Have you tried eating less food, only to have it fail to give you the results you were looking for? And maybe even GAIN weight?
This is what many people experience and it can really mess with your head. In response, in the last few years, there’s been significant pushback against extreme diets. More and more voices have been speaking out against 800 calorie diets and the typical hardcore shenanigans.
“Don’t aim for super low-calorie diets. Make sure you’re eating enough!”
But does this mean that having your calories too low prevents (or reverses) weight loss?
Does it mean that there’s a point where you accidentally bypass “safe and reasonable calorie deficit for weight loss” and go straight into a realm where your low-calorie intake engages every survival mechanism in your body and causes weight gain?
The answer is “no”. It’s not that extreme, low-calorie diets lead to short-term weight gain due to low-calorie intakes being inherently fattening – It’s that these attempts at restriction rarely work.
Your body demands that it protects itself. Not in a “let’s completely change how the metabolism operates” way, but in a “F*** you! You’re not gonna rob me of what I need. I’m gonna take it!” sort of way.
In other words, the reason that 1,200 calorie diets fail is because they’re not 1,200 calorie diets. They are diets that are on pace for 1,200 calories per day until, inevitably, your hunger levels get so high that it’s full-on emergency mode and it’s time for calories, STAT!
It’s better to aim to eat 2,200 calories per day and succeed at eating 2,200 calories per day than to aim for 1,200 calories but end up eating 3,000… which isn’t at all to imply that you NEED to count calories.
The point is that when you aim to eat a reasonable amount of food, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you aim to eat an unreasonable amount of food. And that when you’re aiming for unreasonable food intake, the chasm between 1,200 and 3,000 isn’t as big as it looks on paper.
Earlier, I challenged the idea that extremely low-calorie diets promote weight gain in the short term. The reason I said “short” term is because if you do manage to succeed at semi-starving yourself, it can be more difficult to manage your weight in the long term. This is because when weight loss is too fast, your body burns through muscle like it’s going out of style.
Because muscle tissue burns more calories per day than fat tissue, this means that when your crash diet ends, you’re probably not going to return to your starting weight. Actually, you’re more likely to end up heavier than you started.
“Okay, Sean. Until right then, I wasn’t afraid of losing weight. How do I not lose weight too fast?!?!”
The good news is that you’re probably not going to lose weight too fast by accident. You’re not going to go on vacation, think less about your diet, and then come back home a week later and find out that you lost 30 lbs.
You have to work REALLY hard to lose weight at a pace that is too fast. The general guideline is to not exceed 1% of weight lost per week. Meaning if you’re 300 lbs, losing 3 lbs per week is (theoretically) no big deal. But if you’re 170 lbs, losing 3 lbs per week would definitely be ill advised.
But again, you’re not going to suddenly find yourself losing 3 lbs per week. And if you do, that’s a sign that you’re on an extreme diet.
In reality, .5 to 1 lbs per week is the typical sweet spot for most people. By focusing on habits that help you to naturally take in fewer calories and feel more satisfied from each calorie that you take in, your body will guide you to a pace that is realistic and satisfying for you.
You might make a few changes and discover you’re losing at 1/3rd of a pound per week, then make a couple more changes and find you’re on pace for half a pound. If you’re continually focusing on sustainable, healthy behaviors, you are not going to run the risk of experiencing the negative repercussions of extreme rapid weight loss diet attempts.
Disclaimer: keep in mind that just because you’re losing .5 to 1 lbs per week does NOT mean the scale will show those losses every week.
“Wait a second. What’s the deal with my metabolism?”
First, no comment on the fact that it sounds like you’re setting up for a Jerry Seinfeld style joke about your metabolism.
Second, if dieting attempts keep leading to weight gain, this tells us the problem is the diet itself. Not your metabolism.
What determines whether you are gaining weight or losing weight (and the speed at which you are doing so) is the totality of your habits.
That doesn’t mean that gaining weight means that your habits are “all bad”, nor does it mean that you need to have all your habits be “good” to lose weight. It just means that if you’re not on the right track for reaching your goals, you need to create new skills and make your habits more goal supportive than they are right now.
If you would like my help in creating a personalized plan to create more goal-supportive habits and lose weight without extreme dieting, click HERE to learn all about the 90-Day Weight Loss Habit Success Program.