So often we hear about the failed diet. Countless individuals who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of a healthier version of themselves, trying new diets and exercise regimens in hopes of losing a few pounds, plastered all over social media, blogs and forums that document their frustration. What's worse are the comments, the ever too frequent "you lack the willpower," or "you gave up too easily". Sound familiar? If you fall in the category of stunted or unsuccessful weight loss, you’re not alone, and more importantly, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!
There was a time before Domino’s delivery, Uber Eats, Planet Fitness, automobiles (you know, cars?), antibiotics, and Netflix. Now let me just start by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those, in fact, they all play a pretty major role in my life personally. However, they are services that were not available to our great ancestors. Imagine a caveman chillin in his cave crib with a box of pepperoni pizza watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about the irony of a caveman watching a show about mole people). No, instead our great ancestors had to hunt for their food, daily, which typically meant extended periods of time with little or no food with constant, daily movement. Over hundreds and thousands of years, the need to store energy during long periods of time became programmed into our metabolism as a species.
Let’s break it down. You’re studying for finals or prepping for a big pitch in a couple of days and you’re stressed out of your mind. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you hardly find time to apply deodorant let alone grab a 20-minute workout. Your energy stores feel depleted, you’re exhausted, and you haven’t eaten much over the last 72 hours. What’s going on inside your body? Well, with the lack of dietary intake, your body has started the process of recognizing a starvation state. In turn, your very intuitive physiology begins shutting down all non-essential personnel, reduces your metabolism and boosts your hunger hormone (ghrelin) in hopes of making you eat more. Without the influx of energy (glucose in your diet) your body will begin to mobilize stored energy found in your fat, primarily, and glycogen stores in your liver and muscle. The idea of this process is to elicit a response that causes you to eat more so that your body may operate as usual while providing stored energy for necessary organs like your brain and heart. However, it’s also a programmed survival trait that highly benefited those great ancestors we were talking about (the caveman watching Kimmy Schmidt).
So, when Mr. Caveman wasn’t finding food, this metabolic survival mechanism kicked in, allowing him to live off of his stored energy for long periods of time – this was incredibly important 10,000 years ago. For many today, that kind of food scarcity is not as prevalent. The abundance of food and lack of energy needed to acquire it today has presented us with a different problem – obesity. And with obesity, came the need for “dieting”. Now there are a plethora of different types of diets on the market today, all of which claim to be the answer to all your problems. We won’t get into all of these in detail today – instead, we’ll just say this: the only way to lose weight is to expend more energy than you eat. Typical dieting has you reducing your intake for as long as you need to until you lose weight, or more likely, give up. And why wouldn’t you give up? You would be fundamentally fighting your body and brain’s needs every single day and they are a formidable opponent.
You’re on a diet and you’ve lost some weight and then BOOM – full stop, no more weight loss, much more frustration, nothing changes, and on and on. It’s commonly referred to as the weight loss plateau. Now, before we give you the answer as to why this may happen, STOP and think about Mr. Caveman with nothing but empty boxes of pizza (still watching Kimmy Schmidt).
Bueller, you are correct. After a long period of dieting (your body recognizes it as starvation though), your body kicks on that metabolic survival switch (also known as adaptive thermogenesis in case you were wondering) and your body transitions from energy burning to energy storing. What is incredible is that with all the development, innovation and evolution of the world around us, our metabolism has been slow to catch up. So by starving yourself for weeks on end, you will eventually find yourself on the frontlines of a physiological battle that you can’t possibly win with your metabolism.
But you’re in luck, for two reasons actually. The first being that extensive research has been done on our metabolism, specifically during a starved state (shout out to Dr. Ancel Keys) that has shed some light on how it all works. In brief, studies on starvation started back during the second world war to better understand how soldiers and POW’s faired metabolically during periods of no food or famine. Most notably, scientists discovered that there is a lag time from when “starvation” begins and when the body actually realizes it and flips the aforementioned switch.
The second being, our Happy Brain – Healthy Body™ program offers you a way to safely and effectively “biohack” your metabolism to avoid this weight loss plateau. You had to know we were going to pitch you something after we said Kimmy Schmidt – come on, we’re new to the game so please don’t hate us. But for those of you that aren’t interested in jumping into a program just yet, here are some helpful tips to kickstart your successful weight loss game today.
Diet…but only for 2 weeks at a time
Above we discussed that lag time between starvation and your body recognizing it’s being starved. If you reduce your caloric intake, by as much or little as you’d like, for 2 weeks and then return to baseline, your body will avoid the metabolic slowdown.
Find your metabolic baseline (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)
Have you heard of intermittent fasting? Another topic we won’t get too far into today, but a common mistake people make is going hours or days with no food followed by periods of immense food intake, far above they should be eating. The result? Weight gain. When we say baseline, we mean there is a specific number of calories your body needs to maintain its weight. In order to avoid the weight loss plateau, you should be eating this number of calories following your two weeks of dieting. This will ensure your metabolism doesn’t slow, your body doesn’t think it’s starving, and you won’t gain any weight.
Keep your protein up
A negative side effect of weight loss is lean muscle loss, which inevitably happens during weight loss. To avoid any unwanted muscle loss (your metabolic tissue) make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet.
Augment your stages with the appropriate exercise
If you’re trying to lose weight, focus on muscular endurance and fat loss training. If you're focused on maintaining your weight for a period of time, try incorporating strength and hypertrophy training to maintain your lean muscle mass and elevate your baseline metabolism.
So no, that weight loss struggle is not your lack of willpower or endurance to stay in the game, it's your biology. But in all seriousness, if you are truly dedicated to changing your life and successfully losing weight and keeping it off for good this time, we encourage you to sign up for our program. We don’t bite. You’ll be immersed in an incredible experience to get in touch with your body, learn new techniques to better manage your food intake, understand your body and its mechanics on a fundamental level, engage in daily happiness modules and training and progress through the various stages of change, ending in your ideal state of vitality. Thanks for the read, we love y’all!