Why Low Calorie Diets Get Failing Grades

142088488The market is saturated with different diet plans available as more and more people are trying to lose weight quickly. We know there’s no magic pill, but quick and easy strategies appeal!

Although there seem to be several new diets every year that celebrities praise as being the best new thing (can you really subsist on only lemon water with maple syrup and cayenne pepper for days on end, Beyonce?), for the most part, these diets are simply rehashing what you might have already known. There is one simple theory as to how diets can help you to lose weight and that idea seems to be pretty universal: Cut your calories!

How Your Body Works on Limited Calories

Traditionally, it didn’t matter if the diet involved fasting, eating a certain meal regimen based on points, low calorie foods combined with vitamin injections, cleansing or the elimination of specific kinds of foods. They all help you to lose weight by forcing your body to operate on fewer calories. When your body has to function on a caloric deficit, the extra calories needed to compensate are found stored in your body fat.

How do we get fat in the first place? Obesity is caused by an excess of calories consumed versus the amount of calories that you expend. Weight gain and loss is most easily explained as an imbalance in the way energy is managed inside our bodies.

Weight Linked to Calories and Energy

Although lower calorie diets work at getting you to lose weight, the type of weight you lose may not be appropriate. Lower calorie diets can cause weight loss, but depending on what you eat, a great deal of muscle and water can be lost in the process. This tends to result in a very temporary weight loss. Unless you are prepared to rotate the numbers of calories you eat in a cycle so your body doesn’t get used to it (micro-managing that diet), after several weeks, your body will sense that you may be trying to starve it. When this happens, your metabolism will also make a shift. Insulin sensitivity will get worse, your thyroid will stop producing hormones and your levels of the hormone leptin (which controls hunger) will decrease. So what ends up happening becomes truly counterproductive. The net effect often will be continued cravings, mood swings, insomnia and the unsuccessful ability to lose weight.

Does this sound familiar?

Calorie Restriction Not the Answer

Really, it’s not calories that cause you to gain weight. It’s the type of calories that you choose to eat. If you are overweight or obese, eating the right kinds of calories combined with regular exercise will allow you to lose weight properly and with better long-term outcomes. It is almost impossible to exercise regularly and be in a constant state of caloric deficit.

Simply cutting calories by dietary restriction will only cause short-term weight loss and will lead to the frustration of gaining back the weight later on.

Slow and steady tends to be the method I like to encourage when you are trying to lose weight. You need to make sure the weight you lose is healthy, at a healthy pace, and of course, you don’t want it to return. So unfortunately, cutting calories just isn’t enough. Patience and keen attention to eating and exercise habits will set you up for a lifetime of good health!

Sources:
Ochner, C.N., et al., “Biological mechanisms that promote weight regain following weight loss in obese humans,” Physiol. Behav. August 15, 2013; 120: 106-13.