The Reason Weight Loss Plateaus When You Diet

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“The Reason Weight Loss
Plateaus When You Diet” We have millions of years of evolution
hard-wiring us to survive scarcity, compensatory survival mechanisms our
body uses to defend against weight loss. So when we start losing weight, we
may unconsciously start moving less as a behavioral adaptation
to conserve energy. There are metabolic adaptations as
well. Our metabolism slows down. Every pound of weight loss may
reduce our resting metabolic rate by seven calories a day. This may only
translate to a few percent differences for most, but can rapidly snowball for
those who achieve massive weight loss. During one session, some of
The Biggest Loser contestants famously had their
metabolic rates tracked. Above and beyond the hundreds of
calories less it takes to just exist 100+ pounds lighter, by the end of
the season their metabolic rates are slowed by an extra
500 calories a day.


The mindblower was that six
years later they were retested and still had the 500-calorie-a-day
handicap. So the contestants had to cut 500 calories more than anyone else their
size to maintain the same weight loss. No wonder the bulk of
their weight was regained. Most remained at least 10% lower
than their starting weight, though, and even a 7% drop has been shown
to cut diabetes rates about in half. Still, the metabolic slowing means
you have to work that much harder than everyone else
just to stay in place. Analyzing four seasons of The
Biggest Loser, minute-by-minute, researchers noted that 85% of the
focus was on exercise rather than diet, though the exercise component accounted
for less than half of the weight loss.


Even six years after their season ended,
the contestants had been maintaining an hour of daily, vigorous exercise,
yet still regained most of the weight. Why? Because they
started eating more. They could have
cut their exercise to just 20 minutes a
day and still maintained 100% of their initial weight
loss if they had just been able to keep their intake
to under 3,000 calories a day. That may not sound like
much of a challenge, but weight loss doesn’t just slow your
metabolism; it boosts your appetite. If it were just a matter of your weight
settling at the point at which your reduced calorie intake matches
your reduced calorie output, it would take years for your
weight loss to plateau.


Instead, it often happens
within six to eight months. You may know the drill: Start the diet, stick to the diet,
and then weight loss stalls six months later.
What happened? Don’t blame your metabolism;
that just plays a small part. What happened is that you likely
stopped sticking to your diet because your appetite goes on
a rampage. Let’s break it down. If you cut 800 calories
out of your daily diet— 2600 calories a day
down to 1800— and your weight loss stalls after six
months, then what happened that at the end of the first month you
think you’re still cutting 800 calories, but you may only be
down about 600 calories a day.



By month two you’re
only down about 500, by month three, 300, and by month
six you’re only eating 200 calories less than before
you went on the diet. In other words, you inadvertently
suffered an exponential increase in calorie intake over
those six months. Yet you may not even realize
it, because by that time your body may have ramped
your appetite up 600 calories. So, it still feels as if you are
eating 800 calories less, but it’s only 200. Since an 800-calorie drop in
intake may slow your metabolism and physical activity
to about 200 calories a day, with no difference between Calories In
and Calories Out at six months, no wonder your weight loss
grinds to a complete halt.


The slow upward drift in
calorie intake on a new diet is not because you got lazy.
Once your appetite is boosted by 600 calories after dieting for a while,
eating 200 calories less at the end is as hard as eating 800 calories
less at the beginning. So you can maintain the same
disciplined level of willpower and self-control and still
end up stagnating. To prevent this from happening, you
need to maintain the calorie deficit. How is that possible in the
face of a ravenous appetite? Hunger is a biological drive. Asking someone to eat
smaller portions is like asking someone
to take fewer breaths. You can white-knuckle it for a bit,
but eventually, nature wins out. That’s why I wrote
How Not to Diet. Some foods can counter
the slowing of our metabolism and suppress our appetite, ways of eating to counter
the behavioral adaptation and even eat more food
yet still lose weight. Due to the metabolic slowing
and increased appetite that accompanies weight loss,
sustained weight loss requires a persistent calorie deficit
of 300 to 500 calories a day. This can be accomplished
without reducing portion sizes simply by lowering the
calorie density of meals.


This can result in the rare
combination of weight loss with both an increase in quality and
even quantity of food consumed. I’m going to do a whole
series of videos about it. The bottom line is that
sustainable weight loss is not about eating less food;
it’s about eating better food.

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