Anyone who understands dieting knows that to lose body fat, you have to burn more calories than we eat. Which is why 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 far more complex. Dieting and restricting food intake can make life difficult to the point where we complicate food and cause issues in our health and exercise regimens. This is mainly because eating is essential to human survival and we are unable to go against our natural instincts not to for very long.
This news shouldn’t discourage you about dieting but instead inspire you to explore the idea of what it means to eat in a healthy way to help you manage your weight and your hunger. You don’t have to deprive yourself; however, you do have to develop and maintain healthy habits that make losing body fat achievable and sustainable.
Reason 1: you lose sight of what really matters to achieve sustainable fat loss
Dieting makes people stress most of the time. They worry about everything from whether their food is organic, gluten and GMO-free, to what kind of water they drink, to precise meal timing. That’s not to say that those things don’t matter, but only in certain instances.
The solution? Focus on the things that really matter to achieve fat loss including:
- Eating high-quality food that allows you to satisfy your hunger and enjoy meals without overeating
- Getting plenty of sleep and avoid stress through meditation, yoga etc
- Avoiding major nutrient deficiencies like vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium
- Being consistent with your workouts and nutrition
- Lifting weights in a way that overloads the body so that you gain muscle and lose fat
- Being more active and less sedentary
Once you have all of these habits cemented naturally into your lifestyle, it makes sense to pay attention to the details that matter to you. The biggest challenge is to make these habits second nature, meaning try not to get sidetracked.
Reason 2: you become unable to truly recognise when you’re hungry and when you’re full
A diet requires you to restrict food intake and ignore when you’re actually hungry. This leads to changes in the brain and in the metabolic hormones that lead people to feel hungry all the time, even when they’ve just eaten. They become unable to recognise fullness, and frequently overeat.
The solution? Resetting your brain to recognise hunger and fullness isn’t easy but a few things can help:
- Be dedicated to avoiding processed foods in favour of real food
- Eat a higher protein diet that includes healthy fats while getting majority of carbs from complex sources
- Eat plenty of vegetables and lots of fiber
- Get enough sleep as a lack of sleep directly affects metabolic hormones like leptin and insulin that affect hunger and fullness
Reason 3: your willpower is easily exhausted, causing you to overeat
Willpower is a limited resource. Therefore, when you use it all day long to control your eating along with other activities that require effort like working at your job or exercising, it easily runs out. One reason is that self-control requires a lot of mental energy.
Dieting almost 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. People often find that their willpower runs out in the evening. This inevitably ends up in a binge of chips, ice cream, cake or even “healthy” foods like peanut butter, nuts, yogurt or dark chocolate.
The 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 fats and complex carbs will do the trick.
Reason 4: It’s stressful
When trying to lose fat, you quickly have to learn how to avoid giving into stress and reaching out for calorie-laden delights any time the going gets tough. This is because when you feel stressed, the hormone cortisol is elevated. High cortisol is well known for triggering food intake, specifically of refined foods high in carbs and fats.
On top of this, restricting calories in order to lose body fat is an inherently anxiety-producing and stressful activity, meaning you feel burdened with hunger and craving all the time.
The 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 down your metabolism in 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. There are ways to offset this short-term effect by increasing your protein intake and eating more fibrous vegetables but the vast majority of dieters don’t do this.
Second, when you slash calories below 1200 a day, your body will slow 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 have lost once the diet is over. It can also lead to imbalances in metabolic and stress hormones.
Third, dieting leads you to lose large amounts of muscle mass, which radically reduces the amount of calories your body burns every day. This can cause an unhealthy body composition and decrease overall health.
The solution? start a weight-training program and opt for a higher protein diet in order to maintain muscle mass while you lose body fat.
Reason 6: it’s not sustainable
Most people approach fat loss diets with the mindset that hopefully in the future they’ll be able to stop eating in a way that they hate.
Dieting isn’t sustainable. Once you return to your so-so diet habits, you’ll regain any fat you lose 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 which can lead to disease.
The 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. Don’t try to go it alone and reach out to a nutritionist, psychological counselor or coach who can help you.