In last weeks blog we took an in depth look at why losing the last ten pounds of body fat becomes more and more difficult.
If you missed Part 1 you can read it HERE , but I’m also going to give short summary below to help get you up to speed.
Part 1 Recap:
1.) A Smaller Body Burns Fewer Calories:
A smaller body that weighs less is going to require fewer calories to maintain as there is less muscle and fat to provide energy for. Both fat and muscle burn calories and a reduction in both will equal a drop in daily caloric burn.
2.) You Unconsciously Move Less:
When you eat less to lose body fat the body becomes more efficient with where it chooses to burn calories. One of the areas where there is the largest reduction in calories burned is known as Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) which is things like walking, fidgeting, working at standing desk or doing the dishes after dinner. When you diet there is a reduced motivation to move which ends up in reduced NEAT levels.
3.) You’re Eating Less Food Which Burns Fewer Calories:
When someone eats less food the amount of calories the body has to dedicate to the breakdown and digestion of food also decreases, while this is a relatively small amount of calories you're still eating less and burning less as well.
4.) You’re Resting Metabolic Rate Decreases:
As a result of eating less for an extended period of time you're body will adapt to the amount of calories you're consuming and if you're eating less than you need for the purposes of fat loss over time you resting metabolic rate can decrease.
5.) Exercising At A Lower Intensity:
As motivation decreases along with intensity, you might miss a few workouts, cut sessions short, not put forth the same effort and generally see your performance drop.
As you exercise more frequently and especially while on lower calories with the body trying to be conservative with those precious calories your body actually reduces the amount of calories you burn during activities like strength training and cardio.
The calories burned in the gym during exercise are much lower than your fitbit or cardio machine says, but they do add up over the weeks, months and years which can chip away at your fat loss goals.
If I had to sum up the reasons why fat loss gets more difficult it all comes down to the fact that your body adapts and becomes more efficient when you’re eating less food.
1.) Stay around your ideal weight:
Prevention is always the best measure, and not allowing yourself to get too far out of shape in the first place will remove a lot of of the temptation to crash diet in the name of trying to get quick results.
These extreme weight loss and regain cycles that come with crash dieting can cause your body to fight back against fat loss much harder to prevent you losing any more weight.
Find a nutrition approach that you enjoy and can see yourself eating for a long period of time even after the dieting phase is over and you're looking to now maintain your results you've achieved.
2.) Choose The Right Rate Of Fat Loss
Certain people can diet more aggressively and not have the negative repercussions from a physical or psychological standpoint. More aggressive dieting is absolutely not for everyone, and for someone who's new to dieting or nutrition going slower is a much more sustainable approach.
For some folks they are able to mentally and physically stick out a more aggressive dieting phase because it reduces the time they ave to spend dieting and allows them to get back to more normal eating habits sooner. As I mentioned this approach isn't appropriate for everyone by any means.
If you use extreme measures to achieve fat loss for too long a period of time you'll see more dysregulated hunger hormones, impaired metabolic function and problems with adhering to the diet protocol as well.
For anyone who has any negative relationship with food I would highly advise against more aggressive dieting as it can worsen that relationship and lead you to use more and more extreme measures.
If you use a slower rate of fat loss it may take you a little longer to get the results you want, but you'll be able to maintain the results and the return to eating normally won't be as much of a jump.
3.) Use refeeds and diet breaks
A refeed is 1-2 days per week purposefully increasing your calories by anywhere from 300-500 depending on how lean you already are. These refeed days are usually 3-4 days apart.
The majority of these extra calories should come from carbohydrates. Carbs are the most effective macronutrient at boosting leptin and thyroid levels, keeping the metabolism humming along and you burning as many calories as you can.
A full diet break is returning your maintenance calorie intake for 1-2 weeks after a 4-8 week period of eating a calorie deficit for fat loss.
It should be noted that you will likely gain a few pounds of weight back when on a diet break. This is especially true for people who have been using a low carb diet.
This is not a cause for concern as most of the weight will be from water storage and increased muscle glycogen (carbohydrates stored in the muscle).
You will be eating more as well so there will be more food in the digestive system causing you to weigh more.
The diet break has a number of purposes both from a psychological and physiological perspective.
By breaking your fat loss up into chunks of time, and taking a full break it allows you to remove the psychological stress of dieting for fat loss.
Long term you'll have better control of your nutrition without feeling the need to go entirely off the rails with a diet break or refeed as they give you a mental break from being so food focused.
Physiologically a diet break allows you to normalize metabolic function, restore leptin and other hormones that will help you to achieve much better fat loss results in the future.
4.) Consume adequate protein and strength train
adequate protein intake and strength training are two of the largest factors when it comes to preserving muscle mass, and remaining satiated while losing body fat.
Protein is the highest satiety macronutrient leaving you feeling fuller for longer, and it also has the highest Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) rating meaning the body has to burn more calories to digest protein.
Strength training allows you to maintain and in some cases build muscle which requires more calories to maintain ensuring that your metabolic rate gets a little bump. Also it's hard work to build muscle, and the means to put on muscle requires a good amount of caloric burn in the gym putting in the work.
Having more muscle increases resting metabolic rate and helps to keep the overall metabolic rate elevated by a little bit allowing you to burn more calories during exercise and at rest.
While this is a relative small amount of calories from this preservation of muscle mass when it comes to fat loss you should take anything you can get, as the deeper you get into a diet the slower the results will typically happen.
5.) Don’t do too much high intensity training
When someone engages in too much high intensity exercise while eating for fat loss they will lose a larger portion of muscle when losing "weight."
This drop in muscle mass causes a larger drop in resting metabolic rate, and will leave you with a less desirable physique. Not to mention if you're doing too much HIIT while on lower calories it can increase appetite.
While this form of exercise can help to burn more calories, trying to engage in high intensity exercise too frequently to burn more calories too frequently will only dig a deeper stress hole for you to climb out of.
When the stress from high intensity of exercise is added to eating for fat loss, it will greatly increase stress hormones.
Over production of stress hormones causes greater water retention, and will also lead to hormonal dysfunction making healthy fat loss more difficult in the long run.
6. Eat as much as you can while still losing fat
Most people have tendency to eat as little as they can get by on when dieting, which giveS some short term results but falls apart in the end for most.
If you eat too little too soon it makes sticking to your nutrition plan very difficult, and leaves far less room for adjustments when a plateau or stall happens, and those stalls and plateaus will happen its just part of fat loss thats expected.
If you start by only eating 1,200 calories you may lose quickly in the beginning, but in the long term getting to your goal will require much more extreme measures that only further stress the body.
When you hit a plateau on 1,200 calories dropping them any further is getting into the extreme category and trying to add exercise on top of that little food will feel horrible.
By eating as much as you can while accepting a little slower rate of fat loss you allow more wiggle room to make adjustments and keep fat loss moving in the right direction without extreme measures or health degradation in the name of getting leaner.