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Have you ever dieted for months on low calories without seeing any weight loss, or worse, seen weight gain?
There are countless magazines or websites that swear by the magic 1200 calories a day for weight loss, but what happens when a low calorie diet no longer provides results?
It’s a game of calorie limbo, how low can you go? Eventually, eating less becomes the problem, rather than the solution.
Read on to find out what might be causing your low-cal plateau, and how to fix it.
What is metabolic damage?
Weight loss seems impossible, and the general rule of calories in versus calories out no longer applies.
However this damage is fixable, which is why I prefer the term “metabolic adaptation.”
Your metabolism is adaptable, changeable, and flexible, and in the same way it slows down during dieting, it can also speed up when properly cared for.
That’s right, you aren’t stuck with your slow metabolism forever!
What causes metabolic damage
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the amount of energy needed to sustain vital bodily functions at rest and accounts for 70% of our metabolism.
The amount of food we provide our body determines how fast or slow our metabolism operates.
When we begin to diet or have a low calorie intake, our RMR slows its functions to match this decrease in energy. In other words, metabolism begins to slow down as food intake decreases.
The same way that you don’t want to run sprints on low energy, your metabolism doesn’t want to drive your engine all day with no fuel in the tank.
After a prolonged period of too much work and not enough food, metabolism reaches a point where fat loss becomes nearly impossible.
Vital functions can only work so slowly, and eventually any calories you consume will be stored for function, rather than burned for fat loss.
Fixing metabolic damage
Once your metabolism slows down to the point where it no longer burns fat, how do you repair it?
You can’t cut any more calories or do any more cardio, so the only place to go is up. Yes, increasing food may actually help you lose weight.
Eating food requires energy and raises metabolism, also known as the thermic effect of food. After all, processing and digesting nutrients accounts for 10% of our metabolism.
Digesting proteins requires the most energy, which means that as you eat more protein, and more calories in general, your metabolism will begin working faster.
3 Steps to fix a damaged metabolism
Not everyone is built to eat 3000 calories a day and lose weight, but if you’ve been following a 1200-calorie plan for months with no results, you may be ready to take steps towards metabolic repair. Here’s how:
1. Eat more food
Add calories to your intake, at a slow and controlled rate. It’s not necessary to double your intake in a day in order to wake up your metabolism.
Being conscious of your food intake and adding in an extra snack each day or an additional protein source is a good place to start.
If you’re interested in tracking your food try a nutrition program like flexible dieting/IIFYM.
2. Don’t overdo it
Over working your metabolism by exercising for two or three hours every day can put it into overdrive and eventually shut down mode.
If you’re slaving away on the Stairmaster several times a day or skipping every rest day, take it easy. You and your body need time for rest and recovery.
3. Keep your body guessing
As humans, our bodies seek regularity and will work to maintain homeostasis. After following one plan for too long, your body grows accustomed and needs a change to see results.
You can’t lift the same weight for 5 months and continue to build muscle. Similarly, you can’t eat the same amount for months and months and expect it to cause weight loss or weight gain, you will eventually just maintain.
Continue to change your routine in the gym and the kitchen to keep your body up to speed.
I try to never hide the less glamorous parts of the journey. It's easy to only post the "after" pictures or your best moments or throwback to being stage lean constantly. But how did you get there? You worked. And you endured. And that is something to be equally proud of. If you have an after picture it means you came from somewhere and didn't give up. The left picture was the end of my bulk last year. I was eating in a large surplus and gained more than I needed to. BUT I loved doing it. Why? Because I NEEDED it. Mentally. Every time I thought about cutting or eating less I got huge anxiety. I dreaded the thought. I wasn't ready to go back to a dieting mentality so I didn't. I was eating a ton and loving every minute. I was really happy with my life. I loved the way I looked too! Because I was happy internally I could be happy externally. I knew if I went back to cutting before I was truly ready and eager to do so, I would be miserable. NEVER rush into a diet if you're not mentally ready. Goals shouldn't be torture. When I was finally ready to cut again, it's because I was genuinely excited to set some new physique goals and change up my nutrition. And I succeeded because I really wanted it.
Metabolic adaptation may be an unfortunate side effect of under eating and long term dieting, but the good news is that it is not permanent!
When we diet, we lower calories, increase our activity level, lose body mass, and inevitably cause our metabolism to slow down.
To take your metabolism from tortoise to race horse, make sure you are eating enough.
Exercise regularly, but not to the point where you are under-fueled and overworked.
All hope is not lost when you hit a fat loss plateau after months of dieting, it is simply your body’s way of telling you to step off the gas and fill the tank.