The Pain Of The Diet Cycle

The diet cycle is real.  Many clients of mine have went through it in the past.  Some have gotten stuck in this loop for years.  The toll this takes on a person is life long.  Even after I show them the light many still are brainwashed by the old adage eat less exercise more. The diet cycle consists of:

  • Calorie restriction diet
  • Lose weight the first 2-3 weeks
  • Diet adherence starts to be challenged
  • Calories intake rises (usually with eating non diet food)
  • Weight is gained back
  • 3-5 lbs more are gained
  • New and higher set point is created
  • Repeat

There are a few simple principles and laws as to why this happens.  The two keys terms are the Law of Metabolic Compensation and Adaptive Thermogenesis

Dr. Jade Teta seemed to be the one to coin the term Law of Metabolic Compensation.  The following is an excerpt from one of his articles explaining this law.

"There are two prevailing models of metabolism.  The first is the metabolism is a calculator model championed by what I call the “calorie zealots.” Certainly calories are of primary importance in fat loss, but they are not all that matters.

The next is the metabolism as a chemistry lab model. This is the view of what I call the carb and insulin fanatics. Hormones certainly play a primary role in fat loss, but like calories they are not all that matters.

Both of the models above lead to the exact same problem.  Cut carbs or cut calories, and the metabolism responds in kind by adapting and reacting in the opposite direction.  This is why almost every study done on long-term weight loss using either of these models shows that in the end there is no advantage of one over the other and they both result in 95% of people gaining the weight back and 66% becoming fatter.

The best analogy for the metabolism is as a thermostat or see-saw.  It is constantly adapting and compensating to everything you do.  You cut calories or carbs and it induces changes in hunger and cravings that make it even more likely you will want to eat more calories and carbs."

This concept is a key reason why not to drop or add too many calories to your diet too quickly.  

Adaptive thermogenesis is the body's regulated production of heat.  This is influenced by environmental temperature and diet.  The Law of Metabolic Compensation directly links to your body's adaptive thermogenesis.  The more you go through the "diet cycle" the adaptive thermogenesis effect of your body will lessen.  Meaning you burn less calories.  AKA your metabolism slows down.  In some cases people can burn 200-600 less calories per day because of dietary/calorie limitation.  That's why in some instances people have dropped their calorie intake and gained weight.  

Finding your ideal calorie intake can be hard.  It's constantly changing for a variety of reasons like age, activity levels, and stress.  The following are the steps I use with clients.

  • Log a typical day into a calorie tracking app like My Fitness Pal. to find your current intake.
  • Find your BMR using a BMR calculator
  • Compare these numbers. If you are under eating your BMR or are barely above it, chances are you are indeed under eating.
  • Slowly adjust your calories.  Don't add or subtract more than 100-150 calories/day in a week.  So if your BMR is 1700 calories and you are eating 900 calories, for week 1 aim for 1050, week 2 aim for 1300, and so on and so on.   
  • BMR- Basal Metabolic Rate, in Laymen terms is the least amount of calories you need to maintain normal bodily function.  Eating less than this will slow the metabolism and affect weight loss.
  • Take into account your age and activity levels to set an overall calorie goal.  Remember your body is constantly changing so this number will change over time as well.  My BMR is 1.700.  I usually eat between 3,000 and 3,500 calories a day.  If you are severely under eating it may take some time before you come close to eating this calorie number.
  • There is no exact science when finding your ideal calorie intake.  It's constant adjusting and experimentation.  You must learn your body.  I have an active job, weight train daily, and walk 3 miles everyday with my dogs.  So for me just to maintain my weight and muscle mass I found I need to eat at least 3000 calories a day.  If my goals change and I want to put on strength or lift heavier I need to up my calories.  I found 3,500 is ideal for that.  Anything over that I hold excess fat.  There has been times when I take off weeks from working out.  When I do this I limit my calories to about 2,800. Again, I found this out through experimentation.  There is no magic formula.    
  • Use the mirror and clothing as feedback more so than the scale.  I adjust my calorie intake mostly based off the mirror.  If I can see less muscle definition then I need to cut back calories a little or up my activity, not both.  If I'm becoming "flat" (no muscle volume) then I'll up my carbs and calories.  This takes time to perfect and learn, but can and should be done by all.    

I know the above bullet points sounds like a lot of work and tracking.  Hell, good things don't come without a little effort!  However, once you perfect your method it takes little to no time out of your life.  You become more intuitive with your eating and lifestyle.  

See where you are at this week with your calorie consumption.  Don't fall victim to and be stuck in the "diet cycle".  

Have a great week,

Mark Radio

Mark Radio is CPT through ACSM, certified nutritional counselor, and has a BA in Exercise Science. He is an Exercise Physiologist/Manager for Body Elite Inc. and owner of Hardcore Home Fitness, LLC.

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  1.  Jade Teta on May 23, 2014 in ME ExerciseME Miscellaneous Health and FitnessME Nutrition
  2. "adaptive thermogenesis." Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing. 2012. Farlex 28 Nov. 2015 http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/adaptive+thermogenesis