The human body is an amazing machine. It’s got all this software(the brain) built in to help us survive almost anything… Maybe not a gunshot to the face but most things.
- If you starve it, it gets better at burning fuel to keep you alive for longer.
- If you’re attacked by a lion, it shuts down anything you don’t need and pumps you full of adrenalin to allow you to absolutely leg it.
- It even lets you spread your seed to make sure the human race doesn’t suddenly die off.
But what happens when your wonderful body gets overwhelmed by what you put it through in order to sculpt it to perfection. Well, in a way, it fights back. It doesn’t really care about how you look, all it cares about is that you’re alive and kicking ready to jump on the good foot and do the bad thing to ensure the survival of the human race.
(That might seem a bit extreme but it’s true. You gotta survive to thrive and thrive to survive)
If you’ve got all this extra stress hormone floating around, you’re gonna have a bad time dieting
The first steps of weight loss:
So you decide to drop 10lbs. You read up online that you have to cut calories and do some form of exercise. Sounds simple enough and makes sense. The less you eat, the less you gain. The more you move, the more you burn off. Easy peasy!
So you drop your calories by 300 per day. That’s a total deficit of 2100 per week. And you also figure a 30 minute walk 3-4x per week will burn 200 or so calories. That’s another 800. So you’re at -2900kcals a week. At this rate you’ll have dropped 10lbs in about 12 weeks (1lb of fat is 3500kcals). Following so far…?
Shit, weight loss stalled. I’ll do more and eat less!!
You’re flying! Your weight is dropping, your clothes are fitting better than ever and you noticed that certain person at the office checking you out as you walk by. You: 1, Weightloss: 0.
But all of a sudden around week four, the weight mysteriously stops. You don’t know why, but your logical brain is telling you that if a little is good, a lot is better. So you crank it up a notch. You go running instead of walking and drop calories again by another 200 a day.
Now you’re only eating around 1200 a day and running 3-4x per week. But the good times only last around two weeks this time. You’re stuck and can’t seem to shake any more so you give up when you’re half way into your 12 weeks
It’s not working. Fuck it!
Why this happens:
When you’re body is stressed it releases a hormone called cortisol. Small increases of cortisol have some positive effects:
- A quick burst of energy for survival reasons (the lion chasing you!!)
- Heightened memory function
- Water retention, to keep you hydrated
- Lower sensitivity to pain
But when levels don’t drop back to normal you fall into what’s called a state of “chronic stress”. This, as opposed to what I said up above, is bad. This can lead to a whole host of chronic disease but for the purpose of this blog we’ll stick to the basics.
Chronic stress causes your body to go into survival mode to make sure you don’t die. It’s for this reason you will hold onto any extra body fat (as a ration.. survival mode) and become really good at saving energy. One way you do this is by not burning as many calories as it usually would in situations such as movement and digestion.
So what does all this have to do with why you’re not losing weight? Well, everything. When you drop the amount of food you eat drastically your body sees this as a threat and releases cortisol. If you keep it up for a long time, you don’t give your levels a chance to drop again and you, almost accidentally, fall into a state of chronic stress, without even knowing.
Now that you know why more isn’t always better, we can take a look at how to fix the situation.
How to fix it:
When this stuff happens it’s important to understand that more exercise and less food will only make matters worse. There are a few options that can help you in this situation.
In the beginning stages it can be as simple as relaxing for a night. I mentioned that cortisol makes you retain water. Something as simple as having a glass of wine and getting a good nights sleep can lower cortisol and make a noticeable difference to your weight. A lot of this is just chilling out so, you could simply take a nap or hang out with a friend who makes you laugh or even get a massage to help you relax.
If things are a little further along, you’re stuck at a certain weight and can’t shift it, you need to back things up. Try eating a little more food each day. I like to recommend something small like a handful of mixed nuts, which is around 200kcals, as a snack every day. It will also help to back down the training. Try something new or even, dare I say it, take the day off and let your body recover and relax.
As you can see, sometimes your body does things you don’t want it to do. It’s all about recognizing what’s going on and making the right decision for you.
As Lyle McDonald (super genius in all things diet and fat loss) once said:
“Sometimes all you gotta do is get drunk, stoned or laid and you wake up 5lbs lighter”