Low Calorie Diets: Weight Loss or Metabolic Damage?

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By Katrina Laczoffy

The Yo Yo diet, the 1200 calorie diet, Ketosis – all low calorie diets I’m sure you’ve heard of and probably even done for a while in an attempt to shed some unwanted weight. When it comes to weight loss the first thing that people do is cut out a BIG portion of calories and boost their exercise regime. Makes sense right? Reduce calorie intake and burn more.

But in the long term is this helping with weight loss or damaging you metabolism?

If you have tried drastic calorie reductions in the past you know that yes it can seem to be an effective way to lose weight initially but what are the long term effects? After a few months you find yourself getting hungrier, energy levels crash, gym workouts are lacking intensity and the forbidden word “binging”comes into play.

After a few months weight loss plateaus, so in a desperate hope to burn fat you increase your exercise intensity and cut out more calories. Amazingly, some more weight might fall of your waist but at what cost? Sleeping patterns are now disturbed and you’re frustrated with fat around your stomach that won’t budge.

These are common symptoms of metabolic stress, resulting from the so called“effective”and “healthy”low calories diets. Rather than helping us to reach our target weight more quickly, severely restricting calories actually prevents our bodies from losing weight in the long term as a result of a slower metabolism.

Starvation mode- why low calorie diets slow down weight loss
Starvation mode –it is essentially the defence mechanism the body uses to fight starvation. When you have been living off restricted calories for a substantial amount of time (more than a few months) your body will essentially do everything it can to slow down your energy expenditure, basically as a survival mechanism.

In essence, the body becomes efficient at making the most of the calories it does receive when on a drastically restricted calorie intake, and gets very good at storing calories for later (in the form of body fat!). Not only this, it will also lead to a loss of muscle, which leads to a further lowering of the metabolic rate and your ability to shed body fat in the long term.

Key symptoms of metabolic compensation from prolonged low calorie dieting include hunger cravings, reduced energy levels, weight loss stops (you further reduce calories and increase exercise to lose more) and feeling energetic at night.

If you keep pushing this with less calories and harder training in an attempt to spur some further weight loss, this may lead to permanent metabolic damage. At this point there is nervous system dysfunction that manifests primarily as digestive complaints e.g., bloating, inability to lose weight.

How to get your metabolism and weight loss back on track
The most important thing to do is scrap any low calorie diet and allow your body to recover. This means reductions in exercise and a gradual increase in calories. If you amp up your calorie intake too quickly you will put on weight so allow your body to progressively adapt to the additional calories slowly. Try adding 200 calories per week. It will take over a month for your body to function properly again however.

Here are some further tips:

  • Determine how many calories a day you should eat to maintain your current weight AND goal weight (very rarely should this be lower than 1200 calories). Increase your calories accordingly.
  • Eat clean and nutritious meals e.g., leafy greens, protein and carbs
  • No sugar or processed foods.
  • Start strength training to help build muscle.

For further tips feel free to download the app we use with our personal training clients, it is FREE to download, there is lots of nutrition info.

Just search The Fit Stopin your app store.

This article was written by Katrina Laczoffy–she is a personal trainer at The Fit Stop, a personal training & group training studio in St Kilda East, specialising in fat loss, strength training & getting real fitness results.

For more information you can visit www.stkildafitnesstrainer.com.au/services

or read our blog at www.TheFitStop.com.au/blog

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