Low-Calorie Diets: Don’t Be Stupid This January

A man called Albert Einstein defined stupidity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result’. Come January, millions will start the same low-calorie diet they did the previous year. And the year before that. All will hope for a different result; that this time, they will keep the weight off. Shame it doesn’t work that way.

The idea behind low-calorie diets is simple enough; consume less energy than your body uses and hope it uses your bodyfat to make up the shortfall. An industry has been formed on the basis of providing low-calorie snacks and treats. The only problem is that this idea doesn’t work.

The reality is that starving yourself with a low-calorie diet does not achieve long-term results. Yes, you can force your body into sacrificing it’s fat stores for a couple of weeks, but this comes with consequences. Not only will your metabolism compensate for this, you will lose valuable muscle mass (which remains the only major factor in determining your metabolic rate). The end result is a couple pounds off, a major suppression of your metabolic rate and three or four pounds back on when you return to sustainable eating. This is the principle of yo-yo dieting and explains the universal lack of long-term success seen in serial calorie-counters.

(These serial calorie-counters can always be identified by their steadfast refusal to blame the diet for the fact they are now heavier than they’ve ever been, despite using it intermittently for years. “The diet worked well, it was just my lack of willpower when I came off it that caused me to bloat up like this.” Not so. “I must have been a right porker since I came off the diet – I’ve put on five pounds in the last few weeks. Better get back on it.” I wouldn’t.)

Your metabolism only fires properly when fed regularly. This means every three hours. Most of my clients who have come to me to achieve weight loss will recognise how eating this way can be difficult in the early weeks, especially if they have previously been struggling along with a low-calorie regime that provided them with just three meals (or less). But then something happens. They weight on the scales starts plummeting and they start getting very hungry. This is when we know that we’ve done what we set out to do.

Very low calorie diets do the exact opposite. Although the initial withdrawal of food can trigger the release of adrenaline and an increase in fat storage, your body notices what’s going on. And it slows your metabolism down. Thyroid hormones drop, cortisol levels rise, the activity of lipogenic (fat-storage) enzymes goes through the roof. Muscle mass is wasted. Your body is now set on restoring all fat stores – and then some – and will happily compromise your metabolism to do so. You can’t lose more than 10 kilos in eight weeks (see here) without a fully-functional metabolism.

Good sleep, healthy digestion, controlled stress levels and use of vitamins and minerals make a big difference to whether the metabolism will function they want you want it to. However, dietary intake remains the over-riding factor in this equation, especially regular protein-based meals throughout the day. So if you’ve spent the last decade calorie-counting your way through January, you have permission to stop this absurd regimen. Why not feed yourself in accordance with your goals and see what happens?

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