I want you to consider a common female client. She's a woman about 5'5" and 185 pounds. A combination of a mostly sedentary lifestyle, quick-fix, processed foods and consistent excessively low calories has resulted in an incredibly stubborn fat loss scenario. Not only has it created a stubborn fat loss scenario but her ability to add body fat is remarkably strong.
Most would believe there is simply no possible way she could be 185 pounds eating mostly low calories. While it's true the average obese American created their own obesity by being a huge over consumer, a sedentary glutton if you will, many are able to maintain their level of obesity with the following formula in very precise ratios: starvation + binges + sedentary lifestyle.
An initial review of this woman's calories indicates she is just above starvation level in the 400-700 per day range. The food choices are mostly protein in this case (low-carb is all the rage you know) and there are virtually no vegetables or fruits to speak of.
Five or six days per week the calories remain low in this range, however, there are nighttime binges from time to time and weekend binges where carbs loaded with fat (doughnuts, rolls, cookies, pizza etc.) are consumed.
So while the calories are very low the majority of the time, there are one to two days per week where this isn't always the case. Even so, the nighttime binges and weekend slack offs don't amount to what you might presume would be thousands of extra calories, thus explaining the 185-pound body weight.
Very few foods are prepared from home. There are lots of fast foods being consumed. Convenience and taste rule.
I must say. Early on in my coaching and teaching career this woman was a real head scratcher for me. Isn't it calories in and calories out? Even if she's not active she's starving!
How in the heck does she stay at 185 eating an average, including all binges, of maybe 750 calories per day? She's frustrated beyond belief. She sees her friends and coworkers eating more and weighing less. Is she simply unlucky? Is everyone else blessed? And what in the world is she supposed to do to fix this, if it can be fixed?
Why Is She Not Losing Weight?
First, let me tell you why she's not losing weight. Then I'll tell you what she has to do to fix the situation. With a chronic (months and months) intake of less than 1000 calories per day and a 185-pound body weight her metabolism is suffering greatly. It's running cool, not hot. It's basically running at a snail's pace.
Think of it this way. Her metabolism has matched itself to her intake. She could, indeed, lose body fat but she's in that gray area where she is eating too few calories but not quite at the concentration-camp level yet.
If she were to consume 100-300 calories per day her body would have virtually no choice but to begin liberating stored body fat. This is NOT the solution. It's unhealthy and, in fact, quite stupid.
Not only has her metabolism matched her intake, her body has maximized production of enzymes that are designed to help store any additional calories as fat. Anytime additional, immediately-unnecessary calories are consumed the enzymes are there and waiting to store the additional calories as fat. Her body is starved nutritionally and it has one thing on its mind - survival.
Being mostly sedentary, her metabolism (hormones play a large role here) can do a pretty good job of keeping things slow enough so that the pathetically low calories she's consuming are just enough to maintain.
But since certain enzymes are elevated, waiting for more calories so more bodyfat can be stored, every nighttime binge or weekend mini-feast will contribute to fat stores.
So on the days she's not bingeing her body does not lose fat, or if it does, it's very little. And on the few days or times she does binge a bit her body is quite efficient at storing fat. So, while she may lose a smidge of fat from starving it is quickly replaced with every binge.
Remember, these binges aren't a gluttonous 4000-calorie feast. Oh no, a binge might be 4-5 cookies worth about 500-700 calories. Nevertheless, since the binge foods are mostly carbs and fat it's very easy for the enzymes to shuttle the dietary fat into stored body fat. It's what they were designed to do.
So, What's The Solution?
Well then, now that we presumably know some valid reasons why she's not seeing a scale change and definitely no body fat change how do we fix her? We have to do something she's going to freak out over.
We have to get her eating more. Not only do we have to get her eating more but more of the right, whole foods need to be eaten. Foods lower in fat that aren't as easily STORED as body fat have to be consumed. And we have to warn her.
A Discouraging Start
We have to warn her that since she's been sedentarily living on protein with binges of carbs and fats she is likely to see a weight gain right away. It's true.
Once we begin really feeding her body with nutritious carbohydrates so she can become more active, her glycogen-depleted body will hang on to some of those carbohydrates (in skeletal muscle and liver) so she has stored energy for activity.
When her body hangs on to those carbohydrates it has no choice but to hang on to more water too. For every gram of glycogen (stored carbs) she stores she'll hang on to three grams of water.
This is not a negative response by the body but it will be interpreted by her as quite negative when she steps on the scale.
It's quite likely she'll see a five to seven pound weight gain when she really starts eating properly again. This weight gain will remain for one to three weeks before it starts moving in the other direction.
For argument's sake let's assume my Calorie Calculator and Goal Setter at Club Lifestyle suggests a 1500-calorie per day average in week one for a one-pound loss per week. First, she is going to freak out about this many calories.
For months she's been eating less than 1000 and usually around 400-700 in one to three feedings total per day. To her 1500 calories is a ton of food. And if she even begins to eat less fast and packaged-foods it will be a ton of food.
There is no doubt whatsoever that she will resist the increase. This resistance may take one to three weeks to overcome. During this period no weight loss will occur. She is too fat already in her mind and believes it will only hurt her to increase her food intake.
I mean, after all, isn't that how she got fat to begin with? In her early stages of fat gain this was probably true. She overconsumed. But as I've said already, that's not why she's staying heavy.
In addition to a freaked-out mindset about adding more food to her already overfat body she will simply find that it's all but impossible to eat four or more times per day.
She's just not hungry at first. Makes sense when you think about it. Why would she be hungry three hours after eating a 300-calorie, balanced breakfast? Her body is used to 400-700 calories per day!
So, even though she gets a plan and begins using my nutrition analyzer to log foods and meals she finds after having a balanced breakfast of 250 calories she couldn't force herself to eat meal number two on time.
It'll take several more days of realizing what is going on and being one-hundred percent honest and diligent with her logging and planning before she begins to eat her meals as planned no matter what - even if she's not hungry.
By now two to four weeks have passed and the only thing she's seen on the scale is it going up--not very encouraging if I say so myself.
Raising The Grade
After the first two to four weeks have passed she's probably beginning to consume her meals as planned although not quite like an "A" student yet. That is coming. She feels better because she's working out and is more active.
And she feels like she has more energy throughout the day because she's feeding her body more calories and the right kinds of calories.
She has finally begun eating the right kinds of fast foods (low in fat, moderate in protein) and less packaged food overall. She is making more meals from home and taking them to work for lunch rather than always grabbing something quick from a vending machine or the break room that always has some treat another employee brought in.
After another two weeks or so she's moved from a "B" grade to more consistent "A"s. She's planning her days one day ahead in the Nutrition Analyzer; she's consuming fresh veggies and fruits on a daily basis.
Her calories are almost ALWAYS in line with what is recommended by my Lean Account and she has seen her first signs of the scale moving in the right direction.
She is now dropping from 190 pounds (her high after reintroducing food and carbohydrates again) to 189.3! "Progress at last!" she says. In actuality, the entire process was progress. But that's not how she saw it in the beginning.
With a total of two to four weeks of increased caloric intake behind her and eating more consistently the right kinds of foods her metabolism has truly begun to rebound.
She didn't kill it as she thought. She only wounded it. And since our metabolisms are like kids (they are quite resilient) and she doesn't have thyroid issues or diabetes or any known wrench that could be thrown into the spokes of fat loss, she will begin, for the first time in months or years, to see results that make sense and that one would expect of someone who is active (30-60 minutes five or more days per week) and consuming a caloric intake of 1300-1500 calories per day.
This process is in no way easy. I think you can see a plethora of ways it could be screwed up, sabotaged, given up on too early and so forth.
A key to success for this very common woman (men too) is not giving up too soon, having faith in the fix, and moving sooner rather than later to the increased, quality food intake.
It's going to take effort to overcome the mental hurdles of eating more food as well as the increase in scale weight that is going to occur in weeks one to three or so. It's disheartening, however, to charge hard down the weight-loss field only to get to the one-yard line and decide it's time to quit.
Many don't realize they only had one more yard to go and they'd have had a touchdown. You gotta hang in there with this plan. It's going to take some time for the glycogen levels to be replenished and level out. It's going to take some time for mental adjustments to occur.
It's going to take some time before hunger signals are restored to anything close to normal. It's going to take time for the metabolism to rebound and not be in its protective mode.
Giving A Stubborn Body The Message
In certain, very stubborn cases, it may be necessary to eat at a eucaloric (maintenance) or hypercaloric (over maintenance) level for a few weeks to ensure the metabolism does get the signal that everything is alright and you aren't going to kill the body.
Remember, your body could care less about your desire for fat loss. It just wants to survive.
Some Take-Home Points
- The most common cause of obesity is Americans are sedentary overeaters/drinkers. Nothing in this article should be construed as to say that under eating is the root cause of obesity. It's not.
- It IS common for many men and women to be under eating with sporadic binges as I described here. This creates a perfect environment for continued obesity even if total caloric intake is quite low on average.
- Low-carb followers or "starvers" WILL see the scale go up when calories are consumed at reasonable levels again and carbohydrates are reintroduced. Live with it. Deal with it. It's going to happen. 98% of the gain will be water.
- The time it takes for mental acceptance and other adjustments to occur will vary but one should expect a two to four week window for these things to take place. Being forewarned with an article like this may speed this process up some.
- Once the right types of foods are consumed and the right caloric intake is consumed and the right ratios of carbohydrates, proteins and fats are consumed on a consistent basis, then, and only then, will metabolism begin to be restored and the key to fat loss be inserted into the lock with a noticeable drop in the scale resulting.
- This may take an additional two to four weeks to occur. Your metabolism is never dead or broken for good. But it may take several weeks of proper eating and activity for it to be restored.
- From day one, until the first, noticeable drop in the scale occurs may be four to six weeks--maybe one to two weeks longer. Those who give up on the one-yard line will never see the scale drop as will occur when intelligent persistence and consistency over time are adhered to.