The statistics on long-term dieting success make for depressing reading.
On average, 35% of the fat you lose will be regained in only ONE YEAR.
Worst still, all of the weight you lost, plus extra is regained in 3-5 years!
Why is this? Well, there are obviously multiple reasons, however two key reasons include:
- The Energy Gap: Describing the decrease in your calorie expenditure (how many calories you burn) by going into energy saving mode and the increase in hunger hormones (ghrelin).
- Metabolic Adaptations & Adaptive Thermogenesis: The process by which your body’s metabolism, thyroid and key anabolic hormones such as testosterone, IGF-1 and estrogen take a nosedive.
Now you are probably thinking… “but there must be a better, more intelligent approach we can take when dieting to avoid this?” and you would be correct.
This article is going to teach you how to diet successfully and protect your body, hormones, metabolism and most importantly, your hard-earned weight loss!
Your Body is a Survival Machine
Although it may sound fairly stupid at first, we can learn a lot about why diets fail and these metabolic adaptations by looking at our evolution through time.
For example, if you look back centuries ago when we hunted for food, weight loss was clearly associated with starvation. No caveman or woman was ever aiming for a bikini body or trying to prep for a physique competition.
To our bodies, weight loss equals no food, which then equals starvation and finally, death.
Our body doesn’t know that food is only around the corner. It doesn’t know that there’s a McDonalds on every corner or immediate access to food to stop the long-term energy deficit we are putting our bodies in when we diet.
As you can see, from our bodies’ perspective there are no benefits associated with you dieting down for that six pack or beach body.
Remember, the role of body fat within the body is to insulate and protect vital organs. Its sole purpose is for survival.
The Science of Failed Diets – Energy Gap
As mentioned, there are 2 primary, metabolic reasons that diets fail.
Firstly, there is an “Energy Gap”, simply put, your hunger signals increase, your brain tells your body to eat more food as it “thinks” you are starving.
This is then combined with a decrease in energy expenditure, so your body keeps telling you to EAT MORE, while decreasing ENERGY OUTPUT.
Remember, the key principle for weight loss is actually the OPPOSITE – You need to eat less and increase energy output (as shown below).
So, at present your body is craving more food with your brain actively signaling you to eat more. This has been tested, with multiple studies showing large increases in the main hunger hormone, gherlin.
Worst yet, your body is going to reduce how many calories you burn by going into energy saving mode. This means for weight loss to continue, or if you’ve finished the diet, for the weight to stay off then you must eat EVEN LESS!
And remember, that’s only half of the equation, we’ve still got to discuss metabolic adaptations and adaptive thermogenesis.
Metabolic Adaptations & Adaptive Thermogenesis
The second aspect is known in the scientific world as “Adaptive Thermogenesis” and “Metabolic Thermogenesis”. These are complex processes which ultimately boil down to your body reducing output and going into “hibernation” or energy saving mode, just like your laptop does.
Adaptive Thermogenesis: The decline in metabolic rate (calories burnt) after we account for fat loss. In other words, when we do some clever calculation and work out what your new metabolism should be, the metabolic down regulation is even MORE.
Metabolic Adaptations: Similar to above, this also describes down regulation of your hormones. However, it’s not just your hormones that affect metabolism. Studies have shown very large down regulation in key sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, along with increases in the stress hormone cortisol (which makes it harder to lose fat, recover from exercise etc.).
Again, this is proven by several research studies, showing just a few weeks of dieting can have scary effects on our body.
I say scary because these studies show healthy people can lower hormones to the “Deficient” levels after only a few weeks of dieting.
Bearing in mind that being deficient in a key sex hormone such as testosterone or estrogen can rapidly increase disease risk, obesity, diabetes, increase fat gain, muscle loss, reduce strength and bone mineral density.
The Science of Dieting Failure
Originally, researchers were puzzled as to why people found it so hard to maintain their weight after a diet.
At first, we assumed it was just bad lifestyle habits, food addiction and failure to achieve a new healthy, balanced eating pattern.
Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly still the case;however, it goes WAY beyond this. That is really only half the story, after all, you have your OWN body fighting against you…
Along with bad eating habits and other psychological (brain) issues, these reasons explain the physiological (within the body and our cells etc.) adaptations:
- Reducing energy output (energy saving mode),
- Reduction in Sympathetic Nervous System activity,
- Decrease in NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: e.g. walking, moving, stairs etc.),
- Decreased Thyroid Hormone (which controls your metabolism and calories burnt)
- Improving Mitochondria Efficiency (Mitochondria is our “Engine”, it becomes better at saving energy).
- Increasing hunger hormones (ghrelin) and decrease in satiety hormones (leptin).
The Research on Metabolic Adaptations
Here is one study by Doucet et al. (2001) who investigated a 15 week weight loss diet in
obese men and women.
By week 8, resting energy expenditure had dropped by a further 230 calories compared to what the researchers predicted based on body weight changes (Adaptive Thermogenesis).
As mentioned, your body makes further down regulations in metabolism, beyond the typical changes you would expect from losing mass or weight.
Another study by Muller et al. (2015) looked at the effect of overfeeding and dieting on body composition and a large variety of hormones / blood parameters.
In this slide it shows AT (Adjusted Thermogenesis) during a 1 week 50% overfeeding (OF), 3 weeks in a 50% caloric deficit (CR1, 2 & 3) and finally RF which was a further one week overfeeding by 50%.
As you can see from the black bars, their metabolism drastically reduced after week 1, 2 and 3 of the diet. As shown in other studies, this can continue over time and gets worse the longer you diet for.
For example, one long-term study in obese individuals showed up to a 500 calorie difference, even after accounting for the changes in Adaptive Thermogenesis (fat mass and fat free mass!) (Knuth et al., 2014; Johannsen 2012).
If Something is Broken, You Fix it Right?
As you can see, the typical approach 99.9% of people take for weight loss is not working. If 95% of people being released from jail were re-offending then we would know the system was broken and fix it.
However, when it comes to dieting, the terrible statistics get overlooked, with everyone focusing on weight loss and not really caring what happens after. Plus, it gets worse still. People not only regain the weight, they gain MORE than when they first started dieting and develop a bad association with food!
Even the government is starting to tag on to this, with one statement basically saying if you don’t want
to be overweight, never gain it in the first place.
But don’t worry, I’ve got an answer to the solution.
One that has been tested in research with great effect, I’ve also tested it personally with 100s of clients.
But that wasn’t enough as I know as a researcher the more data you have, the stronger the correlation and validity.
For that reason, I built the 90 Day Bikini Transformation Challenge on these very principles. This has allowed me to test it on over 2000 people! The results and feedback have been amazing.
Give it 10 years and I’m confident this approach will take over the current, mainstream dieting approach everyone uses.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to wait 10 years. Follow these exact guidelines below and give it a try yourself.
Never Blow Your Diet Again
Firstly, it’s important to remember anything chronic (long term) is bad. If you continually diet on the same calories the issues described above are unavoidable.
For that reason, refeeds and calorie cycling are extremely important.
As mentioned, I build the whole 90 Day Bikini Transformation Challenge and my own personal clients diets around this ONE KEY FACTOR, and you should do the same!
By adding in these refeeds and cycling your calories you basically “trick” your body and stop it from going into “survival mode”.
In the study I showed above, you can see a 1 week refeed at 50% calories drastically increased their metabolisms. Not only did it get it back to normal, it actually increased it further (white bar on the far right, labelled RF).
Other studies have supported these findings. This study by Friedl et al. (2000) investigated the hormonal adaptations to a severe diet and the effects of a refeed. Participants were placed in a severe deficit (1000-1200 calories) and placed on a 8 week army US Ranger Course.
Firstly, this study continues to support that chronic dieting and extreme stressors, like those experienced in some individuals’ contest prep or fitness based diets causes serious and rapid declines in metabolism and hormones.
In this study they found drastic reductions in thyroid T3 (metabolism), IGF-1, Testosterone and increased Cholesterol. As you can see in the graph, testosterone levels rapidly declined from around 18 nmol/L (fairly high) at baseline to below “low” levels!
However, the good news is that when following a 1 week refeed, even with continuation of the other stressors (exercise, restricted sleep etc.), produced prompt recovery of Metabolism (T3), Testosterone, and IGF-I levels.
As you can see, this data shows regular refeeds are KEY for dieting success. They allow you to keep your metabolism and hormones healthy and at their normal levels. They also allow for optimal strength, as you get to refuel glycogen, improve sleep and lower cortisol during the refeed period.
Now you may think it slows down long-term weight loss but this isn’t the case…
Calorie Cycle Yourself to Long-Term Success
In this final study, they actually compared the dieting method I use and recommend against normal chronic dieting.
Davoodi et al. (2014) recruited obese women (BMI: 33) and split them into 2 groups, both groups had the same diet / macros.
The only difference was the calorie cycling group (CCG) followed an 11 day deficit followed by 3 days at ad-libitum (free living: no set calories / macros / food).
This was repeated for 3 cycles (6 weeks total) followed by a 4 week maintenance period. The typical dieting group continuously dieted on a daily basis (TD).
Although both groups lost weight, the calorie cycling group lost more weight despite having 9 out of 42 days off as refeeds!!
Further, the weight regain was around 50% higher for the normal dieting group when compared to the calorie cycling group!
What’s more, the participants in the cyclic diet group also reported greater satiety (feeling of fullness) and less hunger than the typical dieting group, a key reason people fail long-term diets.
As shown in the graph, Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR – your metabolism / how many calories you burn) also quickly reduced in the normal diet, however, the cyclic group nearly maintained their starting levels.
Calorie Cycling & Refeeds for Rapid, Long-Term Fat Loss
Based on the research (as presented above) and the results of people using these methods in my programs, calorie cycling and refeeds are a superior way for long-term metabolic health and fat loss.
Hopefully you now understand the problem and see there is a clear solution…
To get started, you can try any of these calorie cycling and refeed plans I’ve created:
- The Weekend Cycle: 5-day calorie deficit of around 500 calories, 2 days at maintenance
- Davoodi’s Cycle: 11-day calorie deficit of around 500 calories, 3 days at maintenance
- 3 On, 1 Off: 3 Weeks in a 300-500 calorie deficit, 1 week at maintenance
- Monthly Cycle: 4-5 weeks in a 300-500 calorie deficit, 10-14 days at maintenance
It’s important to tailor the refeeds around training, they should be set on the highest volume / intense days so you utilize the extra fuel for muscle growth and recovery.
For a female, it’s also extremely important to tailor them when you are most insulin / carb sensitive and base this on the menstrual cycle, as I teach on the 90 Day Bikini Transformation Challenge
Optimize Refeeds / Calorie Cycling Around the Refeeds
Read more about calorie cycling and refeeds here
- Anderson, J. W., Konz, E. C., Frederich, R. C., & Wood, C. L. (2001). Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(5), 579-584.
- MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 301(3), R581-R600.
- Müller, M. J., Enderle, J., Pourhassan, M., Braun, W., Eggeling, B., Lagerpusch, M., … & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2015). Metabolic adaptation to caloric restriction and subsequent refeeding: the Minnesota Starvation Experiment revisited. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(4), 807-819.
- Davoodi, S. H., Ajami, M., Ayatollahi, S. A., Dowlatshahi, K., Javedan, G., & Pazoki-Toroudi, H. R. (2014). Calorie Shifting Diet Versus Calorie Restriction Diet: A Comparative Clinical Trial Study. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 5(4), 447.
- Friedl, K. E., Moore, R. J., Hoyt, R. W., Marchitelli, L. J., Martinez-Lopez, L. E., & Askew, E. W. (2000). Endocrine markers of semistarvation in healthy lean men in a multistressor environment. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(5), 1820-1830.
- Wing, R. R., & Hill, J. O. (2001). Successful weight loss maintenance. Annual Review of Nutrition, 21(1), 323-341.
- Erdman Jr, J. W., MacDonald, I. A., & Zeisel, S. H. (Eds.). (2012). Present Knowledge in Nutrition. John Wiley & Sons.
- Knuth, N. D., Johannsen, D. L., Tamboli, R. A., Marks Shulman, P. A., Huizenga, R., Chen, K. Y., … & Hall, K. D. (2014). Metabolic adaptation following massive weight loss is related to the degree of energy imbalance and changes in circulating leptin. Obesity, 22(12), 2563-2569.