Why moving more and eating less is a bad advice & what to do instead

Have you, at some point in your life, decided to restrict food and bump up the intensity of exercise, to see some weightloss?
You probably heard of the saying eat less, move more and the weight will sort itself out.
You then started judging a good workout by the amount of sweat you break – the more you were exhausted after, the better.
Maybe seeing good results initially, and then it somehow slowed down.
The diet became too much of a restriction, the exercise suddenly wasn’t as appealing anymore, your body didn’t quite change shape the way you’ve wanted it to and you’ve started to cut corners …
And as soon you reintroduced certain foods, you gained the weight back.
After a while, you decided to get back at it, because you’ve obviously lacked will power – now you’re restricting even more, doing more intensity, more cardio, more sessions. After all, move more is what they said!  Until you’ve failed again, and again, gaining all the weight back – and more. You feel like a failure.
The frustration is normal – and no, you are not a failure. What ACTUALLY happened?

 

1. ENERGY METABOLISM 101

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can only be transformed but not created or destroyed.

If you spend more time:

  • eating more calories than you spend,  you will gain weight (more time in the green zone)
  • eating less than you spend or expending more calories than you put in, you will lose weight (more time in the blue zone)
  •  If those two states are equal, you are maintaining weight – this is your homeostasis. (blue and green zone are equaled)


 

2. THE RATIONALE: MORE VIGOROUS EXERCISE BURNS MORE CALORIES & EATING LESS CREATES A BIGGER DEFICIT = MORE WEIGHT COMES OFF

The logical imply therefore is – the more you restrict calories and increase output, the more  time you spend in the blue area, and the more you lose! Initially, this works – but diving deeper always backfires. Let’s look at why:

WHAT BURNS CALORIES ANYWAY?

First, we need to look at how metabolism distributes calories burned. The biggest energy consumer is actually your physical body itself: JUST LIVING, breathing, digesting food, thinking … Burns the majority of what you eat – up to 70%.

  1. This is your BMR: Basal Metabolic Rate.
  2. Your NEAT: Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is your generic movement through the day – how much you fidget, stand up, walk around, household work etc.
  3. After that – it’s the energy that you burn through eating! Different types of food burn more energy, so you can increase your output by eating the right stuff! 
  4. and right on the end is the energy expenditure from exercise – less than 10%! 

 

As you can see, exercise alone creates only a small amount of impact in terms of creating a deficit and the second thing is your body’s adaptive abilites, which brings us to here:

ever heard of that legend of eating hardly anything, and still struggling with putting on weight rapidly with the smallest of slip-ups? Is starvation mode real?

STARVATION MODE

“BUT I’M HARDLY EATING ANYTHING AND EVEN GAINING! IT’S GENETICS! IT’S MAGIC! I KNOW I NEED TO INCREASE MY MOVEMENT WITH EVEN MORE HIGH INTENSITY EXERCISE AND EAT EVEN LESS”

Partly, you are right, but starvation mode isn’t real. Calories in vs calories out STILL applies here, because a phenomenon called adaptive thermogenesis happened. After a while of severely restricting input and increasing output, your metabolism adapts to the new energy balance, to prevent you from dying! This means:

  • less calories are now burnt for the same amount of energy produced and needed to keep the main engine up and running 
  • your tyroid slows down, T4 conversion to active T3 decreases
  • less testosterone in a deficit is produced which means more prone to depression, loss of libido, man boobs, loss of muscle mass
  • less hormone leptin that signals you are satiated, more hormone ghrellin that signals hunger

From here, you WILL need to restrict even MORE and move even MORE – if you want to create a further deficit and keep losing weight.  Also, negative hormonal adaptations will continue further, and make it harder to stick to a deficit – until your body adapts again and down regulates them further. 

“Eventually you will hit a point, where you simply cannot restrict more food due to being hungry, deprived and fatiqued, or add any more exercise because of exhaustion, stress in your daily life, lack of recovery, poor sleep – and on top of that you may even STILL have a lot of body fat to lose! After a while of living in a deficit, this is shown as having lower body temperature, low libido, brittle nails, hair, skin problems … Also, developing fear of certain foods or whole food groups is a common issue in the pursuit of losing weight – very well known amongst women.”

3. A BETTER SOLUTION

Hitting that wall may seem frustrating and scary, but to be honest – you can either keep hitting your head into in or going backwards and take the necessary steps.

We are great at losing weight, but we aren’t as great keeping it of and that’s why: There is evidence for the idea that there is biological control of body weight at a given set point, and adaptive thermogenesis is a part of bodies natural defence to bring you back there and keep you alive. 

While a more aggressive deficit will surely produce significant weight reduction in a given amount of time, it will become harder later on to maintain the new body weight. After significant weightloss happens (more than 5% of body weight) and you have moved away from the body’s setting point, declines in energy expenditure favor the regain of lost weightThis mechanism opposes the maintenance of the new body weight, and might persist well beyond the period of dynamic weight loss, even up to 24 months!

SO AM I DOOMED? 

Research shows that people who lose weight are not “predisposed” to future weight gain. They just fail to:

1.) make the right types of changes to their diet and exercise habits, and
2.) do it long enough to change their body weight set points

Your body doesn’t want to be severely overweight. Your natural weight range is a product of your genes, which are impacted by your environment, and especially type of diet and exercise activity – which then dictates how your hormones behave.

4. ACTION STEPS TO DO 

HOW TO APPROACH A BODY COMPOSITION GOAL: 

  • Getting enough sleep. Sleep disorders have been shown to disrupt hormone levels, which impact the ability to burn fat effectively.
  • EAT MORE fiber-rich, protein-rich diet low in processed trans-fat and balance healthy fats. There is evidence that this type of diet may help boost your serotonin levels, popularly known as the happiness hormone.
  • Taking minimum of 10000 steps daily and out regularly: prioritizing resistance exercises and increasing strength, has been shown to increase anabolic hormones and maintain lean body mass
  • Finding ways to manage stressEvery decade after the age of 30, your muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8%, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. This in turn decreases your metabolism and makes you gain fat even if you don’t make changes in your diet throughout your whole life. Here’s the good news: research shows you can, in fact, change your set point through lifestyle changes. Although you may have felt (or currently feel) “stuck” at a certain weight, research shows that the key is building habits like making consistent, good nutrition choices, resistance training frequently, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.Your body will settle to it’s natural setting point, so rather than killing yourself in the pursuit of that magical number on the scale, set process goals that will aid in improving body composition over longer periods of time.REFERENCES
  1. N Engl J Med. 1995 Mar 9;332(10):621-8. Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight.
  2. Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight Michael Rosenbaum Jules Hirsch Dympna A Gallagher Rudolph L Leibel
  3. Mechanisms of Weight Regain following Weight Loss Erik Scott Blomain, 1 Dara Anne Dirhan, 2 Michael Anthony Valentino, 1 Gilbert Won Kim, 1 and Scott Arthur Waldman 1 ,*
  4. Muscle tissue changes with aging Elena Volpi, Reza Nazemi, and Satoshi Fujita
  5. Do adaptive changes in metabolic rate favor weight regain in weight-reduced individuals? An examination of the set-point theory Roland L Weinsier Tim R Nagy Gary R Hunter Betty E Darnell Donald D Hensrud Heidi L Weiss
  6. The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men. Wittert G1.
  7. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Kraemer WJ1, Ratamess NA.