Happy Monday! I hope you all had a fantastic weekend. Today I am off to explore the Pantheon and enjoy some gelato from Giolitti, which everyone keeps raving about.
Today I wanted to share a short excerpt from the introduction of my e-book. I hope you enjoy it!
Western cultures are currently experiencing the highest levels of obesity on record, due to a gradual shift in society over the years which increasingly favours a sedentary, desk-bound lifestyle combined with a diet of convenient, packaged foods. In 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a whopping 68 per cent of Americans over the age of 20 are either obese or overweight. Simultaneously, the fitness industry is bigger than ever before, yet more and more people are unhappy with their physical appearances. Again, it is estimated that at least 45 million Americans consider themselves to be on a diet at any one time. So, if the vast majority of people are on a diet yet still overweight, what is going wrong?
In many cases, people who are overweight turn to restrictive diet and exercise regimes in pursuit of their dream body. Whether they have a significant amount of weight to shift or just a few pounds, the pattern is usually the same: one simultaneously slashes their calories to an unhealthy level while also embarking on an intense and frequent exercise regime.
Does the following anecdote sound familiar? Sarah is a 30-year-old woman who has been dieting on and off her entire life. Likewise, her relationship with exercise has been rocky, but she has mostly relied on cardio to lose weight in the past. Sarah is planning on getting married in four months time, so she decides to commence a diet to lose approximately 10 pounds. Before beginning the diet, Sarah ate sporadically throughout the day. She works a stressful job, which means she often skips breakfast and relies on grabbing a take-away sandwich for lunch. In the evenings, she usually arrives home starving and eats a big meal followed by dessert. Her diet is high in processed foods and relatively low in nutrients, and she is regularly consuming around 2500 calories per day.
As the big day looms closer, Sarah immediately reduces her calories to 1300 and starts hitting the treadmill for a 45 minute jog each night after work. She loses four pounds in the first week and feels great! Her clothes are starting to fit better and she toys with the idea of an even larger weight loss target as she still has months to spare.
During her second week of the diet, however, she begins to feel cranky. She has cut her carbohydrate intake severely, and is starting to miss her lunchtime sandwiches and pizza and pasta dinners. She constantly feels hungry and has started snapping at her husband-to-be. After a week of misery, she steps on the scale only to feel even worse when she realises she has not lost a single pound in the past seven days.
The following week she subsequently decides to cut back her calories to just 1100, and increase her evening runs to 60 minutes. Again, she feels tired, anxious and depressed, and lacks the motivation needed to get through her workouts. She cuts all carbohydrates from her diet completely and simply imagines her big day whenever she faces a moment of temptation. At the end of this third week, she steps on the scale feeling pretty lousy but feeling hopeful that her hard work has paid off. She is horrified to see that not only she has not lost weight, but she has gained back two pounds! She continues the cycle, continuing to eat less and exercise more, and puts her body through torture for minimal results.
This common approach may seem logical to most, as surely if you eat less and expend more energy, you are bound to lose weight. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Our bodies are complicated machines, and it often takes long periods of experimentation to understand what combination of healthy nutrition and balanced exercise will best nourish our health and lead to aesthetic improvements.
The problem is that many people try to follow a deficit which is too severe. While most women would successfully lose weight on 1500 calories per day, and men about 2000 calories per day, a great majority drop to 800 to 1200 calories per day, assuming that less is more. What they do not realise is the long-term damage they are causing to their bodies by doing so.
While you will initially lose weight on a restrictive regime, this is usually water weight due to the decreased amount of carbohydrates within your system, combined with an often increased amount of water lost via exercise-induced sweat. You will initially experience a positive metabolic effect, as your body begins to mobilise its fat stores. It is not uncommon to lose five pounds or more during the first week of a new diet and exercise plan, but this weight loss is not sustainable. As soon as you resume “normal” eating, you will quickly regain the weight – and, usually, a few extra pounds. In fact, statistics show that an incredible 95 per cent of people will regain any weight lost from a crash diet.
If you continue with your diet for an extended period of time, your metabolism will begin to compensate. Although weight loss will initially be significant and consequently likely spur you on, it will soon stall or maybe even start to reverse. You may also find that what worked for you in the past no longer does, and your efforts have to become more and more extreme to produce results. It is not uncommon for people to reach a weight loss plateau and subsequently cut their calories further only to then, frustratingly, gain weight. At this point, your body will also send out signals of hunger and cravings to alert you of the ongoing stresses within your body, which will increase your irritability levels and also sap your motivation. Meanwhile, your body will also start breaking down its own muscle tissue, thereby slowing its metabolism even further as muscle – unlike fat – is metabolically active.
By this point, your body will enter a state of shock whereby it will assume that it is starving, and it will do everything it can to hold on to its existing fat stores. This is commonly referred to as “starvation mode”, where conditions in your physiological state have become so serious that your body cannot tell the difference between a diet and actual starvation. What is more, it will often take what little food you give it and do what it can to store it. This results in weight gain.
Using our example of Sarah above, she would have been far better off simply cutting out the processed foods and instead trying to eat more lean proteins and vegetables. She could have kept her caloric intake quite high at around 2000 calories, and gradually cut 100 calories every few weeks until she reached 1500. She would have lost fat slowly and sustainably, without turning into a bridezilla in the process.
While yo-yo dieting and extensive periods of caloric restriction trigger a number of adverse effects within the body such as bone loss, heart palpitations, muscular atrophy and a compromised immune system, I will focus on the effects on the body’s metabolism and long-term ability to lose weight throughout the course of this book…
For more information about the scientific principles behind metabolic damage and the best way to repair it, please click here.