There are some misconceptions about losing weight and dropping calories. I get similar questions about this topic quite often so I want to address this specific question which I think is a very good one:
‘’When dieting and fat loss stalls is it because the bodies trying to maintain homeostasis? The fact that we aren’t dropping anymore means we’re in maintenance, not really because we don’t an additional 500 calorie drop to induce a one pound a week fat loss, only a minor drop in Kcals. What is the reasoning behind this? What would happen if you kept calories the same forever? Would weight be maintained or would our metabolism do something funky and cause us to gain or lose eventually? Odd question, but I can’t wrap my head around it.’’
I really liked this question, because I remember when I first got into coaching and the theory of fat loss, You always hear things like ”to lose a pound of body fat, you need to be in a 500 calorie deficit per day, which equals 3,500 calories per week, which equals one pound of body fat.”
The Common 500 Calorie Cut
This is what everyone does. What everyone runs out and does is they figure out what their current calories are or what they should do, and they cut 500 calories from their diet and then they think they’re going to lose a pound a week forever. A few things happen along the way. First of all, your metabolism adapts so when you have a metabolic rate that’s burning at this level and you create a deficit. It eventually catches up to the deficit and levels off, and now you’re at maintenance mode, which is exactly right what the question mentioned.
To get to that next stage of fat loss how come we don’t have to create another 500 calorie deficit? When I’m coaching someone and I notice that they had a stalling or sticking point, and they’re at 2,000 calories I do not reduce them 1,500 calories. That would be very hazardous, you would actually stall out again and then you’d be left with 1,500 calories and you’d just reach a very low plateau very quickly if you cut 500 calories every time you stalled. Instead, what we do is we make minor adjustments, maybe a few hundred calories of diet and a little bit of cardio and we create the deficit that way. What we call this is a threshold, so when our body fat reaches a lower level and we start to maintain there, we’ve actually hit a threshold.
To hit that next threshold, we don’t need to make a 500 calories jump, it might only be as little as 50 calories, 100 calories, 200 calories drop to continue to see fat loss progress. Why does this happen? Well, as we lose body fat we actually have less body fat to lose, right, so the thresholds for losing that body fat are much, much smaller instead of that the original sticking point that where you start. As we get leaner and as we adapt our bodies become much different machines, much more efficient, our digestion changes, our metabolism changes, our heart rates changes, hormones change.
Experience Comes Into Play
There’s so many things happening that scientifically speaking you can’t always explain it from a very high level, instead what we have to use as coaches is experience. This is where experience is very important. Someone who’s just starting out coaching or trying to do things for themselves, might look at this and go, ‘’okay I’ve stalled I need to make a huge drop in calories’’. It’s not always the case, and as a coach what I always want to do is diet someone on the most calories and the least cardio possible. If we can do that we can maintain fat loss longer and we can see where we can get. It’s also very important to take into consideration the person’s body composition.
People who are way above their set point with body fat your body is going to get down to its natural set point a lot easier. However, when we reach that set point and we want to get below that to say, “A photo shoot, physique competition, or just extreme conditioning because you want to look good for a reunion at the beach.” Or whatever it is, when you want to get below that set point that’s when things become unique and different and where coaching experience comes into play. Where working with women, older men, different races, all kinds of things come into play. You have to be able to pay attention to the things that are happening throughout the dieting phase. You have to understand that person from a macro cycle.
If you just ask them what they have been doing for the last six weeks that’s not going to give you an answer. You need to understand what they’ve been doing for the last five years, 10 years, 20 years. People who have been restricting calories for 15, 20 years and want to lose weight likely their metabolism has adapted. For those that have never really tracked their diet and they just kind of age what they wanted to, when they wanted to and they’re all a little bit overweight. These people are typically going to lose body fat much easier, because they haven’t restricted calories and so their metabolisms are going to be up higher along with their body fat.
That becomes easier, it’s the people that have restricted. You have to understand the macro life of a person’s diet and lifestyle, not just the short term. When we’re talking about making changes to a diet of a person who’s hit a plateau it helps to understand where they have been. How long they’ve been in a surplus? What their lifetime of nutrition has looked like. In my experience it is much better to err on the side of making a smaller adjustment. Maybe not dropping right away, than to make too big of an adjustment and plateauing soon, being stuck at a lower calorie intake for a longer period of time.
Now situation to situation matters, if you don’t have a lot of time to diet and you’re trying to compress a fat loss phase into a smaller time period, then perhaps it’s right be more aggressive. As a coach I always look at things in the best possible case scenario. I have as time as I want to get this person to their ideal body weight or their ideal body fat. I look at things over a long period of time. It’s always better to do things longer if possible but it’s not always possible, so that comes into play.
I get to be around some really smart people and so this is just my experience as a coach over the last few years. Yeah, so that’s it we just make small adjustments. Then the second part to the question was, ”Will the metabolism adapt if you just stay at the same level forever?” Yes, if you just continue eating the same things, and doing the same things I believe you would maintain for a very long time until age crept in. As we age, of course, things tend to change but if we’re just talking over a year, six months something like that. Yes, you would just maintain at those lower calories if you kept activity level the same.
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