Do you find yourself working out intensely and consistently, plus eating consciously, and not losing weight? Or you were losing weight but have recently hit a plateau, and find yourself working out even harder?
Or when you successfully achieved great results in the past or did fitness competitions, and can't seem to get as lean?
Excessive or long term periods of dieting coupled with excessive cardio can cause metabolic repression. Regardless of your caloric output and conscious eating, you stay the same, unlike before when you were losing body fat.
Getting back to where you once were, it's more complicated than the simple calories in vs calories out concept. Our metabolism is more complex and acts more like a see saw than a calculator, always working to achieve balance. When you eat less and exercise more to burn calories, your body compensates by making you more hungry while at the same time decreasing the amount of calories you burn at rest. When you eat less, hormones such as thyroid and leptin start to drop to create balance in the body. Then there is cortisol. When cortisol levels rise, due to extra stress on your body, it adds further metabolic stress and slow down.
I can think back to many of my cutting diets in the past. Things would start out great. I followed the plan to a T. I would lose a few pounds right away and feel great.
Quickly I'd find myself feeling hungrier and seriously craving all the things that were not on my plan. Little did I know, this was the start of metabolic repression. Back then my reaction was to compensate by dropping calories and increasing cardio. Voila, the pounds would start dropping again! BUT...it would hit again, another plateau. I remember checking in with my coach trying to explain that I was following the plan to a T, but, deep down, feeling like they thought I was lying because I hadn't progressed and was looking soft, watery and inflamed. I was always sore, tired and started experiencing digestive issues. Little did I know, I had started a viscous cycle of metabolic repression, that left me struggling with my weight for more than 10 years.
What can you do?
1. Reverse diet for as many weeks as you did for the original diet. This is SO important and very few diet books and on-line programs explain this. Often when people restrict food and exercise intensely for 4-16 weeks the common reaction is to reward themselves with food that was previously off limits. Especially common with fitness competitors, this can lead into days and weeks of eating "dirty", leading to weight gain of up to 20 lbs in a few short weeks. Although it may seem hard, it is really important to slowly incorporate calories back into your diet. Adding 10 grams of carbs, or 1-2 grams of fat per week will allow your body adapt to the extra calories without extra weight gain. If you dieted for 10 weeks, you should expect to reverse diet for approximately the same time.
2. Slowly reduce cardio. For example: If you were doing 5 x 1 hour steady state cardio sessions per week, try doing 5 x 45 mins per week. Intentionally reduce the amount of cardio you are doing each week and begin to add in a few High Intensity cardio sessions. High Intensity cardio can increase fat burning potential, in half the time, throughout the day.
3. Manage stress. Long term dieting often leads to hormonal imbalances which can make it hard for your body to achieve homeostasis. Meditation, walks outside, breathing techniques or belly laughing are great ways to reduce cortisol levels and elevate hormone function.
4. Get rest. For me this is much easier said than done but it is true! Insufficient sleep and rest can increase inflammation, reduce brain function and hinder our immune system. The goal here is to regain optimal metabolic function, so skipping that party to get to bed early or taking a day off the gym is essential.
Just as you've trained your body to become accustomed to fewer calories, it is possible to retrain your body to handle much larger amounts of calories while performing less cardio. Consistently monitoring your progress and making small changes over time will help you maintain the physique you worked so hard to get, while eating enough food to feel great.
If you have any questions please send me an email - I'd love to chat. I've been there and done that many times, and know how difficult it can be. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.