Fat loss plateau? You need to read this article by Dr. Jenevieve Roper, PhD
What To Do When Your Body (And Fat) Fights Back
By Jenevieve Roper, PhD (ABD)
Picture it: you’re sticking to your diet and exercise plan. Everything is going well, the fat is falling off, and you’re right on track with your progress. Then you hit a plateau. No worries, right? Just eat a little less and throw in some extra cardio, and you’re good. Then you hit another plateau. So you adjust a little more, removing more from your diet and upping the cardio. You continue this cycle (and it doesn’t last long) until you’ve reached a point where no matter how much cardio you do and how clean your diet is, the scale won’t budge and the fat seems to hang on for dear life. Well, my friend, there is a high likelihood that you have metabolic damage.
So What Is Metabolic Damage?
Well, essentially, metabolic damage can occur when we aren’t eating enough and are exercising too much. You see, our bodies need a certain amount of calories for basic daily functions: for some people that’s 1,200 calories and for others that may be upwards of 2,000, depending on your body composition and activity level. This is your resting (some call it “basal”) metabolic rate, and it is the net balance of calories that our body needs to properly function. That means no matter how much you eat and exercise, your net balance should be equal to your resting metabolic rate.
As you continue to eat less and exercise more, one of the first things that happens is your metabolic rate will decrease. Our body is very efficient at getting rid of unnecessary functions and processes that cost a lot of energy, and unfortunately muscle building is one of the first to go, as it is very energy expensive.
Why? Well, our body has now entered “starvation mode.” When our energy balance is too far in the negative side, our body thinks it’s starving. It begins to conserve energy by eliminating energy-expensive processes (like muscle building) and holding on to our energy stores. And where do we store energy? That’s right: in body fat.
At this point, we try to eat a little less and exercise a little more. However, this only compounds the situation. Our metabolism is already impaired, and when we continue down this path, other metabolic functions (important ones, at that) begin to suffer. We know that exercising with already-depleted glycogen stores, due to a low carb diet, can compromise our immune system. Also, our hormones begin to get off-balance. And this can lead to a multitude of effects.
How Do You Know If You Have Metabolic Damage?
Here’s the thing: there are many signs and symptoms that are associated with metabolic damage, so there is no one thing that can definitively diagnose you as having it. And the symptoms range from minor to major, depending on how far deep you are into it. Since the minor symptoms can be overlooked as something else, it’s actually quite easy to end up with some more of the moderate-to-severe symptoms. But one thing is for sure: if you have adopted an eat-less, train-more regimen, you more than likely are on your way to metabolic damage.
How Can You Avoid This Condition?
Well, as long as you are using an eat-less, train-more plan, you are likely going to encounter some form of metabolic damage. It’s almost inevitable. But you can attenuate how long it is before you are being affected by it. For example, if you are getting ready for a competition, I always suggest that the athlete increase his or her exercise intensity before cutting calories. This doesn’t mean you have to start doing two-a-days right away, but it does mean that the intensity of your workouts should be higher. Reducing the rest periods between sets or performing circuits is a great way to start. Try to only add in two-a-days toward the end when you are really stuck in a plateau or need an extra boost to lose the last bit of fat. Clean up your diet without cutting too many calories when you do start to adjust your diet: holding the cheese and asking for low-fat dressing are ways to help you along there. Also, try to be in a daily caloric deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories, with the safer recommendation being 500 calories, but definitely no more than the upper limit. Remember I said earlier that we need a certain amount of calories for basic metabolic functions, and if you are at a caloric deficit higher than 1,000 calories, you’re likely going to start affecting those processes.
Know When It’s Time To Stop
No one likes to quit, but if your metabolism has been reduced significantly and your body has been greatly affected, your rebound is not going to be pretty and it’s going to take a while for certain metabolic processes to return to normal. But you can’t just stop everything altogether or you will turn into the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. You must gradually reduce your exercise intensity and gradually put calories back into your diet. You’ll probably gain weight, just not as much nor as quickly.
The most important thing is to listen to your body. As an athlete we’re always taught to push through, which is fine, as long as you aren’t pushing yourself off a cliff into a whirlwind of issues that keep you from reaching your ultimate goal.
Jenevieve Roper is a writer and health expert who is keen on busting many of the myths that prevail in the fitness
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