After a diet, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you want to eat everything in sight. Not just today, but tomorrow, too. And the next day.
Yet, on the other hand, you want to maintain your abs, cuts, and oddly placed (and looking) veins that look wicked cool and are a true sign of being lean.
Talk about a conundrum.
And so, what happens far too often is you enjoy a cheat meal or two to celebrate your successful diet, and then you return to your previous calorie (or macronutrient) numbers. Four, six, or even eight weeks down the road, your calories remain at this level because your weekly cheat meal has led to unaccustomed scale fluctuations, which has scared you into thinking that eating anymore will surely lead to increased fat gain.
So, you’re stuck.
You’re fixated on the fluctuating scale number, still hungry, still fatigued, and still experiencing the urge to binge. This wouldn’t have happened had you avoided the biggest post-diet mistake of all: failing to increase calories gradually as you progress further away from a diet.
Before we discuss this mistake in detail, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the changes that occur during a diet that leads to increased hunger, cravings, and fatigue.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY DURING A DIET…
Your body views a calorie deficit as a threat to survival. To protect itself, several adaptations take place centered around conserving energy. Some of the major adaptations that take place include:
Decreased Basal Metabolic Rate – Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) refers to the number of calories your body burns to carry out functions essential to survival, e.g., blood and oxygen transport, organ support, etc. Your BMR, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of the calories you burn in a day, is significantly reduced when in a calorie deficit, especially the longer and harsher your deficit is.
Reduction in Thyroid Hormone- Thyroid hormone (T3 in particular) has a major influence on the number of calories you burn per day. When in a calorie deficit, T3 levels decline, which has a negative impact on your daily calorie expenditure.
Change in Appetite Hormones- The two major appetite hormones responsible for regulating hunger levels are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, the “lean” hormone, helps to curb appetite. However, during a diet, leptin levels are greatly reduced. This is because leptin is stored in body fat cells and as your diet, these cells shrink in size. Ghrelin, or what I liked to refer to as the “gain” hormone, rises during a calorie deficit. This occurs to get you to eat more to remove the calorie deficit in place.
Decrease in Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the calories you burn during the day that does not fall under structured exercise, e.g., fidgeting, tapping your foot, standing and walking throughout your day. You can think of this decrease in NEAT as a result of feeling more fatigued – as you push further into a calorie deficit, your body conserves energy by reducing this behavior.
At the culmination of your diet, you’re burning significantly fewer calories than before, hunger is heightened and frequent, and energy levels low. And by choosing not to increase calories when coming out of a diet, you fail to attempt to restore a sense of normalcy, and these diet-induced adaptations remain intact…or progressively worse.
This is the biggest mistake you can make after a diet!
FIXING THIS MISTAKE
After successful completion of a diet, it’s imperative that you increase – yes, increase – your calories. This may be tough to wrap your head around at first, especially because you spent the past three (or more) moths focusing on reducing calories. But if you do not diligently increase your food intake, your body will remain accustomed to eating few calories and the diet-induced adaptations described above will remain present, which will lead to some of the harsh consequences described below.
CONSEQUENCES OF NOT INCREASING CALORIES AFTER A DIET
You’re More Likely to Engage in Binge-Eating Behaviors- Hunger levels will remain heightened if you don’t increase your calories. And the longer you eat such few calories, the stronger this hunger stimulus will become. You will – I repeat, you will – break. And when you do, this will occur to the tune of eating a few days’ worth of food…in one meal.
Afterward, you’ll feel “guilty,” to say the least (and like absolute crap physically), and jump right back on your very-low-calorie plan…only to find yourself binging again just a short while later.
Because your body is still experiencing significant stress and is still hungry!
And this is where yo-yo dieting begins, and even worse, it may be the birth of a very unhealthy relationship with food or even the development of an eating disorder.
How Increasing Calories Helps: By gradually increasing calories upon finishing a diet, hunger levels remain manageable, and eventually dissipate. This reduces the likelihood of binge behavior, which will not only help keep your hard-earned weight loss intact but also your relationship with food a positive one.
You Won’t be Ready to Diet Again- If you have plans of dieting again, good luck doing so starting off already eating very few calories. If you don’t make the effort to gradually increase calories after your most recent diet, you’ll remain accustomed to eating very little. And to lose weight next go around you’ll need to push calories even lower because your body has re-established homeostasis and declared your current intake as its new maintenance intake.
For example, let’s say you started your diet eating 1,900 calories per day, and three months later you were down to 1,300 calories per day. If you choose not to gradually increase calories during this post-diet period and want to diet again, you’ll need to push calories even lower than 1,300 per day (which is already very low for most).
If you thought hunger and fatigue were strong before, wait until you make your next calorie reduction…
How Increasing Calories Helps: By gradually increasing calories upon finishing a diet, you give your body a chance to adapt to a greater amount. And when done so diligently, you may find yourself eating significantly more calories, yet, weighing within a couple of pounds of your end of diet weight. This is because increasing calories will help to ramp up your basal metabolic rate (BMR) near pre-diet levels.
Instead of starting your diet eating 1,300 calories per day, you may instead be starting at 1,800 calories per day an in a much better position to experience another successful diet.
MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE
The post-diet period may be the most difficult obstacle you face in your attempt to solidify healthy eating behaviors. It will challenge you greatly, perhaps more than the dieting phase itself. Understanding that you need to increase calories during this time to protect not only your hard-earned progress but your short- and long-term health and success is crucial.
The proper increase in calories throughout the next two to three months can leave you feeling, looking, and performing better than ever, and even within a few pounds of your end of diet weight while eating hundreds of more calories each day. Your metabolism will begin to speed up, energy heighten, and hunger dissipates.
Please, begin to gradually increase your calories after a dieting phase. Don’t make the mistake of sticking with your end of diet calories. Doing so will prove to be detrimental to your short- and long-term health and success.
If you need guidance with this, shoot me an email and let’s chat more!