Calorie Deficit and Adaptation

You know you've heard the term 'starvation mode' before in diet, fitness and health environments and discussions. 

There is some belief amongst people that starvation mode is actually a thing and apparently the body stops burning calories and retains excess fat to 'protect the body' because your calories/energy availability is too low???

This is NOT how our bodies work! 

It is impossible to stop burning calories and the relationship between calories in and calories out will always continue no matter what. 

So, when you feel like the access weight just isn't shifting and you're truly doing everything you know needs to be done to shift this weight, then what's happening? 

The adaption process is happening.

As you reduce your calories and/or increase the energy expenditure through physical activity (walking, running, weight training etc.) your body gets used to this reduction in energy that is made available from food. The body has been forced to become as efficient as possible with the small amount of energy it has been supplied with and has now adapted to this new amount of available energy. As this adaptation occurs, your thyroid begins to slow down which leads to a lowered metabolism too.

For example; if you would normally maintain your weight at 1800 calories each day and went on to cut your calories by around 500 calories each day for a period of time, this would work for a while but then your body adapts to this calorie intake and you stop losing weight. So, you then start to cut calories or increase your physical activity even more and adaptation takes over again.  

So many people will continue to increase the intensity and/or decrease their calorie intake even more and while all this is happening, your body will be breaking down  muscle mass. As you begin to lose muscle mass you will also further slow the metabolism and you begin to lose strength, the shape you worked so hard to achieve and injuries will start to occur. This is down to the the body not being nutritionally supported throughout a period of time and this may be through quality of food or the volume of food that has not met the energy expenditure your body created.

If this sounds like you, this doesn't mean your goals are doomed. 

You can take a less severe approach just by being a little more patient with yourself. Don't go 'all in' as soon as you start the gym or go super strict on a particular diet. 

- Be careful with FAD diets, most FAD diets create exactly what is written above and they don't help you to create any long term, healthy and sustainable habits. ( I personally wouldn't recommend any, just eat wholesome healthy food) 

Try this instead;

Focus on good nutrition - Focus your meals around whole foods. Eat protein with every meal, add more good fats such as nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocado's, and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, all fresh vegetables and fruit, rice and beans.

Don't cut calories too much - Never create more than a 25% calorie deficit. Personally, I recommend 15% calorie deficit for long term sustainability that allows for progressing performance in the gym too. 

Stay Hydrated - Drink a least 2-3 litres of water each day, it can seem hard at first but keep working at it. 

Reduce Alcohol consumption - Cut down as much as possible. Alcohol slows progress and your results, not only because of the extra calories but because your liver has a job to do by removing lactic acid from the muscles but when the body is too busy removing the alcohol from body the lactic acid from working out will remain which means your recovery and muscle re-growth is slower too. 

Supplement your Diet - Supplementing your diet with Diet protein that is very low in sugar and fat will reduce the breakdown of muscle tissue when you're in a calorie deficit. Don't base your diet around protein shakes though! 

If you do workout a lot then try adding a complex b vitamin to your diet. Vitamin D is also another vitamin I would personally recommend. Here in the U.K, we don't get much sun so majority of us would be lacking in this vitamin which is important for bone and muscle health. 

Lift Weights - Don't just rely on cardio type exercises, lifting weights 3-4 times each week will help to build lean muscle which keeps your metabolism fired up. 

Manage Stress - Work on lowering your stress levels and make sure you get enough sleep. High stress levels will increase your cortisol levels which can have a negative effect on weight loss. Sleep is one of your recovery tools and helps your body to repair from strenuous activity in the gym as well as helping with high stress levels, so try and get at least 7-9 hours each night. 

Targeted Re-Feeds - When you're constantly in a calorie deficit it is a good idea to increase your calories to create a calorie surplus from time to time. This doesn't mean go and eat a take-away but have more good nutritious food for one day and refuel your body, not just so you perform good in the gym and have more energy but also to stop/slow down the adaptation process from occurring. 

Lastly, listen to your body. if you are getting injuries from the gym then your body is telling you something, slow down and take a break and if you are feeling drained and tired then maybe you are cutting calories too much. 

You want your body to last you a long time so take care of it. 

If you would like more help or advice on calorie deficits you are more than welcome to drop in the gym for free advice or book a consultation with one of our weight management consultants. (The consultations are appointment only and chargeable) 

Insure4Sport Personal Trainer Insurance