Here is the problem
When people think about fat loss, they think about doing lots of cardio and eating less food than they currently are. If you apply this, great! You will likely lose some weight. This is more or less what 12 week challenges are, and also why they generally fail. Today I’m going to dive into why this method is so flawed, and why 90% of people end up gaining all the weight back and often even more on top!
I’m going to talk about this in a way that I think every one can be able to understand it, I don’t want to use fancy words to try and impress you, I simply want you to understand the reasoning.
There are 2 ways for you to drop fat. The first way is to eat less food than your body burns each day, putting you in a “calorie deficit”. The second way is doing so much exercise, that you’re burning more calories than you are consuming… this puts you in a – you guessed it – “calorie deficit”. In summary you can do more, or eat less.
I feel this is quite well known information by now, I’m constantly seeing it pushed around the internet which is fantastic. The only problem is, there are other systems in place that can make fat loss sustainable, or not so much.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Damn, I used a fancy couple of words – I’m sorry. But let me explain to you what this is in a way you won’t get confused.
Your basal Metabolic Rate is that magic number, representing the amount of calories your body needs for life sustaining functions. With this number you can very easily determine how much food you are allowed to eat to either lose, gain, or maintain your bodyweight. There are other factors involved unique to you and how you spend your day – basically whether you’re active or not – that will determine the sweet number we can use to work out how much food you need to consume.
How Most Challenges and Weight loss Goals Work
Now that you know how that system works, I’m going to teach you how and why most weight loss goals end up failing long term.
For this lets use an example case study, I will name this person “Luna” (the name of my chihuahua who could actually benefit from this advice if you know what I’m saying.)
Luna is a 60kg female, who has decided to try lose some fat. Luna’s BMR is 1000kcals, and Luna burns an additional 700kcals on top from her busy schedule without additional exercise. This means if Luna eats less than 1700 calories, she will lose weight.
Luna joins a 12 week challenge, and is given a nice diet of chicken and broccoli rounding out at a depressing 1200 calories per day. Luna is also prescribed to join 4x 1 hour intense group sessions at her local gym.
All of a sudden Luna is in a 500 calorie deficit from her diet alone, and on top of this, is burning additional calories from her new training regime. Luna is super committed and sticks to this plan the entire challenge, and comes out after 12 weeks at a whopping 53kg and wins the entire event!
Behind The scenes
During these 12 weeks, Luna’s body has actually recognised it’s struggling to survive on this new amount of calories with such high energy output. It doesn’t have a clue that this is only an 12 week stint, so it starts to ADAPT. It decided if it’s only getting fed 1200 calories a day, it’s going to start learning to live off less calories per day to make sure Luna can survive.
Good old Luna comes out of the challenge pumped! She’s completely starving and run down as all hell, but she’s done it. She’s reached her fat loss goal. What Luna does next, is listen to her starving body, and goes back to eating her normal amount of food at 1700 calories – she realises she can’t live off the same boring 3 tiny meals for the rest of her life. She slowly introduces eating out again weekly, drinking with friends occasionally, and slips off her intense training regime as the challenge and hype is over.
Don’t get me wrong, Luna is smart and hasn’t completely blown out. She wants to try maintain her new figure so is staying at around that 1700 calorie mark each day which is her “maintenance”…. or little known to her, it WAS her maintenance.
Sorry, I did it again, I used weird words. But what I’m referring to with the term “metabolic adaption” is simply what I mentioned above. Luna’s body realised it was being starved, and has over the duration of 12 weeks adapted to be able to live off a mere 1350 calories per day including her daily work/life energy expenditure. In addition to this, her body literally doesn’t require as much food to live anymore due to her reduced bodyweight.
So Luna is going on merrily, eating 1700 calories and not really training as work has picked back up. Basically doing what she was before her challenge… After a grueling end of financial year Luna realises she has gained back a lot of her weight and jumps on the scales, she is now 63kg!
So you see this is the issue with drastic weight cuts and challenges, too many things were done at once. The changes were too big, and the only way Luna could have actually maintained her new physique would have been eating 1350 calories a day as any more would put her in a “calorie surplus” which is the zone where you will gain weight. She could have also trained every single day in the gym, burning the extra 350 calories off – but it’s hard enough for Luna getting there twice a week let alone 7 times.
So Metabolic Adaption Sucks?
Just kidding, I lied. Metabolic adaption can actually be utilised to prevent this whole situation from before it even started. What people don’t realise when they say “my metabolism sucks” is that you can actually manipulate your metabolism to work for you instead of against you.
Metabolic adaption can occur in the reverse of the story above. If Luna had been educated properly, and was introduced to doing some proper strength training 2-3 times a week and spent a few months with her focus on performing well in the gym and recovering, her body would have started to put on some muscle mass, and her magical number of calories she was allowed to eat, would slowly come up to match this new level of recovery required to help Luna’s growing muscles and constant need to recover.
From this point Luna’s new Calorie deficit could have started at 1900 calories, and slowly dropped down to 1600 over a 12 week time period. With the end result of Luna being able to continue eating 1700 calories and sticking to her 2-3 days of proper strength training and would comfortably maintain the weight lost.
Your starting point before cutting is highly relevant, if you are eating barely anything and not doing much you are much better off spending some time working on building up your magical BMR via proper strength training, and eating lots of good quality foods, putting a high emphasis on building muscle and building that base. This will allow you to have a maintainable end result that won’t leave you with your hair falling out… Literally.