Have you noticed that just by dieting, or by thinking about dieting, you become preoccupied with food and weight? Food becomes a shiny object that you can’t have because your body isn’t “right”. This state of deprivation causes a sense of anxiety and obsession over what is missing. Your cortisol (stress hormone) rises. Yes, just from thinking about it! And this leads you to naturally (happens to everyone) overindulge in those foods sooner or later as the body tries to compensate.
While that's the main reason diets do not work in the long-term, there are many others. Psychological and physiological mechanisms are operating, not failed willpower as most dieters believe. Yet, it is the dieter that accepts the blame for regained weight as a sign of flawed character. But it is the diets that fail—not the dieters—not YOU!
When you rely on the outside world for information about your body, it turns down the volume of your wisdom from within.
But wait, there's more…
Not only that, add the “alternative” or “fake” physics that most people, including lots of health professionals, ascribe to, like calories in = calories out. That might be true if our bodies were actually machines, as believed in the Newtonian Era. The trick is, the body has protective mechanisms—it doesn’t know that going on a diet isn’t actually a real-life starvation situation, so it will automatically (without your permission!) turn down your Basal Metabolic Rate’s thermostat (BMR), so that you now burn fewer calories (output), and it will stay that way for a long time. After all, for example, if you didn’t have enough fuel to heat your house through a harsh cold winter, you’d turn your heater thermostat down, right? And calories ARE technically a measure of heat output!
In addition, with inadequate calories, the body will try to burn muscle over fat as the fuel source, What? Why? I know, your body didn’t even ask you if that was okay! It’s because muscle is a ready fuel source for blood sugar; fat cannot be used as glucose, there's no chemical way for that to happen. If there was, death from low calories would happen really fast (so thank you smart body).
Muscle is where fat is burned
If you are losing muscle—which by the way is 4 times the WEIGHT as fat for the volume, and very metabolically active—you are creating a smaller engine that requires less fuel (fewer calories) and again this leads to lower BMR (output), and also loss of tone, shape, and strength. The good news is that muscle can be rebuilt with adequate calories and resistance exercise. That is why exercise is so important to start with: we could be working on increasing output rather reducing input.
However, extreme exercise has diminishing returns such as burning the same muscle we are trying to build if there aren’t also sufficient calories to support the activity. Elite competitive athletes must take in enormous amounts of calories to sustain their activity levels to remain healthy and improve their strength and stamina.
With dieting, the body can’t keep the physics straight, because what you are doing is scaring the body into action to help save you, even if you are perfectly fine sitting in your home with access to food any time you want. It’s too bad for dieters that the body is so primitive.
And insult to injury, the body will increase your “set-point”, the weight that your body determines is a good shield against famine, often higher than most people would like, but another protection for survival—again this goes against what you are trying to do, but your body is taking care of itself automatically. Every time you go on a diet, all of these systems go on survival mode (SOS) and will even get more serious about protecting you. Problem is: it all works against losing fat weight. Muscle and water can add up to a lot of weight loss on a diet – but that isn’t being measured – only the net weight, which may be a lot less fat than you had hoped.
So, how do you get in enough energy and nutrients to not only spare muscle, but to build it, while maximizing your metabolism for health, fitness, and allow your natural weight to be whatever it is, unique to you—independent of comparisons to population groups, BMI charts, or wide-spread bias? If you could have everything you wanted in your life, without losing weight, would weight loss still be the one thing you can never give up? Could you really enjoy all those gifts in your life while berating and hating your body?
In my next post, I'll tell you the real-life story of “Linda” – her name is changed to protect her privacy but her story is 100% her story. And it could be YOUR story, too.