RECOMP & Fat Loss

Why you must avoid low calorie diets if you want to lose body fat

Hi! In this blog I want to tell you why dieting is the worst thing you can do if you want to lose body fat and build lean muscle to tone problem areas. After many years coaching females for bikini and fitness model categories in bodybuilding shows, as well as competing and preparing myself for bodybuilding shows, I can honestly say that dieting is detrimental for getting and keeping long term results.

This was one of my competition clients. It takes a lot of dieting to get this lean. My client was days out from competing in a bodybuilding show and had spent months dieting and lifting weights to achieve her ‘stage’ body. However, dieting produces ‘temporary bodies’ in the sense that it is hard to maintain the results long term. It was very difficult for her to maintain her stage body shape after her show when she stopped dieting, increased her calories and returned to her ‘normal’ way of eating.

Diets work for a little bit…

Yes, you will probably get some results early on as you reduce calories and restrict the foods you eat. However, once you find the diet hard to stick to, you get bored eating a narrow range of foods or you’ve lost those kilograms and you then stop dieting, that is when things can start to go horribly wrong.

Let’s dive into why you shouldn’t diet ever again (future blogs will guide you on what to do instead).

Diets make you hungrier and give you cravings

Diets make you suffer!!!!

The first thing that will happen when you reduce your calories is that you’re going to feel hungry. You should expect to feel a little bit hungry when you are in a calorie deficit, but with extreme, low calorie diets, you become ravenous.

This makes it very difficult to stay on the diet when you’re battling with hunger and all you can think about is food and eating something. You tend to want what you can’t have, so if your diet is low in calories feeling deprived is going to trigger awful cravings that you can’t ignore, and you’ll probably end up giving in and end up bingeing.

You’re back to square one and probably weighing a bit more after the binge.

Diets slow down your metabolism and make it even harder to get results

Your basal body rate is the number of calories you burn when you’re at rest each day.

Restricting calories will cause your metabolic rate to slow down, this is called ‘adaptive thermogenesis’. It is one of the reasons why your progress slows down over time as you diet and why you find it hard to lose that last 5 to 10kg. Your body basically starts to resist your dieting efforts by slowing down your metabolism so that your body uses less energy, and you hold onto body fat.

Diets can cause you to lose valuable muscle mass

You want lean muscle on you. Lean muscle gives you that toned look you are after, and it increases your metabolism (muscles needs energy).

However, when you’re starving your body, it is going to look for ways to conserve energy. Your muscle burns calories and is an extra weight that your body must carry around, so your body may get rid of some of your muscle so that it can conserve energy and burn less calories.

If you’re dieting and you’re not doing any resistance training (lifting weights etc.) this can result in up to 50% of your weight loss coming from lean muscle (not body fat). So, when you jump on the scales excited that you’ve lost a kilogram. Remember that 500 grams of that may be body fat, but you may have also lost up to 500 grams of lean muscle, which you don’t want.

You’re also going to lose more muscle if you aren’t eating enough protein. So, even if you’re dieting and lifting weights to retain as much muscle as possible, if your diet is too severe and too low in protein some of your weight loss unfortunately will be muscle loss.

Diets make you lethargic and low in energy

As a rule, putting yourself on a low-calorie diet is not going to help you power through your gym workouts to build fitness and lean muscle or even help you power through your day.

One of the first signs that your diet is too low in calories is that you will have low energy levels and feel fatigued during the day. As well you won’t be able to perform in the gym or in your training, you’ll have to drag yourself through your day and your training sessions.

Overall, without enough calories, your strength will suffer, your performance will decrease, and your results will be compromised.

To create a body that has a low level of body fat and a good amount of lean muscle that gives you that ‘toned’ look, you need to be able to train hard. But if you’re eating low calories and you’re hungry and low in energy you won’t be able to do that.

Diets impact your hormones

Low calorie diets can have a negative impact on your hormone levels.

For example, your thyroid levels help to regulate your metabolic rate and so maintaining healthy thyroid function is important for losing body fat as well as your general health.

Within one week of starting a low calorie diet your T3 and T4 levels may reduce. Yes, you need a calorie deficit to reduce body fat levels but cutting your calories too low (as well as dramatically reducing or cutting out carbohydrates), can wreak havoc with important hormones including those that regulate your menstrual cycle and fertility.

Diets decrease leptin

Leptin is a hormone that is produced mainly in your fat cells and that plays an important role in regulating your metabolism and body weight.

When you’re eating enough calories and food and your body fat levels are stable, leptin sends a signal to your brain letting it know that there is a constant supply of food coming in and you are carrying an adequate amount of body fat to stay alive.

If, however, you reduce your food and slash calories, your leptin levels will decrease. When leptin is low it sends a signal to your brain that your body fat reserves are declining and that you’re hungry/starving, so slow down the metabolism and hold onto body fat.

Therefore leptin is called the ‘anti-starvation hormone’ and it may be the hormone that triggers the ‘starvation response’ in your body causing increased hunger and a reduced metabolism.

Diets increase cortisol

Cortisol also known as the ‘stress’ hormone is produced by your adrenal glands in response to various types of physical and mental stress, including dieting. Yes, dieting is stressful for your body because your body doesn’t like to starve, it wants you to live!

If your body is stressed by a low-calorie diet, your cortisol levels will increase, and this can cause your body to hold onto body fat. In fact, many people who are stressed with cortisol levels constantly elevated find it very difficult to lose body fat no matter what they try.

If a low-calorie diet and other stress factors in your life are causing a hormonal imbalance you will need to address this in order to get results with fat loss.

Diets cause you to gain rebound weight

When you start your diet, you are going to lose body fat probably quickly and easily initially. However, as the loss slows down and you become hungrier, you’re probably going to eventually give up the diet (maybe end it with a binge) and return to your ‘normal’ eating.

The problem is that dieting can prime your body to regain more body fat and over time with dieting you might end up gaining more body fat then when you started. This is because every time you diet on low calories your metabolism is compromised so you may end up with higher levels of body fat eating less food than ever before.

What is a low calorie diet?

Just a bit of clarity on exactly what a low-calorie diet is. Most commercial diets will drop you down to 1500 or 1200 calories a day. Whether this is low for you will depend on what your usual daily calorie intake is.

Bigger, taller, more muscle

If you’re a taller person with a lot of muscle, you might maintain your current weight at 2500 calories a day. So, if you suddenly drop your calories to 1200 that is a huge deficit of 1300 calories a day.

NO! that is far to steep and asking for trouble. A more sensible calorie deficit would be about 300 calories under your maintenance calories, so aiming for 2200 calories a day (a much healthier calorie deficit).

Smaller, shorter, less muscle

If you’re a small person with low levels of muscles your daily maintenance calorie intake might only be 1800 calories a day, so a 1500 calorie diet might be ok for you as you will have a 300-calorie deficit each day. On 1200 calories a day you create a 500 calorie deficit which isn’t great, but not too bad either.

Everyone is different!

So, as you can see, you have to be careful when you choose a diet as everyone is different and low calories for one person, may be ok for another person.

Want to learn more about how to get a lean, healthy body?

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