The black and white of dieting is fairly simple: eat less, move more, calories in, calories out. Be consistent and watch yourself transform. Right? Well, generally speaking, yes. But unfortunately, not always. Just like life, dieting is not always so black and white.
Perhaps you know someone that despite training hard, eating at a deficit with properly balanced macronutrients/micronutrients and recovering appropriately, they just can’t seem to lose weight? More often than not, factors at fault include:
- “Ghost Bites” – aka those bites of your coworkers dessert, those mindless bites while you prepared your meal, those random bites of various snacks at work, those unmeasured spoonfuls of peanut butter, always eating out and guesstimating, etc. They all add up!
- Not Actually in a Deficit – They may not be burning as much as they think they are in their training, therefore, not being in a true caloric deficit (more on this later). Or, eating more than they think they are in comparison to their output. Yes, it is true, sometimes in dieting, to get to a specific goal, you have to be in a lower deficit than you think you need to be in. Harsh truth.
Other than the above factors, there are some that fall in the grey area of dieting. Perhaps you’ve heard folks say, “I can’t lose weight because I have a slow metabolism”? Hell, I’VE said that (thanks, thyroid)! People can have slow metabolisms (soooo many factors that contribute to this), but the most important tidbit of information to take away from this post is: a slow metabolism is NOT a life sentence that you are doomed with forever (or to use as an excuse). There ARE ways to remedy this.
But it takes work. By tracking your intake, you are in control of the calories-in – which is extremely important if you have specific goals. Controlling the calories-out, aside from exercise, is more so dependent on your biology, which is where things can get tricky. The human body is extremely complex, and it is your metabolism (a mega machine of organ function, hormones, energy, etc) that dictates the amount of energy your body outputs in a day.
The thing with the human body is that it is extremely durable and will adapt to extreme circumstances when necessary. Some bodies do this quicker than others (hi). So if you’ve been eating really low calories for a long time, even when combined with hard, diligent training, and you’re still not losing weight, chances are that your metabolism adapted to its current state. No, this is NOT starvation mode. Most people, thankfully, won’t ever experience true starvation. What this means is, your body adapted to its current intake as its “maintenance,” so even though you’re technically not eating much, your body doesn’t think it’s in a caloric deficit, it thinks it is maintaining.
So, how can this be fixed? Reverse dieting! Or, simply getting back to (or figuring out) your true maintenance numbers (macros to eat to maintain weight). This is done so that your body can slowly adapt to eating at higher calories, with minimal weight gain while also increasing your metabolic capacity.
Some argue that there is no need to to do this slowly and you can simply go back to eating at maintenance in a 2-3 week window after a cutting phase (Lyle McDonald, PhD), while others argue that this should be done slowly in a 10 week (or more) window to minimize fat gain and give your metabolism time to adjust (Alan Aragon, Avatar Nutrition, in3 Nutrition, Layne Norton, PhD, Sohee Lee). In my humble opinion, if you’ve been cutting for a long time, slowly increasing your food intake can also help you mentally. Big increases in food in a small time frame can easily lead to binging.
So…all this may sound familiar coming from me, right? Well, that is because I have covered this topic before in The Dark Side of Reverse Dieting. Read that post where I go over my personal experience with reverse dieting (at that point) and the parts of reverse dieting that people don’t like to talk about. Folks love to focus on the group of folks that respond extremely well to reverse dieting such as weight loss and can get their macros upwards of 400g of carbs without gaining but that is not as common as you think.
Okay, so now you’re probably asking, “Well Jo, why are you bringing up reverse dieting yet again?” Sigh.
HERE’S THE DEAL
To put it into perspective, I wrote that post in July 2017 and it is now toward end of April 2018. I was in the middle of a reverse diet that I had began in March 2017. Which, five months in was a record for me! As mentioned in that post, I was notorious for starting a reverse, and at any sign of gain, I’d jump back into a cut. And very recently, I was reverse dieting…again. WHAT?!
So, what had happened was…we had a trip to Costa Rica planned for November 2017 and I did not want to go looking/feeling fluffy (can you blame me?). I was advised against going into a cut just yet, that I should give my reverse more time, then go into maintenance for a bit, and THEN cut. Well, vanity and impatience got the best of me and I compromised on doing a “mini cut” right before the trip. I was warned that cutting a reverse short and diving straight into a cut is not a great idea, but that if I’m to do it, that I should stick to the reverse up until October 2017, then for the month of October, do a somewhat aggressive cut (shock the body in a sense), then get back to a reverse when I return. Well, things did NOT go as planned whatsoever because my body is a difficult bitch (hence why I am writing this long ass post about metabolic adaptation).
Basically, the aggressive mini cut did NOTHING for me. I went from eating about 2200 cals to pretty much 1500 cals (without change in training volume) in a span of about three weeks with no change on the scale or body. The frustrating parts were:
- Reverse diet that I spent 6 months on, turned out to be a waste because I was back to eating what I was eating pre reverse diet (perhaps even less) AND at a higher weight than when I began reverse because I’m one of the lucky ones that has some fat gain during a reverse (Note: sarcasm – there should be a sarcasm font)
- I was compliant 95% of the time during the reverse and 99% compliant during the cut, so it’s not like I was going YOLO style and overeating
- I was diligently training hard in weightlifting throughout
What was done, was done. There I was, right before Costa Rica vacation feeling like…
But I got to thinking…I should NOT be stressing about this during my vacation. I had never been to Costa Rica, it was my first international trip with Migs, and I had spent months planning it. I was determined to turn my shit around and have an amazing time. I planned to mindfully eat but not track my food.
This is just a glimpse at the adventures we had on our 10-day trip living that pura vida:
The trip was phenomenal. We laughed, we ate, we drank, we swam, we did adventure. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. It took a lot of willpower to not think about what I looked like in this bikini or in those shorts or that dress, but I did it well enough and remained in the moment. Pura vida.
Back to Reality
In my last blog post, I went over exactly what took place upon our return from Costa Rica. Rest in forever peace, my sweet Abuelita.
In that last post, I definitely focused on my training and those lifetime PRs that did make me ever so happy! There’s one major plus from truly fueling my body – getting stronger!
What I didn’t focus on in that post was nutrition and my body, well, because I knew it would take some explaining and it needed its own post to do so.
Anyway, so upon getting back, feeling as discouraged as ever (on top of the emotional roller coaster I was on), I basically just went back to the calories I left off of on my cut and mindlessly stayed there for some weeks until January came around and I stumbled on AHub Nutrition‘s Ashleigh Hubbard on Instagram…and was intrigued. I lurked on her for a while on Instagram from afar. I’d click through and see what her clients were sharing, what she shared, her methods – basically, went down a rabbit hole.
Although I felt Avatar did serve me well, my body just does not always respond as typically as most bodies do and feel it requires more patience than the algorithm allows. It responded well to the reverse overall, but the cut method, not so much, which I know is partially my fault for going from reverse to a cut so quickly. For someone who has a fairly responsive body, I feel Avatar is a great, affordable alternative. But ultimately, it does only base your weekly macro tweaks on your weigh ins (weight + body fat measurement + compliance, and for women, menstruation) without any other factors considered. I figured the time may have come for me to take on a coach again. Someone that can take into consideration not only the weight on the scale but also take into account other measurements such as how I’m feeling, whether I dropped the kids off at the pool, my stress levels, my energy, how I’m recovering, my training changes, etc. I KNOW I could do this for myself but let’s be honest, we’re not always as real with ourselves as we are with others.
What sold me on Ashleigh – because it IS a hefty price tag to take her on, I’ll be honest – is how responsive she was before I even hired her. We DM’ed for about a couple hours the night I finally reached out to her. I asked any and all questions and concerns that I had. I explained my situation, warned her my body is notoriously difficult and I let her know I did not want to go through what I went through before with a previous coach (scroll down). Responsiveness is key with me. Most importantly, don’t brush off my concerns when I have them. She reassured me of all my concerns without giving me blanket responses and added a bonus: her clients have her cell number and can text her with any questions or to just chat. One of the most important things she has helped me with these last few months was improving my self-love. I sucked at it. I constantly talked shit about my body and what it looks like. I still struggle with my body image but she has helped tremendously in helping turn that shit around.
Time to get to business. Time to make a plan. And she told me what I knew was coming (but was somehow hoping not to come to this). The only way to really get me out of the hole of eating such low calories and not seeing any results was to reverse diet me…AGAIN. Ugh. I expressed my feelings about doing a reverse AGAIN, potentially gaining weight AGAIN, spending months on a reverse AGAIN when I had just spent 6 months on one. I said and asked all these questions, knowing the sad, sad answer already before she even said it. I don’t have much a choice if I want to get my body and metabolism in order. It’s either, remain eating very low calories and lowering them even more with the possibility of still not seeing any change (and have my performance suffer) or reverse diet, but this time go into a maintenance phase, and then cut. And of course, taking into consideration more than just weight on scale the whole time (biofeedback) and adjust accordingly.
Ugh, fine. So here I am. I started the reverse with Ashleigh in January and my reverse just ended a couple weeks ago. From when we started I gained about 3-4lbs – which to some, may seem like nothing. But if you think about the overly aggressive reverse (aka bulkI didn’t ask for) I was put on post op by my previous coach where I gained nearly 10lbs, then the reverse I was very recently on where I had also gained about 3-5lbs (with Avatar) – it sure adds up and IS a lot. I am now on maintenance for the month of April with a week diet (mental) break at the end of the month where I won’t track macros which is also when I’ll be out of town for work. And then, when I’m back in town…
Time to cut! I am hopeful that it will go well this time under the watchful eye of an attentive coach. Another thing I already knew before Ashleigh mentioned it, was that it is very likely that I will ultimately have to go very low in calories due to how my body has responded historically. But luckily, she said she won’t keep me so low for too long and, I don’t have trouble eating low calories when I have to. I more so get frustrated eating low calories and seeing no changes.
HAVE YOU STRUGGLED?
I’m curious to know my readers better. Aside from the common issues listed in this post, have you also struggled with any body goals? Do you feel your body is difficult to change? Did you end up finding what tweaks work for you?