Look around you. Go to any fitness website. Read any health related magazine. What’s the overarching message?
It’s a message that states you need to be smaller. You need to lose weight. Blast fat. Torch your stubborn fat. Lose the love handles. It’s all about fat loss. And fat loss is a great goal to have. It’s also prudent to go about the process correctly.
With that said, is it the right time for you to lose fat?
The first thing we have to look at is your dieting history. If you ever have decided to lose fat, what have you done to do so? Obviously, you went into a calorie deficit. And let’s say, for the sake of ease, that it did work and you lost weight. What did you do after that? Did you go back to what you did before? Did you then gain weight? And did you do go on yet another diet to rectify the problem?
If so, you did what normally happens. A given diet has a starting point and an end point. And seldom is there any advice on what to do beyond the diet. But, on a whole, a calorie deficit is a good thing. It does help you lose fat, it slows down the aging process, and it improves your blood levels.
However, you spend too long in a deficit; it can mess with your hormones. Your free and total testosterone levels decrease. Not only that, estradiol decreases as well. Lastly, your sex hormone-binding globulin increases, which minutes the bioavailability of the previously mentioned hormones, commonly referred to as “free.”
So, imagine what that does to you when you engage in the same processes over and over. You’re playing a hormonal roller coaster and you get everything that comes with it. Lower sex drive, irritability, and all that fun stuff. In short, to quote my colleague, Leigh Peele, “It’s not always the right time to be in a deficit. It’s NEVER not the right time to be at maintenance [calories].”
So if you followed that trend of yo-yo dieting for any extended period of time, your goal, now, might be best suited to something else besides fat loss. You might be gasping now, but you have to remember two things:
- If you don’t plan on dying anytime soon, you have time to experiment and
- Fixing your metabolism and/or any other issue should come first for a better long term process.
How to Approach Fat Loss
This depends. How much weight do you have to lose? And are you willing to spend the time doing so?
If you have a solid ten pounds to lose for a photo shoot, cruise, wedding, or whatever, your time spent at a caloric deficit will be far less than someone who has to lose 60 pounds to counteract the adverse effects of obesity.
Not only that, but how is your relationship with food? Do you under eat? Do you binge eat? Do you chronically under eat and then binge eat? Do you chronically under eat, binge eat, lower your calories, repeat?
All these can be addressed. So let’s do so.
The Short Burst
This is for more experienced people who are also lean or close to it. You have an event coming up, and you need to look better for it. So, let’s say you’re going on a cruise on August 1. Could be any year. Doesn’t matter. A simple option is to back track eight weeks, to June 6, start an aggressive deficit, lose the ten pounds, and go cruising.
Once you’re on the cruise, you’ll be eating a ton of food most likely. So this is where the aftercare comes into play. Once you’re back from the cruise, figure out your maintenance calories and stay there for a while. You’ll gain some weight, but that’s to be expected. But if you don’t go crazy on the cruise, your physique won’t drastically change all that much.
The Yo-yo Binger
The latter options, anecdotally speaking, are usually interwoven amongst a lot of people. Either terrible coaches brought them to a point of strict dieting and stalled progress leading to binging, or a person went on their own and ended up eating too little and wondering “where heck is my progress?”
If you fall into this category, think about the hormone discussion above. Think about what it’s doing to you. In the worst cases, you’ll uncover a litany of problems, like lowered hormones, or cessation of your menstrual cycle if you’re a woman. Best case scenario, you feel slightly run down and your progress will stall.
Ultimately, you need to fix the problem. So in this case, a reverse diet might be an option. Briefly, a reverse diet is a way to eat such that you increase your metabolic rate over time and work your way into a caloric surplus. Furthermore, the caloric increases are meant to be slow so that you gradually adapt to the increase of food, and so you don’t gain a ton of weight. To give you an idea of how slow, the increases can come as 100 calories or less, or if you find yourself losing weight, more than that.
Depending on how your metabolism is, you might either gain a bit of weight, or you will trigger more weight loss when you embark on the reverse diet. Both of these will influence how long you stay on the reverse diet. For example, if you find yourself losing weight week after week with increased food, you ideally will keep reversing until you don’t gain. And when you finally gain some weight, you have them reached the surplus. At that point, maintain it. Adapt.
If you find yourself staying the same or gaining a little bit of weight, the process might be even longer for you. Remember, the goal of the reverse diet isn’t to lose weight. It’s to increase your metabolic rate. When you do lose weight, it’s just an unintended consequence.
No matter what, the goal is to adapt to something other than what you have been doing, which has gotten you less than desirable results. If we refer to the above quote, it makes sense. It’s not always the right time to be in a deficit.
How to Make the Decision
You have to take an accurate inventory of your dieting history. See which category you fall into. See where you are now. What are you doing, how are you eating? Are you eating too much or too little? Are you willing to invest the time it takes to fix yourself so that later on you can successfully go on a caloric deficit and not crashing and burning? That last the one is important. It will take time. It will take patience. And for some of you, it will take exponentially more of both. But don’t be afraid to embark on something new. As Layne says, “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.”
- Cangemi, R., Friedmann, A. J., Holloszy, J. O., & Fontana, L. (2010). Long-term effects of calorie restriction on serum sex-hormone concentrations in men. Aging Cell,9(2), 236-242. doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2010.00553.x
- Wadden, T. A., Mason, G., Foster, G. D., Stunkard, A. J., & Prange, A. J. (1990, March). Effects of a very low calorie diet on weight, thyroid hormones and mood. Retrieved July 03, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2341229/
- Redman, L. M., & Ravussin, E. (2011). Caloric Restriction in Humans: Impact on Physiological, Psychological, and Behavioral Outcomes. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling,14(2), 275-287. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3253
- Norton, L. E., PhD. (2014, January 27). BioLayne Video Log 24 – Reverse Dieting. Lecture. YouTube video of Layne going more in depth about reverse dieting.