This question has been a tough one to answer without going in to a novel-like rhetoric and getting that glazed over 'deer-in-headlights' look within minutes.
So in the spirit of educating, I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about healing metabolic dysfunction.
Since August, I have shed 22lbs. I have lost weight before - near 100lbs to be exact. But my methods were severe, restrictive and extreme. That will never work long term.
That will never work long term.
When most are asked 'wow you look great, what are you doing?', the answers are likely:
'Oh I am on _____(fill in the blank diet)____," "I am doing _____(fill in the blank with a new, hot workout)____"
"I am walking X # of miles a day"
But answering with:
I spent a year reverse dieting (basically eating more and more and MORE food each week), lifted super heavy, did very little cardio and was able to completely repair my metabolic capacity and then started a body-fat loss phase where I still lift heavy, slowly cut back my intake yet am still eating lots of calories and doing only 4 days of 25 min max cardio and am dropping consistently with an overall loss of 22lbs…..
-> Is quite a mouth full. Not to mention, I lose people somewhere in the middle.
You can read more about the science behind reverse dieting in my post here, but to break it down:
Any time you consume less calories than you expend (aka: diet), your metabolism naturally slows as your bodies’ response to attempt to conserve energy. When people consume low calories and exercise often (in my case, excessively), the metabolism reaches the danger zone.
I was going to extremes by way of both food and exercise: eating about 1200 calories a day and exercising close to 3 (sometimes more) hours per day PLUS being on my feet all day long as a Fitness Manager. I was excruciatingly lean and also developed body dysmorphia and a disordered relationship with food.
What happened next? Metabolic damage, dysfunction, adaptation – whatever you want to call it, my body shut down metabolically. Because my body was essentially starving, when I began eating again, I gained at a rapid pace. I was restricted for so long that the floodgates just opened wide.
Remember what I said about extremes not working long term (key reminder here)….
While I was gaining, I was constantly trying to fight the gain by adding more cardio, more strength training and cutting calories back even further. Knowing the metabolism slows as the body tries to conserve energy – you can imagine how much of a mess my body was in.
I was exhausted, sick, losing hair, sleep issues, had been going 5 years without a menses, zero energy, tired in the morning and wired at night, skin issues, immune system issues, digestive issues – you name it. All indicative of endocrine dysfunction from extremes. I needed an answer.
But my answer came with: more food, more time (the same time or double the time you were in dieting mode), less exercise.
There is no way I can do that! Why would I ADD food, subtract exercise and believe that I could heal my body and once again reach the desired athletic physique for performance I was striving for?
The answer is that if I continued to cut calories and add exercise, I would eventually have almost no metabolic speed. In order to repair my metabolism, I had to slllooowwwwlllyyyy add energy by way of food (macros = protein/carb/fat) and decrease exercise to allow all of my hormonal and endocrine functions to level out.
I spent 10 months in a ‘reverse diet’ phase. I ate a LOT of food. The food fueled my HEAVY metabolic-boosting lifts. I ended my reverse at almost 350g carbs and 100g fat (yes you read that right). In August, my body told me it was time to begin a fat loss phase once I had reached my desired caloric intake with minimal bodyfat gain. At this point, myself and my coach decided to begin dropping my intake BUT – slooowwwwwllllly.
Did we immediately drop down to something crazy like 1200 calories? NO! Why cut calories so low if you can drop body-fat on higher caloric intake? That’s the point! If you immediately drop to 1200 calories and start to plateau, where do you cut from then? But if you start at 2800 calories and drop to 2600 – there is a LOT of room to cut from, more cardio to add, etc.
When we started my body-fat loss phase, was it a straight line to success? Abso-freaking-lutely not. And if you think your journey to ANYWHERE is a straight line to success – think again. I had weeks I was up 5lbs and weeks I was down 3. I had weeks I just wasn’t in to eating and weeks I could not get enough. I had weeks of self-doubt, of being fed up with tracking, of listening to the nay-sayers (which was mostly my own voice) and everything in between.
But over time and with consistency (one of the most important words in health and fitness), my body began to respond. 8 months later and 22lbs down – I am a believer in reverse dieting and repairing metabolic capacity.
I am currently eating 1750 calories a day and over 2,000 1x a week (WELL over my initial diet of 1200 calories when I was going to extremes). I drink wine, I eat dark chocolate EVERYDAY, I eat eggs, bacon, guacamole, almond butter, coconut milk – all my favorite foods. I am never deprived. I lift HEAVY because I love it and my food fuels me. I do 4 days of cardio a week and never more than 25 minutes. Will this change? Yes. Once I plateau again (and I will) we have plenty of levers to pull be it with added cardio, decreased macros, etc.
So, what happens once I get too low in macros? We reverse AGAIN with the goal of minimal body fat gain. Why? To continue to develop a healthy metabolism! Remember EACH time you diet or are in a fat loss period, your metabolism will slow. That is FACT. Your body will not progress without periods of higher caloric intake to recover. I will continue to reverse and go in to fat-loss periods until I reach my goal and then will increase calories as much as I can to be able to maintain with a healthy metabolism for LIFE!
As you can see…..’What are you doing’ is such a difficult question to answer. Basically I have put my body through hell and it has blessed me with full recovery and is making loss MUCH easier than I ever imagined.
But I took the TIME necessary to get here. There is no straight line to success nor is there an immediate result when it comes to sustainable, healthy fat-loss. Take the time, do it right and above all ENJOY the journey!