Remember when eating at work used to be a laugh? It was a time to gather around and natter for an hour before getting back to the grind. Only now that you’re on a diet, lunch is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. It’s not because dieting is hard, or that your lunch sucks, it’s because everyone you work with seems to suddenly give a huge amount of fucks about what you’re eating.
Piping up in unison, your once easy going workmates seem to have a problem. So much so that after just one glimpse of your Tupperware, they’ve decided to become nutritional experts, ready to dole out their finest slice of social media based theory.
Cutting Calories like this is not going work; you’re headed straight for starvation mode.
Apparently, when your Calories are too low, your body will stop burning fat, or even start storing it. Seems legit. Except it’s not. The myth of starvation mode is perpetuated through confusion about Calorie intake, body weight changes, and good old-fashioned lies. Starvation mode sounds logical enough, but falling for it hampers your progress, and limits your choices when other options are available.
If the world was really full of unicorns, and rivers made of chocolate, telling someone to eat more to lose weight would probably be solid advice. In real life, this advice sucks.
Despite what people say, fewer calories equals faster weight loss
- Want to know what happens with 4 weeks on 1,200 Calories vs 4 weeks on 420 Calories? The people consuming 420 Calories lost 91% more weight that’s what.
- Another study compared a 6-month long diet starting at 890 Calories to a stock standard 25% Calorie deficit. At the end of the 6 months, the people with the smaller deficit had lost 25% fat mass, compared to 32% from the very low-Calorie group.
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Lot’s of people jump aboard the dieting train after living it up a bit during Christmas, only to then claim that their low-Calorie diet isn’t working because starvation mode is making them hold onto all of their fat. This is also totally untrue.
What’s more likely is that miscounting Calories has led to an overestimation of the deficit. It’s not uncommon for my clients who believe they’re eating 1,000 Calories to actually be eating double that when I have a look at their food diaries. Add to that the litany of snaccidents that have occurred between Christmas, the end of Dry January, Veganuary and any other pointless resolutions, and it’s not tough to work out why the results are lacking.
In a classic case of totally making shit up, people will often claim low-Calorie diets will lead to starvation mode and a subsequent rebound, or even increase, in weight. It turns out that not only is this completely false, but actually the complete opposite can be true. Science says that the faster you lose the weight, the more likely you are to keep it off.
Nackers et al (2010), set out to find whether fast rapid or gradual, fat loss resulted in better adherence and long-term weight reduction. After setting up fast, moderate, or slow weight loss groups, the researchers found that:
- The fast weight loss group adhered to the program better
- The fast weight loss group lost 13.5kg, compared to moderate (8.9kg), and slow groups (5.1kg)
- The percentage of people maintaining 10% weight loss 1 year later was 16.9% in the slow group, 35.6% in the moderate, and 50.7% in the fast
If skipping meals puts you in starvation mode, what about skipping eating altogether, for over a year? Because that’s exactly what happened in 1973, where a man weighing 207kg fasted under supervision for 382 days. During the fast, he lost 125kg of weight. The real kicker is that 5 years later, he was still maintaining a weight of 89kg. This points to 2 things:
- He didn’t eat at all and continued to lose an average of 0.33kg per day. Not too much sign of pesky starvation mode slowing things down here.
- The fact that he kept the weight off is another nail in the coffin for the so-called “rebound” weight gain after a very low-Calorie diet.
Next time someone tells you that they missed breakfast and are now in starvation mode, feel free to smile and nod.
Dieting on low Calories won’t put you in starvation mode
As I write this, I’ve consumed 900 Calories a day for the last week. So far, my weight is still going down predictably, my metabolism hasn’t slowed to a standstill, and my gains remain intact. I throw a short, sharp, cut like this in every 6 months or so to lose a bit of fluff, and re-sensitise myself to muscle gain before getting back into a surplus. It will all be over in 3 to 4 weeks. If I lived by the “slow and steady”, “lose 1 pound a week” mantra, it would take twice that. I’d rather get it over and done with.
As I’ve said before, the best diet is the one you stick to. If you want to take things steady, don’t like feeling hungry, or would rather see gradual changes, then that’s awesome. However, if making big changes or seeing large differences in a short space of time floats your boat, then you have that option too.
It’s totally viable to use low Calories to get a diet over with quicker, start a longer diet with a bang, or break an overwhelming diet up into smaller, more manageable, sections. Ignore the whiny workplace do-gooders, put your headphones in, eat your protein and watch as they get well jel of all your fat loss.
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