When the body is forced to function with less calories than it needs for basic life functions (Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR) it responds with a slowing of the natural metabolism. This is a phenomenon that had been coined Metabolic Adaptation. Many people notice that the first time they diet it is much easier than subsequent times, and the weight gain post diet becomes much harder to avoid. Our bodies’ intelligence is programmed for survival, and if threatened, it responds with an increase in energy (calories) utilization efficiency. In other words, your body needs less calories to do the same level of activity and you have to do more and eat less to lose weight.
Athletes in many sports that are required to drop a lot of body fat through sometimes extreme measures are all too familiar with this challenge. Many times after their event their adapted metabolisms, coupled by weakened willpower, are a recipe for weight gain disaster. This can lead to what many have termed the post show blues. In extreme cases people may find it nearly impossible to keep weight off.
So what’s the solution? Is there no way to avoid this detrimental cycle? I’m going to present 3 strategies that can help keep you and your metabolism healthy.
We live in an instant gratification world. This is why the ever-growing fitness industry is filled with quick ways to lose weight, and yet obesity rates continue to soar. Quick weight loss is not sustainable. In fact, super quick weight loss is the reason for the yo-yo effect of weight gain and loss that causes negative metabolic adaptation. A good range of fat loss for the average person is around ½ – 1 pound per week in a fat loss phase of their program. Notice I say fat loss rather than weight loss. Many times when dropping weight quickly, you are losing hard-earned muscle (very bad) or water weight.
Many things can fall into this category but I’m going to focus on just 2. The overuse of cardiovascular exercise, and fat burner supplements are 2 commonly abused measures people use to lose weight. Unless you’re an endurance athlete, hours upon hours a day of cardiovascular exercise is just adding to the metabolic adaptation problem. The body is forced to be even more efficient with the calories it has, because it is working to ensure your survival. Notice many endurance athletes have very little muscle mass. We want muscle mass on our bodies in order to maintain a faster metabolic rate! Use cardio sparingly and only add when plateauing or when you feel that your calories are low enough. If you need to do cardio for hours a day, you are either trying to lose too quickly, or your body has already adapted and you probably need to take a break from your cutting diet and take the time to reverse diet out of it. Beware the abuse of fat burning stimulants. If used occasionally or for a short duration they can be helpful. When used at high doses daily for long periods of time, your body starts to rely and adapt to them and they become less effective and can even hinder your results. Not to mention the negative effect that stimulants have on the body after long periods of time.
What is reverse dieting? This is a technique that is used to cause positive metabolic adaptation. In this case the body is taught to become use more energy (calories) for the same level of output. Enabling you to eat more food without gaining body fat. The key to being successful in this process is tracking your food and knowing how quickly you can add food. Many people don’t know where to start. If you’ve just completed a diet, you start at the calorie level you finished the diet with. Otherwise you can start with your BMR and make adjustments to that number based on your average intake.
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