To lose weight you need a calorie deficit. You can either eat less, exercise more or both (best solution). One of the main difficulty when you try to lose weight is to burn fat without losing too much muscle tissue . Keeping muscles is essential since they’re the one responsible for most of the calorie burning. Another tricky part is cutting calorie intake without getting your body in starvation mode. Let’s start by understanding a bit more of your body “thinks”.
The human machine
The human body is a marvelous machine fine tuned by tens of thousands of years of evolution. It hasn’t been long since food has been so easily available and our bodies haven’t catch up with this new reality yet. It still reacts like we were still living in caves, hunting mammoths and picking fruits and berries.
So our body is extremely good at stocking and keeping energy. Energy is primarily stocked as glycogen and fat. Glycogen is stocked glucose located in muscles and in the liver. This stock as a finite capacity and is quickly depleted. Fat stocks, on the other hand can be almost unlimited. Proteins can also be used as an energy source. This ability to endure starvation let us survive as a specie, but makes it harder to lose weight in a modern world were food is abundant.
Any drastic or prolonged calorie cut is perceived as a threat by our body. When this happens, it enters “starvation mode”. This slows down the metabolism to reduce energy expenditure, making fat loss more difficult. And at some point, the body will use proteins from the muscle as an energy source. This way it can save fat stocks for later. And reduce muscle mass which is responsible for a lot of calorie burning. It also enhances hunger, which makes it very difficult to follow a strict diet.
How to avoid starvation mode
The best way to lose weight and not regaining it is not to enter starvation mode. One of the best method for this is to avoid drastic changes in your eating habits. Studies show that most people who succeeded in losing weight and not regaining it lost an average of 1 pound/week. You might think it isn’t much, but it’s still 50lbs in a year!
And for really fat persons, this can be much more. If you have over 30% body fat, you can cut more calories before entering starvation mode. Since there’s so much stocked fat, the body won’t feel threatened. On the other hand, the leaner you get, the harder it is to burn fat…
Another way to avoid starvation is by using a cycling diet, but this is a more advanced topic that deserves his own article.
A few weight loss tips
Never go on a diet! How many people undergo some drastic diet to give them up a few weeks or months later? To finally regain all the weight they lost (and more)? The best diet is the one you will follow. Change your eating habits one at a time. Change one thing, then wait 21 days to change something else… This way you will gradually improve your eating habits and will avoid starvation mode. Slowly and steady wins the race.
A maximum daily cut of 500 calorie is usually recommended. The main goal is to cut your calorie intake a little bit in order to burn stored fat without triggering the starvation mode. And also without losing your hard earned muscles.
Cutting calories and exercising is the best solution. Not only exercise let you burn more calories, it also keeps your metabolism in high gear. Forget cardio; the best type of training is strength training and HIIT. Not only this let you burn lots of calories in a short period of time, you will keep burning them 48 hours after your training session. Also, strength training will help reduce muscle loss.
Never grow hungry! Might sound weird, but if you starve yourself between meals you will make bad food choices when it is time to eat and you will tend too stuff your face. Eating healthy, filling snacks will help you control your daily food intake.
Cook! Stay away from restaurants and processed food. This way it will be easier to eat healthy balanced food.
Avoid any refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Eat only complex carbs. Carbs contain a lot of calories and won’t help satisfy hunger. And any excess carbohydrates that cannot be stocked as glycogen will be transformed into fatty acids by the liver and stocked as fat.
Eat a lot of proteins. Not only do they help cut hunger, they also help prevent muscle loss while your cutting. 1g of protein by pound of body weight is a good recommendation.
Don’t cut fat intake too much. Some fatty acids are essential to your health and a low fat diet might interfere with your hormone production. Fat helps you fight hunger. Fat doesn’t get you fat, caloric surplus does! If you drastically cut your fat intake, your body will react by holding on to the one it has stocked. Cut carbs instead, they are not essential.
Allow yourself planned cheat meals. Once a week, you can allow yourslef to eat anyhting (in reasonable quantity). This won’t change much your total weekly intake, but will help you stick to your diet.
Eat a hearty breakfast. Skipping breakfast or only eating carbs isn’t recommended. you’ll get very hungry, opening the door to unwise snack choices or stuffing yourself when diner comes. A big breakfast with lots of protein and fats will help you fight hunger and send a strong signal to your body, convincing it that there will be no food shortage today. So he can keep on using fat stocks.
Exercise! Strength training and HIIT are the best , but any exercise is good. And it doesn’t have to be too long. If you can’t manage to jog for 30 minutes, three 10min sessions of uh-ups, sit-ups jumping jacks, skip rope, … will have the same results. The main idea is to stay active to burn a bit more calories and to keep your metabolism high.
Sleep well. Studies show that people suffering from sleep deprivation tend to gain weight more easily.