Everyone knows that to lose body fat, we need to burn more calories than we eat. This is based on the First Law of Thermodynamics that says that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred from one form to another.
Therefore, it seems like common sense that eating less, or burning more calories everyday, would allow us to lose body fat.
Unfortunately, our bodies and brains are more complex. Dieting and restricting food intake by counting calories almost never works. Instead, it ends up over-complicating things and takes us away from focusing on what really matters.
That’s because eating is essential to human survival and we are unable to override it for long.
Don’t be disappointed by the fact that dieting doesn’t work. Be excited!
You don’t have to deprive yourself. What you do have to do is develop healthy habits that make losing body fat achievable and sustainable. This article will help you do that.
Reason #1: You lose sight of what really matters for sustainable fat loss.
One effect of dieting is that people end up focusing on stuff that doesn’t really matter for fat loss. They go overboard worrying about everything from whether their food is organic and GMO-free, to gluten, to what kind of water they drink, to precise meal timing. That’s not to say that those things don’t matter in certain situations—they absolutely do.
The point is that they will make no difference if you’re not doing the big things that lead to fat loss.
Solution: Here are the things that really matter for a fat loss:
* Eating high-quality food that allows you to satisfy hunger and enjoy meals without overeating.
* Getting plenty of sleep and avoid stress.
* Avoiding major nutrient deficiencies like vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium.
* Being consistent with your workouts and your nutrition.
* Lifting weights in a way that overloads the body so that you gain muscle and lose fat.
* Being active instead of being sedentary.
Once you have all of these habits dialed in so that they’re like clockwork and you’ve found a way of working out that it is somewhat enjoyable, it makes sense to pay attention to the details that matter to you. But there’s no need to get sidetracked with the minutiae when your biggest challenge is to make these big habits automatic.
Reason #2: You become unable to recognize when you’re hungry & when you’re full.
The act of going on a diet requires you to restrict food intake and ignore when you’re actually hungry. This leads to changes in the brain and in metabolic hormones that lead people to feel hungry all the time, even when they’ve just eaten. They become unable to recognize fullness, frequently overeating.
Solution: Resetting your brain to recognize hunger and fullness are not easy but a few things can help:
* Be ruthless about avoiding processed foods in favor of real food.
* Eat a higher protein diet that includes healthy fats and get the majority of carbs from complex sources.
* Eat plenty of vegetables and lots of the fiber.
* Be sure to get enough sleep because lack of sleep directly affects metabolic hormones like leptin and insulin that affect hunger and fullness.
Reason #3: It exhausts your willpower & causes you to say “what the hell” & overeat.
Willpower is a limited resource and when you use it all day long to control your eating along with other activities that require resolve like going to the gym, it gets depleted. One reason for this is that self-control requires a lot of mental energy—roughly 20 percent of the calories you burn everyday are used by the brain.
Dieting has a twofold effect on willpower since you have to use it to control your eating but you’re also restricting calories, so your energy supply will be limited. The result is that people often find that their willpower runs out in the evening.
They throw up their hands in frustration saying “what the hell” and go crazy with chips, ice cream, cake, or even a “healthy” food like almond butter or yogurt.
Solution: Adopt a way of eating that avoids hunger and leads to steady, even blood sugar to provide a consistent energy source for the brain. Many people find that eating small frequent meals that are high in protein, healthy fat and complex carbs will do the trick.
Reason #4: It stresses you out.
To lose body fat, you’ve got to avoid tearing your hair out from stress and chowing down on calorie-laden delights any time the going gets tough. That’s because when you feel stressed, the hormone cortisol gets elevated. High cortisol is well known for triggering food intake, specifically of refined foods high in carbs and fats.
Plus, restricting calories in order to lose body fat is an inherently anxiety producing and stressful activity, and you will feel deranged with hunger and cravings all the time.
Solution: Figure out an effective stress management plan that focuses on exercise and recovery, sleep, fun, and some sort of mind-body activity like meditation or deep breathing.
Reason #5: It slows your metabolism for the long-term.
There are three ways that dieting leads you to burn fewer calories every day.
First, the process of breaking down and digesting food burns calories—called the thermic effect of food. For example, the body burns nearly 25 percent of the calories provided in a meal of pure protein. When you diet and eat less food, the thermic effect is reduced and your body burns fewer calories.
Now this is a short-term effect and there are ways to offset it, such as by increasing your protein intake and eating more fibrous foods (think veggies), but the vast majority of dieters don’t effectively take these actions.
Second, when you slash calories below 1,200 a day, your body will slow your metabolism in order to preserve the fuel stores, and you’ll burn fewer calories daily. This one has lasting negative effects on metabolism, leading people to regain any fat that they lost. They often end up fatter than they were to begin with. It can also lead to imbalances in metabolic and stress hormones, which further exacerbates the problem.
Third, dieting leads you to lose large amounts of muscle mass, which radically reduces the amount of calories your body burns everyday. This is a terrible situation because it means you have a worse body composition and worse health.
Solution: Start a weight-training program and opt for a higher protein diet in order to maintain muscle mass while you lose body fat.
By planning your diet around whole foods and plenty of vegetables, it’s very likely that if you’re reasonably active in daily life, you will create calorie deficit and lose body fat without ever needing to cut calories.
Reason #6: It’s not sustainable for the long term.
Most people approach fat loss diets with the mindset that “someday in the future” they will get to stop eating in a way that they hate.
Dieting simply isn’t sustainable. Once you return to your so-so diet habits, you’ll regain any fat you lost and you’ll actually cause severe hormonal changes to your body that it won’t recover from. This is called weight cycling and it’s a horrible reality that plagues dieters because it makes it harder to lose body fat in the future and causes inflammation, raising disease risk.
Solution: If you hate your exercise program, you’ve simply got to find a way to be active that you enjoy a little bit and can keep doing for the long run.
Same goes for eating—if you hate your what you eat, you’ve got to find another way of eating that allows you to enjoy food and does not generate cravings or more than mild hunger. Sometimes working with a nutritionist, psychological counselor, or coach can help.