Have you fallen into the yo-yo diet trap?
So many women, us included, have fallen into the yo-yo diet trap during our fitness journey. Diet culture is constantly telling you that the key to looking and feeling beautiful is to be thin. Oftentimes chasing this aesthetic has nothing to do with health, but an unrealistic idea of what society expects you to be.
In an attempt to lose weight, often the first thing you turn to is your calorie intake. By cutting calories it seems that you will be sure to shed those unwanted pounds. To further your efforts many of you will look to exercise, specifically cardio. The old phrase “calories in calories out” creates the idea that the more you burn, and the less you eat, will lead you to lose weight.
Oh if only it were that simple! In theory, this saying is true. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. However, it starts to get more complicated when you look at how many calories you actually burn in a given day.
Many factors play into how many calories we burn in a day
Each person’s metabolism is different. For starters, your body composition affects how many calories you burn. Factors such as being a man or a woman, your height, weight, and amount of lean mass all go into determining how many calories your body burns. It gets even more complicated when you add in not so obvious factors. Your hormones, stress level, sleep, environment, genetics, and health all play into how many calories you burn each day.
So if you are not already totally confused let’s dig a little deeper.
Slashing calories slows our metabolism
It’s a harsh truth. When you cut calories, your body goes into survival mode. Your body wants to maintain its weight. It constantly thinks it needs to protect itself from the next “famine” and wants to hold onto those extra pounds. When you drastically cut your calories, your body is going to assume that the “famine” is here and it is going to conserve energy. So cutting calories too drastically actually works against you.
Overexercising can make matters worse
When you cut calories, and then throw on intense exercise you make your body even more skeptical of what’s going on. It responds with...I bet you guessed it...a slower metabolism once again. Then to make matters worse, if you do start to shed pounds, there is a good chance this weight is going to be composed of muscle (along with some fat and water too). As your muscle is depleted, your metabolism will take another hit. In order to maintain your weight you will need to keep decreasing your calorie intake.
This is how yo-yo dieting happens.
During a weight loss journey you may come to a point where your metabolic rate has slowed down, yet you are tired of constantly cutting calories. It is not sustainable to deny yourself all the time. Slowly you return to your “normal” way of eating. At this point your metabolism is slower, your muscle mass is less, and you can no longer eat what you used to be able to and maintain your original weight. All the damage dieting has done to your metabolism means you now have to eat less to just maintain the weight you started out. So then you start down the road again, this time cutting even more calories than before to achieve results. This is yo-yo dieting.
How to break the cycle
You can stop the yo-yo diet cycle by not going to such extremes. Yes you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight (eating less calories than we burn). However, starting out by only slightly decreasing calories is a great place to start.
Finding out the proper amount of protein, fat and carbs you should be targeting each day is very helpful in breaking the yo-yo diet cycle as well. Ensuring you are getting enough protein will help protect your muscle mass so that the weight you are shedding is mostly fat. This is what you ultimately want, right?
Doing the right type of exercise is important too. Too much cardio, and not enough resistance training is not helpful for long term weight maintenance. Cardio does not help increase your lean muscle mass. Yes, cardio burns calories, but for long term success you need to build up those muscles so that your metabolism keeps running well (even while we sleep!).
We recommend our clients focus on strength and sprinkle in cardio. This way you get the benefit of the initial calorie burn from cardio, all while building that muscle!
The most important part to focus on during a weight loss journey is self care.
The most important part of the journey is your health and wellbeing. You need to make sure you are taking care of your body by feeding it healthy, nutrient dense food. You need to prioritize getting enough sleep, managing your stress levels, and taking care of your mental health along with your physical health. Pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion and fatigue will only take you so far before having to deal with the fall out of a damaged metabolism. Remember that slow and steady wins the race. You’ve got this!
Deanna and Joy