I'm sure you've heard firsthand, or even experienced yourself, a diet “failing." Unable to stick to the regime, the weight came back. It's an all-too-common story, and the reason it failed was the reason it was started -- it was a diet.
Dieting is to make a temporary change in the food you consume to reach a goal. The word “temporary” comes into play heavily here. They are inherently designed to give quick results. After all, the quicker the results, the more likely you’ll recommend the diet to the next person looking to drop 15 pounds before swimsuit season. Rarely do diets lead to the type of lifestyle changes necessary to sustain weight loss.
There are other downsides to this approach. The first is psychological performance. Completely restricting what you eat to reach a caloric deficit is mentally exhausting. This is called “Ego Depletion," and several studies describe its effects on the body. It boils down to this: The more conscious decisions you force yourself to make against your impulses, the less of this finite resource you have to spend. If you completely cut out all of your favorite foods, you’ll be running low on willpower quickly, and when you run out, you binge. Moderation is the key in this situation. Instead of cutting it out altogether -- eat the ice cream, but only one scoop instead of two.
The second harmful effect is the physiological changes. When you begin withholding specific macronutrients like carbohydrates, your body has to go to your energy stores to power the machine. The first energy source it looks for is glycogen. This is a chemical stored in your muscle that is quick energy -- unfortunately, it’s not very efficient. It's depleted quickly, and the body is forced to go elsewhere. Fat stores are next, but not pulled from exclusively. The fat cannot be transformed into that glycogen that powers your muscles, but "ATP," the chemical version of protein, can. It's found in excess in your muscles, and will be processed for energy. Breaking muscle down to fuel your body is the worst possible scenario -- and it's bound to happen when weight loss occurs, but the faster the loss is, the more muscle you’ll be consuming.
Finally, general performance is harmed when rapid weight loss occurs. A study of 16 amateur boxers published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a decrease in both endurance and power output of every boxer as they reached their target weight for competition. The declined performance was a combination of both psychological and physiological effects limiting the boxers. Restricting the body’s intake significantly, for instance, when attempting to make a weight class, impacts your entire body. The reason the boxers do this on a routine basis is they’re afforded the opportunity to replenish their bodies immediately following their weigh-ins. Your body will have the same reaction when you replenish: an intense rebound in weight.
So, what’s the answer? Like many things in life, moderation is the key. A new lifestyle change on the rise, “IIFYM” or “If It Fits Your Macronutrients," helps accomplish that moderation. Macronutrients, as you remember, are the three main nutrients in food: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. “IIFYM” says you can eat whatever you like, as long as you’ve allotted calories for it. It allows for the most flexibility when cutting weight, fitting in all those wonderful comfort foods.
A complete nutritional overhaul is another option. There are several protocols to follow and achieve these results. Protein is known to be far more satiating than carbohydrates, but our diets are mostly compromised of the latter. Meal protocols like “Paleo” can correct this, eating things as you would as a “hunter & gatherer” of the prehistoric era. Meats, vegetables, legumes and fruits comprise the entire palette. It is another flexible, wholly available plan that is easy to follow.
Regardless of the path you take, you can achieve your perfect body and six-pack goals without stressing your willpower too intensely. Avoid the newest fad diets and juice fasts, keep yourself in moderation, watch what you consume, and you can still grab the attention of other beachgoers – all the while maintaining your sanity.
Have a health or fitness question for Brandon? Email him at BHarrison@MetroWeekly.com.