In my last blog entry we looked at metabolic damage and what is was and how it manifests. Since learning about it and trying to figure a solution to my problem out I have come to realise I can sit around and cry about the fact that the number on the scale isn’t budging or can crack on with trying to repair my metabolic rate for awesome results in the future. ‘Think long term’ that is what I have to keep telling myself. Everyone is always looking for the quickest way to achieve their results, including me, but the truth is you cannot rush the process. Even though it is hard to watch people achieve their physical goals while I am still stuck at the same weight I’ve learnt that stressing about it is just going to hinder my progress even more (see notes on the effect of stress and cortisol in blog number 1). Since writing my first blog I’ve come full circle and now with a concrete plan I am pushing forward to my final goal. So, what was the next step for me?
We have determined the fact that due to years of restricting calories and doing excess cardio I have slowed my metabolism down. As a result of this introducing large numbers of calories into my diet, despite it being clean food and despite me burning more calories than I eat, it can and did lead to fat re-gain. The reason I began to regain fat I had previously lost and had no intention of finding again is due to my body going into starvation mode (see previous blog). So the next step for me was to figure out how I can increase my calories whilst avoiding fat gain, this is where I stumbled across reverse dieting. The concept of reverse dieting is pretty simple, the clue is in the name; basically I had to reverse my diet process. A standard diet adopts the structure of reducing calories in to create a calorie deficit and evoke weight loss, reverse dieting is the opposite you slowly add calories whilst trying to maintain weight. In simpler terms instead of increasing my daily calorie intake by 300 – 400 kcals a day (and still being in a calorie deficit) I should increase my calories slowly and steadily weekly depending on how my weight progresses. Not only is this a great way of improving your metabolic rate it has also proven to help me control some of my bad eating habits.
Now I know I don’t have to explain what this is! We’ve all been guilty of it whether you are a clean eater 5 days a week and binge at weekends or whether you are strict 99% of the time and then go all out at special occasions. The truth is if you get your nutrition right there is no need to binge eat. Coming from a weight watchers background I remember living for my cheat day which was usually the day we all weighed in. If you were an evening ‘weigher’ you would jump on the scales and spend the next 20 minutes in the queue of the kebab shop with the rest of the weight watchers crew. If you were a morning ‘weigher’ it would be worse! I remember weighing in on Wednesdays mornings and heading straight for the supermarket to fill my basket with chocolate, sweets anything I considered a ‘cheat food’, half the time I never even wanted the things I brought but I knew I had 1 day to eat it all as if that 1 day a week it didn’t matter what I ate. The fact is it does matter, don’t get me wrong I still lost weight despite my binges but the psychological effect it had on me and my eating habits have been detrimental to moving forward with my physical goals and in life in general.
I’ve been struggling to write this part of my blog for months!! It’s hard to admit to having a major issue with food that effects your life, people associate addiction with alcohol or drugs but the truth is food was my drug and I know for many other people that is often the case. Controlling food, calories and exercise became an excessive everyday thing for me but I am only human. I began my binge eating cycle at weight watchers but after a while it began to get out of control. I would find myself bingeing 2 to 3 times a day and I’d feel terrible, guilty, depressed. How could I do all this exercise and ruin it by eating tons of food that I didn’t even want?? At the time there only seemed to be one solution for me and that was to get out what I had put in. Once you get into that vicious cycle it’s so hard to get out, I would tell myself everyday ‘Right, that’s it this is the last time! You can do this, you don’t even need this food just put it down’ The truth was I couldn’t stop it, it went from a once a day occurrence to a 4 times a day occurrence. I remember thinking that if I just got out all the calories I had eaten I would definitely lose weight because if calories out are more than calories in you’ll lose weight right?? Not only would I try and control my calorie intake to the extreme but I would make sure that if I hadn’t got rid of all the calories I had eaten I would burn them. I began doing fitness classes religiously and the gym, I would spend 4 hours a day working out to ensure I was burning a stupid amount of calories so I felt secure knowing I could stand on the scales at weight watchers and be confident that I must’ve lost weight. If I knew then what I know now about metabolic damage and all the health ramifications that come with under eating, I never would have let my obsession with the number on the scale take over my life in such a dramatic way.
How has reverse dieting helped me break the cycle?
Coming off a strict diet can inevitably lead anyone into the binge eating cycle and this is why reverse dieting prevents you from doing that whilst still allowing you to have a life and enjoy foods you love. Its also important to gradually re-educate your body into metabolising different food groups again. For example if you have been on a low-carb diet (one of the most common diets around at the moment) your body will have balanced your blood glucose levels and insulin. If you then come off that low carb diet and decide to start introducing large amounts of carbs back into your diet you will end up with a large increase in blood sugar levels. Once the insulin in your body clears it you end up with hunger pans and cravings for sugary food and the process starts all over again. Reverse dieting works on a basis of adding roughly 50 – 100 calories a day onto your current diet. For example if you have been dieting on around 800 kcals a day you would go up to 850 – 900 kcals a day in the first week of reverse dieting. One of the most important things to take away from this blog if you are considering on embarking on a reverse diet is that the goal is NOT weight loss. Its taken me a while to realise this and its been hard stepping on the scales and seeing the same number week by week when I am so used to seeing it go down, but the fact is if you are increasing calories and you are maintaining weight this is a positive thing. Just remember when reverse dieting the goal is:
‘Gradually increase calorie intake whilst maintaining weight’
Sounds like an impossible task right? Wrong!! Realistically I would say prepare yourself for the possibility of gaining weight but at the end of the day what is 1 to 2 lbs in the grand scheme of things?
‘Think long term’ remember!
The fact is that if you have been on a restrictive diet for a long period of time then your body is used to digesting certain foods and a certain amount of it. Diets not only result in fat loss but they also result in water loss. Once you start introducing carbohydrates back into your diet you will begin to store more water. If you get on the scale and you’ve put on 2lbs don’t panic the chances are its excess water and once your body has caught up with it you will flush it out by staying hydrated and through eating clean and exercising.
How do I reverse diet?
I am not going to lie reverse dieting can be a bit of a chore at times, you have to become organised about the amount of calories you are taking on board in order to keep track of how you are progressing, but you’ve been restricting your calories for so long this shouldn’t be an issue. I have found the best way for me to control my calorie intake when reverse dieting is to count my macronutrients.
‘Macronutrient’ is really just a posh word for a food group. We all have 3 main food groups in our diets:
Protein: Typically comes from lean meats and fish. It is often considered the one of the most important macro especially if you are a keen gym goer. We need protein for growth, tissue repair, immune function, making essential hormones and enzymes, preserving lean muscle tissue and for energy when carbohydrates are not available.
Carbohydrates: Let’s start by saying I always believed Carbohydrates were the enemy but the truth is anyone looking to build a certain physique or gain any sort of athletic gains needs a mass amount of carbs in their diet scheduled around training. Carbs are found in foods such as starchy veg, grains, wheat etc. We need carbs as they are the bodies main source of fuel, they are used for energy and the central nervous system needs carbs to function correctly.
Fats: Like carbs, fat is not the enemy! Ive always opted for low fat options when shopping but the fact that the majority of the time if something has low fat plastered all over it, its actually more processed and ultimately worse for you. Healthy fats that are essential in our diets are found in meats, nuts, butter, oil and fish. Fats are essential for energy, growth and development, helping with vitamin absorption and hormone production.
Macros? Calories? Confused? Don’t be! Counting calories and counting macros is the same thing it’s kind of like the difference between imperial measurements and metric its all just numbers:
1g of protein = 4 kcals
1g of carbs = 4 kcals
1g of fat = 9 kcals
Is it not just easier to count calories?? Yes and no is the answer. It is important to eat for your goals. That is one of the biggest things I have learnt during this process. I’ve always wanted to have a toned body and I always thought if I reduced my calories and lost all the fat then an amazing toned body would appear with sexy shoulders, glutes and a great set of abs. The fact is to look toned you need muscle; to have muscle you need to weight train, to get results from weight training you need to EAT!! With my goal in mind I split my macros down and began reverse dieting at:
160g protein a day = 640 kcals
45g fat a day = 405 kcals
100g carbs a day = 400 kcals
Total daily calories = 1445 kcals a day
In order to stimulate my metabolism as much as possible I spread my protein intake out throughout the day, so I may have 5 meals each with 32 grams of proteins in. I also try to schedule 30% of my carbs pre workout and another 30% post workout. The beauty of scheduling your food like this is that its 100% flexible. As long as you ensure you get all of those macros a day it doesn’t matter where you get them from! Of course, be sensible but don’t be afraid to have a life. I love clean food so I get the majority of my macros from lean proteins and healthy fats and carbs but if I want a biscuit I will have a biscuit I just make sure I account for it in my daily allowance.
With my plan in place I stuck to my macros for 7 days, I weighed in and I maintained. Initially I took this as a blow but then I had to remember my goal:
‘Gradually increase calorie intake whilst maintaining weight’
Since I had maintained I then increased my calories to the following:
160g protein a day = 640 kcals
46g fat a day = 414 kcals
110g carbs a day = 440 kcals
Total daily calories = 1494 kcals a day, an increase of 49 kcals
Once again after a week my weight maintained so the calories have gone up again to:
160g protein a day = 640 kcals
47g fat a day = 423 kcals
115g carbs a day = 460 kcals
Total daily calories = 1523 kcals a day, an increase of 29 kcals
We shall see how I progress but I am hoping to maintain weight whilst continuing to increase calories. There are a number of reasons why I need to increase my calorie intake but the biggest reason is for my physical and mental health. As a fitness instructor I burn a lot of calories so it’s time to eat enough to stay healthy and train hard. I also need a structure for piece of mind that doesn’t involve unhealthy restrictions or does not allow me to have a life. Reverse dieting has helped me establish a healthier relationship with food and has taught me to eat for my goals and to not consider food the enemy. I continue to train hard and count my macros and I hope that my experience will help educate the ‘fad dieters’ out there that you are all doing more damage than good. It is a constant battle to overcome the emotional ties to the scale and to food but it is one that I want to share with my clients and friends to help break the cycle that so many embark upon when trying to lose weight.