I’ve lost count of the amount of bad advice I’ve been given. Two standouts as a child were to ‘spin the other way “to cancel out the dizziness”’ if I’d gone too fast on a playground roundabout, and being told that wearing a superman cape would actually make me fly. Both ended badly. Things didn’t get too much better in adulthood, and we’re all guilty of giving bad advice on occasion even if it’s well-intentioned. As a nutritionist, however, it’s my job to give people the best advice possible. Sometimes, to do that, I have to challenge tradition.
In a diet industry filled with detox scams, and dodgy shake diets; encouraging bad practice is everywhere. Yet, some of the more well-meaning, seemingly logical, advise still misses the mark. Take the often repeated “lose weight on as many Calories as possible” mantra, for example. Making teeny tiny lifestyle changes that result in longterm progress sounds like a good idea, but what happens if we do the opposite? When starting a weight loss journey, what happens if we cut calories hard from the outset?
Will you be hungrier?
Ever sat in a cold room and started shivering, and then found yourself looking around for a warm hoodie to put on? That’s your brain controlling the physiological and behavioural processes that keep you warm. Hunger works in much the same way.
Just like with shivering, when the brain affects things physiologically, we don’t have much control. Behaviour is different in that we always have a choice, but the signal sent by your brain is often so strong that it can seem like you haven’t. The thing is, it’s not just eating less food than normal that makes your brain signal hunger, it’s how much fat your body has.
The more timber you’re carrying, the less hungry you’ll feel. As you get leaner, your body will try to defend the amount of fat you have, signalling you to eat more. Hunger isn’t based on the amount of time it takes to lose weight, it’s based on your endpoint. The thinner version of you will feel hungrier even if it’s eating more than the current you. For this reason, starting a diet with a bang at first when you’re fat and happy is a great idea, despite being counter to what many dieticians and nutritionists will tell you.
Will your body adapt faster?
As well as making you feel hungry, your brain will slow your metabolic rate down in a bid to conserve energy. This metabolic adaptation can wipe out a calorie deficit, turning your diet into maintenance rather than weight loss. However, as with hunger, this is less about the number of calories you’re consuming, and more to do with how much fat you’re carrying. As before, it’s the endpoint that is important.
Dieting for 24 weeks vs 10 won’t affect how your body adapts if the endpoint is the same. Dieting on higher calories for longer isn’t saving you from the dreaded metabolic slowdown, it’s just dragging the inevitable out.
Won’t dieting faster be harder to stick to?
When dieting, we pretty much all wish we could eat more. So it should make sense that losing weight slowly by taking our time and eating more should be easier to stick to, except it isn’t true.
- In a study by Nackers et al, people were put on fast, moderate or slow weight loss diets.
- The fast group actually stuck to the program better than the moderate or slow groups.
- What’s more, they lost way more fat and maintained their weight better a year later.
Is it sustainable?
Starting a diet faster than you normally would doesn’t mean you have to push through all the way to your goal in the same way. While making a lot of progress over the first few weeks makes you feel great, if you have more fat to lose, it’s a good idea to break things up.
Taking breaks between periods of cutting has been shown to increase some of the hormones that are suppressed during dieting. Therefore, while a planned break from dieting may sound counter-intuitive, it will result in better fat loss long term.
If your goal is to lose 10 or even 20% of your current weight, going hard at the outset and then using breaks later when hunger is high, and motivation is dwindling, is a great way to make a diet work long-term.
Traditional advice tells you to start slowly by making small changes to your current diet and lifestyle in order to make the process of weight loss as easy as possible. Science, on the other, had, shows that dieting hard from the outset results in more weight loss, better adherence, and no changes in how your body adapts.
Ready to change your body? Don’t be afraid to start big.
Losing weight faster at the start of a diet will make you feel better about the whole process. With careful planning of diet breaks, you can reach your goal quicker and be back to normal eating in much less time than more traditional methods.
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