Starvation is Not the Answer, Part 1
Sometimes we think we are so clever.
We think we can just fool our bodies into looking the way we want it to. It’s funny what people are willing to try just so that they can lose fat without having to exercise.
This is the lazy way to try to lose weight, and it doesn’t work for very long. Whether you’re trying to lose a lot of fat or just remove that stubborn bit of fat on your gut, you’d better read closely, because the same rules will apply.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, people don’t always become overweight simply because they are overeating – there’s more to the story than that. I remember feeling so surprised when I once talked to an overweight person who told me he never eats breakfast, and then only eats a small salad for lunch.
I remember thinking “Sheesh, I really feel bad for this guy. His genetics must be terribly unfair to him”. But then I started to notice that this was a common theme among many overweight people.
Yes, fat can be gained by overeating huge amounts of food all the time, but it can also be gained by eating less food and slowing your metabolism down. I’ll explain what this means.
It’s Not That Simple
Let me start off by saying that how much fat you have on your body is not simple math. If you keep your energy expenditure constant but you lower your calories, you’ll lose weight. So it seems that if you lowered your calories even more, you would lose even more weight… it’s simple math, right?
Well, actually it’s not simple math. Your body doesn’t know the rules of your little calorie calculations, and frankly, it doesn’t really want to follow them either. Your body worries about survival first, and when you don’t give it enough food, your body does what will help it to survive — it saves what you eat as fat.
This is because humans haven’t always lived in a world where food was so abundant. The human species has had to endure a world where food may or may not come on any given day… or even week for that matter.
If weight loss really were simple math, and people could really burn 10 pounds of fat every week forever, then humans wouldn’t have been able to survive the hunting and gathering days of our past. They would have all starved to death long ago.
Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for us), our bodies are smart enough to adapt to the amounts of food we give them. When we eat less food, our metabolism slows down so that we can survive off of less food.
So let’s take a look at what happens to us when we severely cut our calorie intake to lose fat:
1. Loss of fat, muscle, and water: This is the part of most diets that gets all the attention. You start your diet and you lose a whopping 20 pounds in the first month and then you feel convinced that your diet is a miracle.
The problem is that you didn’t lose just fat. Up to half of the initial losses on these types of diets can come from lean body mass such as muscle or other tissues. If you add in the amount of weight you lost from water (especially in low-carb diets), you realize that fat is actually the minority of what you lost.
2. Metabolism slows: Your body quickly notices that you’re giving it less food. You’re body might lose a good amount of fat in the beginning, but after a while your body starts to worry about starvation. Remember, your body doesn’t know that you decided to go on a diet or that you have a weight-loss goal.
Instead, your body realizes that it’s not going to get as much food each time, so it does the same thing anybody would do. Think about it, if you knew you wouldn’t be able to buy food for a while, you’d buy as much food as you could and save it.
That’s exactly what your body is doing. It knows it won’t be getting as much food, so it starts saving the food as fat on your body. This is also why people gain all their weight back and more at the end of their diets.
Take a look at the graph above. This graph represents the amount of food that’s in your stomach if you eat six well proportioned meals a day. This helps you to keep the amount of food in your stomach within a healthy range at any given time. You won’t eat so much that you stretch your stomach out, and you’ll never get too hungry either.
By keeping the amount of food you eat within safe limits, you avoid crossing what I like to call the “fat line”. This is the point where you’ve eaten too much food (calories) and your body begins to store it as fat.
If the amount of food you eat each day drops, your metabolism eventually slows down and the fat line begins to fall, as shown in the graph below. If the fat line is falling, however, chances are that you’re not eating five or six meals a day. We’ll talk in just a moment about how this graph will really look for overweight people.
3. Less muscle burns less fat: We mentioned above that at the beginning of these diets, you lose more than just fat. The loss of muscle is what really kills your fat loss over the long-term. When you lose some of your muscle, your body is losing some of it’s ability to burn fat because muscle helps to burn fat.
Fat, on the other hand, just sits there on your body and doesn’t really require any energy to be maintained, but muscle does burn fat, and losing muscle just slows your metabolism down even further. Once your metabolism slows down, you will have to eat even less food, almost to the point of starvation to lose any weight.
The fat line drops down even further on the graph, making you more likely to pack on the pudgy pounds.
4. Your appetite increases: The fact that you’re pretty much starving all the time makes it really hard not to overeat at your next meal. On top of that, you’re going to crave the convenience of junk food or fast food when you are hungry.
Because you are so hungry from not eating enough, you will tend to overeat when you sit down for your next meal. Since your metabolism has slowed down so much, one huge meal makes you go way above the “fat line”, and you pack the pounds on.
Since you’re only eating a medium lunch and big dinner each day, you really overshoot the fat line every night before you go to sleep — which is the worst time. This is represented in the graph below.
5. Your stomach expands: Yes, it’s still getting worse. That big meal that you ate because you were so hungry… it did more than just put fat on your body. The meal was so big that it stretched out your stomach and made it bigger.
Now that your stomach is becoming bigger, you have to start eating even more food just to feel full. Eating lots of smaller meals throughout the day keeps a constant amount of food in your stomach so that you can feel full when you eat, but eating 2 big meals fills up your stomach too much.
The graph below shows what happens when you try to go from very hungry to full by eating a big dinner. This is when the stretching happens.
6. Energy loss: This can really be a big killer. The fact that your body is hungry throughout most of the day means that you have very uneven energy levels. You’ll feel tired throughout certain parts of each day.
Your energy becomes a constant roller coaster of ups and downs that never stop. When you feel this way, getting the energy to go to the gym or to even think about changing your life becomes very difficult.
7. Psychological drain: This goes along with your energy loss. Your body feels so tired throughout the day that you lose the will to do anything to improve your situation. Since your body and your mind are so closely connected, your mind becomes tired and begins to lose hope as well.
You start to look in the mirror and tell yourself that you can’t escape the life you live. You begin to believe that you have no power to ever change the way you look and feel. As you lose your mental confidence, you lose the power to make any positive changes in your life.
I don’t want to end this discussion on a low note, so we’ll continue this discussion in part 2 where we’ll talk about the positive actions that you can take to increase your metabolic rate.
Image Credit: Mandj98