits that are related health goals. Things like:
___ Cut the time it takes me to walk a mile (or be able to run a mile)
___ Be able to touch my toes
___ Be able to keep up with my kids/grandkids without getting
___Think about food less often
___ Balance my breakfast
___ Become more self-confident
___ Minimize the negative self-talk
___ Sleep better
___ Feel more energetic
___ Progress to using a heavier free weight
___ Cook at home more often
___ Manage my blood pressure
___ Find safe places to express myself
___ _________________(Fill in the blank.)
If weight loss happens as a result of these behaviors, it happens. It may not. Your weight may not change at all. If you were under your body's optimal weight, you will likely gain weight. Your healthiest self may not look or weigh what you hoped, but health is far more than weight.
Now, undoing years of nutritional misinformation and coming to terms with how you *feel* about allowing your body to do this is a longer post for another day soon!
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