Before making decisions about improving your health and understanding what a healthy diet consist of, it is important to understand the changes typical dieting can make to your body and how these changes can actually prevent you from achieving your long-term weight-loss goals.
The majority of diets are based on some form of severe calorie restriction and are usually combined with some type of food deprivation, either in the form of severely reduced levels of fats or carbohydrates. Any diet that reduces your daily intake of calories to below the amount of calories you use per day (ie your calories ‘in’ equals less than your calories ‘out’), will induce ‘weight’ loss.
The problem is that when you cut calories too low, the weight you are losing is not all from fat. The other problem is that when you drastically reduce any one type of food group (eg carbohydrates or fats), you risk cutting out vital nutrients required by your body to actually assist you in losing weight and keeping your body healthy.
Diets that restrict your calorie intake too much will result in your body shedding water and muscle tissue in equal or greater proportions to the amount of body fat you are losing. So around 50% will be water and muscle tissue and the other 50% will be body fat. The reason for this is that your body is designed to withstand times of famine. Therefore, in order to preserve life (because your body does not know when you are going to eat properly again), your body will break down your muscle tissue to use as fuel and hang on to your fat stores.
Muscle is ‘active tissue’, which means that even at rest it requires energy. Fat is a non active tissue, it just sits there waiting to be used one day as energy. So when your body switches to ‘survival mode’ it will break down your muscles to use as fuel rather than tapping into your fat stores; with less muscle your body will require fewer calories to function on a daily basis and can therefore ‘survive’ on your reduced calories for longer.
The reason that this is so bad for your long-term weight-loss goals is that when you lose muscle tissue, your metabolism (which is responsible for how many calories you burn each day) slows down. A slower metabolism means your body will become less efficient at burning fat; so as soon as you stop your diet and go back to your old eating habits you will regain the ‘weight’ you have just lost, and usually a bit extra. Even worse news is that because you now have a slow metabolism, you will put on more ‘fat’ weight than what you have just lost.
There are two reasons why the weight you gain back after a diet will be from fat and not from muscle.
1. Research shows that the enzymes responsible for lipogenesis (the process by which the body converts excess carbohydrates into fat for storage) increase in concentration during dieting to protect your body during times of ‘famine’ in order to preserve life. This means that once you ‘finish’ your diet and go back to your normal eating habits you will have more enzymes capable of storing more fat into your fat cells.
2. Most diets and weight-loss programs do not promote any strength training exercises and this is what is required in order to gain muscle. The reason strength training is not promoted by most diet and weight-loss programs is because they would not be able to promote such drastic ‘weight-loss’ results. Yes, they actually want you to lose your muscles! If you were to take a piece of muscle and a piece of fat the same size, the piece of muscle would actually weigh almost twice as much as the piece of fat. This means that it is advantageous for diet companies (but not for you) if you lose muscle because ‘weight loss’ on the scales will be much more dramatic. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of this because we have been taught to measure our ‘total weight’ as an indicator of our health and / or weight-loss success rather than measuring our body fat percentage. Using your body fat percentage is a much more accurate way of measuring your health and weight-loss success as it is a true indication of how much body fat you have lost. Ultimately, we all know that it is body fat that is bad for our health, waistline and body shape.
This is the reason that after dieting many people actually weigh the same as they did before they went on a diet, or even a little less, but somehow feel like their clothes are now tighter or they ‘feel’ bigger. To give you an example of how this works:
- You go on a diet and lose 5kg: 3kg from muscle and water and 2kg from fat.
- Within a month or so after your diet you put on 4kg: all 4kg gained back is from fat.
- You weigh 1kg less than before your diet, but your clothes are a little tighter. Why?
- You now have more fat and less muscle, so your body has a less ‘toned’ appearance and the extra 2kg of fat now takes up more space in your body than the 3kg of muscle and water did.
This is one of the most important factors to understand when it comes to weight loss: not all weight is equal.