The Fitness Expert
Are you beach-bod hungry? Then eat this!
In our latest offering from fitness expert Bogdan Merkes, he outlines some of the common dieting mistakes - and tells us that quick-fix dieting will NEVER work.
Each and every year, in the lead up to holiday season, thousands of men scour multiple resources in search of the quick-fix diet that promises to melt away any beer-belly wobbles to reveal washboard abs in mere days.
There is an endless list of various “diets” out there but the integral theme in the majority of these centres primarily around restriction, be it in the form of calorie counting, carb exclusion or portioning. Each well-marketed dieting tactic assures results but it is well-documented that none is without its pitfalls and health risks.
If you’re in training or working out regularly and your goal is a fit, lean, well-sculpted physique, “dieting”, by its very definition, will NEVER work. In order to achieve substantial fat loss and muscle gain in combination with exercise, it is imperative that we veer away from this form of old-school dieting and adopt a psyche in which a more balanced sense of nutrition is ingrained.
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario….
John weighs 75 kg and has a body fat percentage of 25%, which means 56.25kg is composed of lean body mass including organs and bones.
A multitude of excuses lead John to overeating, inactivity and ultimately an additional 10kg on the scales. Body composition analysis (BCA) shows his body fat percentage suffering a steep climb to 33.8%and his muscle mass stagnating at 56.25kg.
Ignorant of the potential dangers, John decides he needs to shift weight pronto. His motivation - an upcoming holiday on the Mediterranean shores awash with scantily-clad females at glamorous pool parties. And so, John’s attempt to drastically reduce his caloric intake ensues.
John starves his body by limiting his intake to 1000kcal/day. After 2 harsh weeks of depriving his body of energy and essential nutrients, he begins to feel worn out, mentally and physically fatigued. Eventually, he does return to his original 75 kg, only this time his body fat sits at 30.3% (22.73kg) and a muscle mass of 52.27kg. Notice that despite restoring his initial weight, his body fat percentage has increased and there has been a significant reduction in lean tissue.
Fresh off the plane from Marbella, John rechecks his body composition, now clocking a total weight of 85kg gaining back the weight he just lost before the holiday (blamed on one too many pool-side cocktails and late night munching) and a body fat percentage of 38.5%. With no change in lean body composition this results in John gaining 8.2% of fat over the duration of his holiday. Fuelled with the belief that he can yet again drop the 10kg, he resumes his pre-holiday workout and restrictive dieting regime, but remains perplexed by his flabby physique.
So what went wrong? Here are John’s mistakes and their potential side effects:
Decreased Basal Metabolic Rate (Muscle Loss/Fat Gain)
Eating less to lose weight is a flawed dieting technique that usually accomplishes a short term weight loss, followed by a weight gain. Crash dieting forces the body to go into “starvation mode” which shifts the body’s metabolic equilibrium so that it functions to preserve, rather than burn, fat; and utilise, rather than build up, muscle mass.
If you lose muscle mass, your metabolic rate slows and you burn fewer calories. If you gain muscle mass your metabolic rate soars and you essentially become a calorie-furnace. In fact, one pound of fat burns just 2 kcal/day to maintain itself compared with one pound of lean body mass which burns a whopping 30-50 kcal/day.
Depleting yourself of adequate energy subjects the body to significant and unnecessary stress. This manifests itself in the form of both mental and physical fatigue, lowered immune function and ultimately increased susceptibility to infection, not to mention altered endocrine responses which result in altered mood, sleep disturbance, reduction in bone mineral density with subsequent osteoporosis and predisposition to fractures. All this precedes discussion of the expansive subject of nutritional deficiencies which is outside the scope of this article.
Stress (physical and mental)
I referred previously to the effect of yoyo dieting on the endocrine system. Cortisol - the body’s fight-or-flight hormone, released during periods of extreme stress - fuels the blood with energy in the form of sugar. The purpose of this is to allow the body to react appropriately to the stress applied.
For example, in Neolithic times, bears posed a threat to the life of the caveman. When faced with an angry bear, the brain recognised this as a “stressor”, and a stream of signals fired to various receptors throughout the body to stimulate the release of cortisol. This supplied the blood and thus muscles with sufficient energy to flee the bear.
Similarly, a state of hypoglycaemia, when in “starvation mode”, is interpreted by the brain as a “stressor” on the body. While this may be advantageous in the short term, chronically elevated cortisol levels will result in increased appetite and weight gain through a variety of metabolic shifts.
Yoyo dieting with extreme calorie restriction NEVER works on any timescale. The initial effect of dropping a few pounds on the scales is more than negated by the detrimental shift in body composition, which ultimately favours fat preservation.
Your fitness goal can only be achieved by a lifestyle change that moves away from restrictive, calorie-conscious dieting and focuses on the idea of achieving “precision nutrition” for body and mind.
Next week, I’ll explore this concept of “precision nutrition” suggest a food plan to complement your workout to turn you into a fat-shredding, muscle-building machine.
Bogdan Merkes is writing a column every Wednesday until the end of September. If you want to learn more about his services check out ultimatefitcrew.com or like his page on Facebook. Check out more articles from Bogdan on his blog at bogdanmerkes.com, and you can also follow him on Twitter. All comments/questions/suggestions gratefully accepted.
[Main picture via Beth Rankin/Flickr Creative Commons]