Yo-yo dieting is one of the main reasons why many people fail to lose weight and keep it off – so how do you kick-start your metabolism and get losing again?
People often ask me, “Can you damage your metabolism through repeated dieting?”, as their body seems to hangs onto every calorie they eat. You can, but not permanently.
One of the most common problems that we come across is one of people who’ve tried diet after diet and just can’t seem to lose weight.
They may do initially, but before long the weight loss grinds to a halt.
Unfortunately, your body equates dieting with starvation and repeated dieting whilst initially causing some weight loss, may actually end up leaving you fatter than when you started!
Now dieting done properly can work and yes, as long as you learn some new eating habits and attitudes to food and life in general along the way, you can increase your metabolism, lose weight and keep it off for good.
In general though, dieting doesn’t work.
You may lose some weight but it will come back sooner rather than later and before long you’re yo-yo dieting…trying one diet after another with your weight fluctuating up and down like, well, a yo-yo!
What Causes Yo-yo Dieting…?
For most of human history food has been scarce.To understand why most diets don’t work most of the time – the underlying cause of yo-yo dieting – you need to understand a little bit about basic human physiology.
Humans are hunter gatherers, roaming far and wide to hunt and forage for food.
It’s only very recently in human evolution that food has become abundant, available on pretty much every street corner – well in the developed world at least.
Because of this, we’ve developed a range of survival mechanisms, one of which is the starvation response.
It works like this…
Your body is designed to store fat. Fat is your principal energy store and your body does not want to deplete it unless it absolutely has to.
So, when food is in short supply your metabolism switches to fat storing mode.
Your body wants to conserve energy and hang on to its body fat stores. So your metabolism slows down and you get by on less energy.
As muscle tissue is responsible for most of the calories that you expend each day, your body takes muscle protein, deaminates it and burns the carbon shell.
The muscle supplies energy rather than consuming energy and as you have progressively less muscle, your metabolic rate is lower, again conserving energy.
Essentially, your body equates dieting with starvation. The longer you diet the less effective it becomes.
After a few weeks or months, the weight loss slows down or stops…the dreaded weight loss plateau.
At this point, most people figure that they need to eat less to get the weight dropping off again.
The problem is, the more severe the diet becomes the more pronounced the starvation response until you end up eating next to nothing at all and still have some fat to lose!
Which leads us to the yo-yo effect…
Now, your body is pretty smart and learns quickly.
Each time you diet – starve – it recognises the signs and the starvation response kicks in more quickly.
Yo-yo dieters go on diet after diet, each becoming less and less effective as their body gets better at protecting them from yet another bout of starvation.
Repeated dieting teaches your body to become a better fat storer, to become much more energy efficient.
The long term results of repeated dieting are a slower metabolism, less muscle tissue and a higher percentage of body fat than when you started. You often weigh more, too.
Hence, the term ‘dieting makes you fat.’
So How Can You Reverse the Effects of Yo-yo Dieting…?
Forget crash dieting or any thoughts of rapid weight loss.
The safe rate at which you can lose weight is 1-2lbs a week. That doesn’t sound a lot but equates to 52-104lbs a year!
Any more than that and you’re losing muscle tissue.
Think about it this way. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat.
To lose 1lb a week you need to eat 500 calories less each day, or burn 500 calories more than you eat through exercise or being more physically active day to day.
For a woman who requires 2,000 calories a day, that would mean eating 1,500 calories a day to lose a pound a week.
Ignore diets that claim you’ll lose more than that. There’s one diet that promises 18lbs of weight loss in four days – nonsense!
To lose 18lbs of body fat you’d need to burn 63,000 calories of body fat in four days, or 15,750 calories a day.
You only burn around 2,600 calories running a marathon!
So, here are a few tips that might help you to overcome your yo-yo dieting and the impact it’s had on your metabolism:
#1. Eat a relatively high protein diet
One of the best ways to restore you metabolism is to eat more protein in your diet.
Protein stimulates your fat burning metabolism as your body produces glucagon – your fat burning hormone – when you eat foods that contain protein.
Furthermore, muscle tissue is made of protein. Muscle accounts for most of the calories you burn each day. Eating protein helps to maintain and increase muscle tissue, which may have been lost during phases of yo-yo dieting.
Try including more fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and pulses in your diet.
Go easy on those that are higher in fat, though and don’t eat too much red meat as it takes a while to digest.
#2. Eat every 3-4 hours
Regular eating helps to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, so you won’t feel hungry and your body gets the energy it needs to function effectively.
Five or six smaller meals spread throughout the day, containing a balance of protein, vegetables, salad and fruit, with a few complex carbs is ideal.
This will help to keep your nutritional intake high, but your calories relatively low.
#3. Eat foods rich in iodine
Yo-yo dieting can interfere with the functioning of your thyroid gland, which secretes thyroxine. Thyroxine plays an important role in your metabolism.
Eat foods rich in iodine, such as seaweed, which can be found in more and more supermarkets and japanese salads, for instance.
A problem caused by intensive farming is that iodine levels in our soil have been dramatically depleted, so marine sources of iodine, like seaweed are preferable as they’re richer in iodine.
You may also want to consider a blue-green algae or spirulina supplement, which are also rich in iron and zinc – both of which are also important to a healthy thyroid gland.
#4. Exercise regularly
Ok, you’ve heard it before, but regular exercise burns fat and builds muscle. Daily exercise also raises your metabolism throughout the day so you burn more calories in total.
Weight loss exercises should include aerobic exercise, like walking and jogging and muscle building exercises like weight training.
#5. Don’t starve yourself!
Trying to eat less and less to lose weight will not kick-start your metabolism and will keep you trapped in the yo-yo dieting cycle for years to come.
Eat a little bit more, eat a balanced diet, exercise and take your time.
Avoid quick weight loss diets that promise rapid weight loss and instead, concentrate on a long term, sustainable approach – the hare didn’t win the race, the tortoise did!
Focus on developing a healthy relationship with food and adopt the long term eating and exercise habits that will ensure permanent weight loss and an end to yo-yo dieting for good.