I’m going to open with a bold statement – the higher you can keep your calories, the more fat you’ll lose.
Even further than that, the longer you can go without intentionally reducing calories, the faster you’ll achieve your goals.
The reason WHY that’s important is because it means you’re being nice to your metabolism – the elephant in the room that controls pretty much everything about how your body looks, feels and performs.
If you’ve ever lost weight, only to gain it all back with interest once your diet has finished, this is a article you need to read.
So what are we talking about when we say “metabolism”, and what the hell is starvation mode, metabolic slowdown and all the other things you see throw around all the time?
Let’s try and answer those questions now.
Your “metabolism” is really a simple maths problem – the energy balance equation.
BMR + TEF + TEA = Change in energy stores
…great, a maths lesson, right?
THE ENERGY BALANCE EQUATION, EXPLAINED
BMR + TEF + TEA = Change in energy stores
BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate, the base line level of energy your body needs if you do nothing else other than exist day to day in a near vegetive state.
TEF = Thermic Effect of Food, how hard does you body have to work to proess and digest the food you eat? For example 15-20% of the energy (calories) in protein is used just to break it down in your body. Carbs and fat are around 3-6%. That’s important because it suggests you’ll lose fat easier if you keep protein high
TEA = Thermic Effect of Activity, day to day movement and conscious exercise activity. So that’s walking, fidgeting, moving around… AND the training / cardio you do.
So… now we know what it is, why is it important? Well see that “change in energy stores” bit above there? That’s what body fat is. It’s stored energy. In order to move that down, you need to move something on the other side of the equation. Your food, your basal metabolic rate, or your activity (or all of the above).
But here’s the kick in the nuts. Every time you move one variable, everything else is effected too.
Take out too much food and your activity levels will drop, and BMR will start to slow down.
Add in too much activity and your non exercise activity (ie day to day movement) will decrease, you’ll get lazy. And your body will signal for an increase in food levels to recover from training.
“BUT WHAT IF I ADD MUSCLE, JAMES?”
“…that’ll make my metabolism faster right?”
Yes, and no.
Adding muscle is an incredibly inefficient process. It’s hard to do, it takes a lot of time and your body really will really fight you at every turn. PLUS if you’re already carrying a lot of fat (> 15% bodyfat) you’re more likely to be in a state of increased insulin resistance, which makes adding muscle even hard.
So no – more muscle isn’t really a viable route to dropping body fat.
Contrary to oft sited opinion, studies have found bodyfat IS metabolically active at a rate of about 2kcals/lb/day.
Muscle only comes in at 6-10kcal/lb/day. So let’s be super generous and say 8kcal/lb/day. That is to say for every lb of muscle you add, your total daily kcal expenditure goes up by 8kcals.
Taken in context, that’s about 0.002% for a 90kg dude. Hardly a quick route to loss right?
And here’s the other thing – if you drop 20kg of fat, and gain 10kg of muscle (…which is a pretty HUGE thing to do) the effect is disappointingly small.
Muscle gain: 10kg of muscle = 22lb = 176kcal increase in metabolic rate
Fat loss: 20kg drop = 44lb = 88kcal decrease in metabolic rate (since you’re getting rid of it)
The result? A net increase of about 88kcals. Whoop di do.
Congratulations home boy. You get to eat one and a half more Oreo cookies per day without getting fat.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIET
I’m going to use “diet” as a synonym for “reducing calories and increasing activity with the goal of losing body fat” for the rest of this post.
Most people diet by whipping out all their carbs, and ramping up activity levels. A double whammy of calorie expenditure. You’d think that would be smart and the quickest way to do things right? Unfortunately, you’d be dead wrong. Mostly because your body HATES you. Any change in homeostasis is a threat.
And it’ll kick back like an angry donkey when you do that.
So when you hear me talking about your metabolism “slowing down”, what I really mean is that it’s adapting to the new stimulus you’ve given it.
A few positive things will happen – you’ll become more insulin sensitive, blood sugar levels and triglyceride levels will drop over the course of the diet.
And several negative things will happen – leptin and thyroid levels will drop, and cortisol levels will increase.
This is of particular concern because leptin in your governor of appetite. That means that as they drop (because you’re eating less) you’ll start to feel hungrier, AND it will start to decrease your activity levels too.
Couple that with decreased thyroid output slowing your BMR down, and ever piece of the energy balance equation has change but all the changes start to offset each other so nothing actually happens your body fat.
….IF you take an extreme approach.
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?
The first thing you probably need to do is eat more – especially if you’ve gone thru a prolonged period of underating. And you need to do that to increase your nutrient turnover. That is to say, when you consistently run down and restrict food, your body gets less good at actually processing them because digestive enzyme activity and a load of other processes are impaired.
So trying to lose weight in a bad state is like driving a car with a slow puncture – you might get there, but it’ll be slow, uncontrollable, uncomfortable and you’re probably going to end up smashed somewhere along the journey.
What you need to remember thru all of this is that the food you eat is full of nutrients and their job is to nourish your body. A well functioning system will tell you when it’s hungry, it will tell you when it’s full, and it won’t have mad cravings. If any of those things ARE happening your first goal (…if long term sustainability is your goal) must be to restore normality.
SO THESE ‘NUTRIENTS’ YOU SPEAK OF…
I’m talking about protein, carbohydrates, fats and ketone bodies.
And controlling them is really pretty simple. Once you know how many calories you should be eating for weight loss (maintenance kcals less 15% as a starting point) then you just split it up so you’re eating 1g of protein for every lb of bodyweight, 30% of your kcals come from fat. And the rest comes from carbs.
Yes, you can eat carbs on a diet.
In fact, it’s GOOD to eat carbs when dieting.
Carbs aren’t “essential” in the strict sense of the term – your body will be able to produce ketones and glucose off the fat and protein you eat in sufficient quantities to support essential function (keeping your brain and lungs working) but once you start to do carb intensive activities like high intensity interval training and bodybuilding / strength training with weights, you increase the demand to a level where you body can’t keep up.
That means your training sessions turn to shit, your recovery sucks, motivation disappears and you’re on a fast road to failure, quitting and giving up altogether.
When you increase your activity (training) and decrease your nourishment (calories) your body HAS to find energy somewhere to keep going. Remember – it’s job is self preservation.
Now it SHOULD find that energy from stored body fat (that’s the goal right?).
BUT if you put a big demand on it fast, like most people will do, it’s going straight for stored protein (aka – MUSCLE!!)
And while losing muscle isn’t a HUGE deal from a metabolic rate standpoint, it will mean that you look like absolute shit if you lose to much of it because now instead of lean and toned – you’re just skinny fat.
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE
“I’ve been dieting hard but I’m not losing any weight”. The oft cited depressed cry of dieters everywhere.
The first few days are great, you drop lbs, and then after about a week it stalls – this happens A LOT of girls.
And you give it a week or two, still nothing happens. So you give up and have a big oul cheat meal.
…and then wake up the next day noticeably leaner and lighter.
Is eating junk the answer??!! You know it’s not. But what is happening is probably something to do with the water balance in your body.
As you mobilize fat stores for use as energy, they’re offset by retained water. Which leaves you bloated, and the same weight. And probably pretty bloody pissed off. But fear not – that’s normal.
When you have the big cheat meal, or when you increase your carb intake it liberates the water, bumps back up leptin and all the progress you’ve made as a result of the work you’ve done over the past few weeks is revealed as if by magic. Overnight.
No wonder it’s called the “whoosh” effect.
“STARVATION MODE” IS BULLSHIT
I’m going straight to a review put up by the great Lyle McDonald on the Minnesota Semi-Starvation study for this one. People were put onto 50% of their daily maintenance level and forced to exercise (no weight training tho). After 6 months, the total drop in BMR was about 40%. Which is pretty significant right?
BUT going back to earlier.. .because their bodyweight dropped significantly, around 25% of the 40% was accounted for by decreased metabolic activity due to less metabolically active fat and muscle mass. So really, the true drop was about 15%.
The kicker is the reached the absolute limit of human leanness – 4 to 5%. They’d nothing else to lose. Their body was in TRUE panic mode at that stage. Desperate to self preserve.
In real terms, you’d have to cut your food intake by half right now and hold it there for 6 months. And the only difference in your metabolism at that point would be equivalent to about 3/4 of a double decker chocolate bar.
So “starvation mode” isn’t the problem.
YOUR METABOLISM ISN’T THE PROBLEM
Your poor metabolism is constantly getting a bad rep. The fat kid in class that’s easy to pick on, and just takes it. But let’s cut that shit out. You can see how many OTHER factors are playing into it all now.
Your food, your training, sleep, hormone levels etc etc.
And almost all variables are fully controllable by you – so if you DO find it hard to lose weight, you’re the problem my friend. Sorry to break it to you.
It. Is. Not. Your. Metabolism
** So by now you know something is wrong. If you want our help fixing it so you can get away from being overweight, pissed off and angry about it, fill in the form below and we’ll email some info about our programs. Our semi private in-gym training programs start from just €30 per week **