I work with over 40 online clients, every month and with at least as much in my IFS gym. In the process I observe a lot of the mistakes that most people make. The place where everybody trips over is the diet. The moment when people start believing that in order to lose weight, they need to constantly limit their calorie intake… and the less they eat, the faster they will get results.
The body is not a model from anatomy classes, but a living organism. Written on the white paper the law of thermodynamics sounds great – energy cannot be created or destroyed, which in the context of weight loss would mean that losing weight is just simple math – eat less, burn more and you will lose weight. Or at least this is the way we interpret it.
In reality, what the first law of thermodynamics tells us is that if we take less calories than we spend, then our body needs to respond to this situation with something or in a way that will eliminate the deficit of energy – in the best case (for us) by burning our own body fat stores.
I always remind you that the main goal of the body is survival and this survival is being achieved by homeostasis (I’d say allostasis, but I won’t overburden you with information).
What does homeostasis mean in this context? There is a disturbed balance, i.e. a deficit of energy – and it needs to be recovered.
What are our body’s instruments to return this balance?
1.Slowing down metabolism
Slowing down metabolism can happen in a couple ways.
1.1. The body decreases the production of certain hormones and to be more precise the thyroid hormone – the main regulator of our metabolism.
What does decreased metabolism actually mean?
This means that there will be a decrease in the rate with which we burn calories. Now you are eating less, but you are burning less. This means that you can’t achieve the desired deficit, yet you are living with the feeling of deprivation. You deprive yourself, you don’t get the results you want and you get a strong feeling of dissatisfaction.
1.2.The body destroys your muscles
As I’ve told you before, muscles are an active tissue and they require energy in order to function. When homeostasis in your body is disturbed, it will try to get it back, by stopping some secondary functions – muscles and being lean and fit is not a priority of the body – it will start destroying your muscles, because they burn more calories than fats do. Our body doesn’t want to have a deficit of energy – it will destroy the tissues that burn more, in order to decrease the energy needs of the body.
3.The deficit of energy turns into fatigue
Fatigue is a defensive mechanism of the body. Something like an alarm, which gets activated, so it can stop us from doing activities that are potentially dangerous for the survival of the body.
What happens when we are tired? We feel the lack of desire to perform physical activity! Probably the reason you are finding it harder to work out is not that you are lazy or not goal oriented. Probably this is just the biological drive, in response to your destructive actions towards your body. This is a reaction of your body, which comes from inside and it has nothing to do with your conscious efforts and will. Do not forget that will works for some time. Then biology takes a toll on it and it gets serious.
What else happens when we are tired?
This decreases the so called NEAT (non – exercise activity thermogenesis), which means that it decreases the expenditure of calories, while we perform daily activities – like walking, getting up, movements we perform while we clean or take the dog for a walk and so forth.)
What is this? A curse? No, this is just the regulative system of energy in our body – in action.
These are the objective reasons why you see people who train on a daily basis, they are always really active, always on a diet and they always seem to look the same way. They are just going against their own body. The results they get are short term, because they are a consequence of walking against your own body and biology. Actions that is just a matter of time to take a toll on us.
What do we experience?
1.We eat less than ever, we feel deprived and we do not lose weight.
2.We eat less than before, yet we start even gaining weight.
3.We try to move more, we feel tired and we have less desire to be active and we still do not seem to lose weight.
We eat less, we move more, our body burns muscles and not fat and we have even more fatigue. This is a summary of what are the results of our desire to have a healthier lifestyle.
Do you understand it? The problem is not that you lack the will to do it; that you are lazy or you are not goal oriented. The problem is that you got in a fight against your own body and biology. A fight that at the end of the duel was won by your biology.
Here is the role of the so called set point of body fat. HERE I explained you the reasons about hormonal problems and stubborn fat loss – the places that we store fat the most (HERE).
Now I will explain you what is the role of this set point of body fat. In short this is the point of fat percentage that your body favors. If we gain too much fat above it – it is trying to decrease it, by reducing the feeling of hunger, increases our metabolic rate and so forth (I am excluding the case with leptin resistance – which is not the topic of this article).
If we lose way too much fat, then our body will push us towards a behavior, which will take us back to that set point – i.e. it will increase appetite, it will decrease our desire to be physically active.
How many calories we eat or how many calories we burn, just seems to be a matter of a conscious decision – the main driver of it is the unconsciously regulated systems in our brain, that determine the hormones that are being released and what they drive us to do. The conscious decision is to just work for the good of these hormones.
Remember that the body has evolved to not allow us to lose too much weight. In an evolutionary aspect this would harm us. That is why we need to see how to give our body what it needs and in return it will give us what we want.
Let me make a comparison. You know how the body has systems that regulate our blood sugar levels, oxygen levels, how tired we are and when we feel sleepy. There is the same system about our body weight. What happens if we hold our breath? The body can go without oxygen for some time. Then it will force us to breath and when we do it, it will compensate by hyperventilation. Imagine now the same, but with weight. We deprive our body from energy and it will be ok for some time and then it will have the urge to “breathe” and we will start the food indulgence and compensation. Thus we will spin in an enchanted circle.
Thus, we have a conscious control over food intake – just temporary. Then everything comes up to biology. Yes, weight is biologically regulated. We do not realize it and we blame ourselves and we do what we need the least – we punish ourselves with less food and more physical activity.
What is the solution? The solution is to eliminate the factors that will drive us towards such behavior – i.e. we do not gain weight because we eat too much. We gain weight because something in our environment drives our biology, our body to want more calories.
What does that mean?
This means that we shouldn’t deprive our body of energy, but we should lower the set point of body fat. The efforts are worth it because nothing sucks more than fighting hunger every single day! The paradox of abundance.
In my next post I will explain you what is this set point of fat mass dependent on and how through our conscious efforts we could manipulate the unconsciously regulated mechanisms in our body – and at the end of the story lower that set point of fat mass.