Read time: 4 minute read

Often women want to diet without understanding the key driver in this process – metabolism. So let’s start there. 

Metabolism as it pertains to body composition refers to the amount of calories or kilojoules we require on a daily basis to carry out basic functions. We all have a baseline metabolism, which us professionals refer to as our Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR for short. 

This metabolic rate keeps our heart beating, digestion firing, brain functioning, and moves our bodies from the bed to the couch. The more movement we have in our daily lives, the higher this metabolic requirement is going to be. 

For a 65kg person, the average BMR is around 1500 calories per day. This is assuming that the person is not doing anything. This is the amount of food required to survive. As you add activity, you require more food to survive.

When it comes to fat loss, it’s important to understand that metabolism is highly adaptive, and it can lower with excessive dieting or stress. If you eat too few calories for a long time, your metabolism will simply adapt to that – it will lower the speed in which you do things – movement, thoughts, motivation, digestion, in order to keep you alive. 

It is a gradual process and you will likely not even recognise that it is happening. We see this in competition preparation a lot – slow movements, slurred speech, and obsessions about food. We want to stay shredded but would literally die if we tried.

Now we get to the issue of body-fat

Subcutaneous body fat, which is the fat you can see under your skin, is not a direct threat to your survival. This is particularly true when it’s in moderate amounts. However, we often feel that those healthy, moderate amounts of body fat are too high by society’s beauty standards.

We feel uncomfortable, left out of fashionable movements, and sometimes a little gross. We want to be lean, light and fast, without any bulging bits. What is wrong with that!?

Moving beyond that fat you can see, we have visceral fat, which hugs our internal organs.This is unhealthy, and associated with drinking alcohol, and eating refined sugar and fried food. As this is a threat to our survival, the body will lose this first

Often people start dieting and they feel better but look the same, this is because this fat is breaking down first. We get frustrated here, and quit the diet, blowing out on junk because ‘what’s the point!?’ It hasn’t even had a chance to get to your ‘other’ fat yet, the fat you hate so much.

So we have visceral fat that your body wants to lose, and subcutaneous fat that it doesn’t care about.

Then we have the issue of losing weight when you’re overweight, vs losing weight when you’re a healthy weight. 

Unhealthy and burdensome body fat levels are easy to lose, with simple caloric reduction or increased movement. Even switching out the sugar, vegetable oils and alcohol will help, short of even worrying about your calories. 

This is because in order to reach a particular level of unhealthy body fat or obesity, excess caloric consumption needs to be there, along with high stress levels, impaired sleep, low movement and a high level of inflammation. Often the gut is impaired here too. 

In this case of unhealthy levels of fat, and particularly visceral fat, losing weight is actually important for the health of the organism, so there isn’t really a ‘wrong’ way to go about a diet. The body will feel happier if you lower its toxic load, take it for a walk, or diet. The fat on your body will replace the calories you stop consuming, and use those for fuel instead. 

If you’re a healthy body weight with a relatively healthy diet, then changing your body composition becomes somewhat of a scientific process. Lowering calories will not just ensure you lose body fat, as your body doesn’t want to lose that fat.

If you have a history of dieting, and you are constantly trying to limit food intake so no ‘not gain weight’, then your body will have adapted to a dismal calorie level in order to survive. 

In this scenario if you choose to diet, it looks like this; your metabolic rate is already low, and your body doesn’t consider that to be healthy. You cut the calories lower, below what you need to survive, and the body, rather than losing that body fat you don’t like (but which your body does like), it increases cortisol (stress hormone), lowers energy expenditure, holds on to bodyfat, and in more serious cases where your willpower supersedes this survival mechanism, it starts to add more fat cells, in preparation for that time that you do decide to eat again. 

So in summary, if you’re unhealthy weight, dieting will not add to stress, it will reduce it. If you’re a healthy body weight, then dieting is more likely to add stress to the body. 

Now we get to the (unpopular) solution…

To lose body fat in this circumstance, the only option you have is to increase caloric consumption for as long as needed in order to return the metabolic rate to a healthy place. Once it has adapted to higher calories, you can then lower them in order to stimulate fat loss. 

Just as a metabolism downregulates when calories are chronically low, it will upregulate when calories are becoming chronically higher (to a point, as once over this point we gain body fat). 

Dieting is not simple when you’re a healthy weight, and it’s even less simple when you have been dieting for your whole life. The only solution is to stop dieting and increase your food. 

Remember that as women, our job is to create life, and we need body fat for healthy hormones, and a healthy menstrual cycle. The body does not care what you look like, it cares if you can carry a healthy baby full term. 

For some women, this body fat level is 18%, but for others it is 30%. For those of us with 30%, this sucks and it often causes us to constantly diet, to no avail. Constant dieting increases the stress in your body, lowers your metabolic rate, and signals to your body that it is in danger, and when in danger, fat loss goes out the window. 

Also note that those bodybuilders you see who look absolutely insane, and diet from year to year have a few things going for them, including genetics, and drugs. Their bodies don’t feel unsafe when they’re leaner, and the drugs override these ‘danger’ signals anyway as they take the woman away from being a woman, and closer to being a man. 

Getting lean as a woman is a much more sensitive process than it is if you’re a man. 

In summary, if you’re an unhealthy weight, any diet will do, as you are decreasing the stress on your body by dieting. The key is to stop dieting and return to higher calories once you’re done. 

If you’re a healthy weight, whether or not it’s a weight you like, then you are increasing the stress on your body by dieting. So your job is to find a way that minimizes this stress, and most often this means you need to take time out to repair your metabolism before you even attempt to lose weight. 

If you don’t repair your metabolism, and you start dieting from a poor metabolic position, each dieting attempt will just prime your body to store more fat, as the more fat it has, the more fuel it has available for the next famine that comes around. 

Remember your body doesn’t know what you want psychologically or emotionally, it knows what it needs, physiologically. You think you want to fit into your favourite jeans, but your body thinks you’re lost in the jungle with no food in sight – again – and it will hold on to that fuel in order to protect you, and provide essential energy to keep your reproductive capacity alive. 

I hope that helps 🙂 

Want to master this topic? Check out my super-affordable mini-course on Female Training

Jen x

 

 

 

 

 

 

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