It makes sense. If you substantially reduce the number of calories you ingest, your body will start to use the fat it has stored as fuel, and therefore your body fat content will start to drop, and you will lose weight much more quickly? Well, you would think so, and for the most part, people looking to reduce their body fat content, this approach is one of the first things they try.
However, have you ever wondered why this approach isn’t that successful for most people? The answer is simple; it doesn’t work. The assumption uses faulty logic, which doesn’t take into account the fact that your body alters how it works depending upon the situation it is in. If your goal is to permanently lose your body fat, then reducing the number of calories you eat by a significant amount is counterproductive and may even be harmful.
So what does your body change to make the logic faulty? Well, your body has complex defense mechanisms that swing into action in all sorts of different circumstances. If you suddenly reduce the number of calories you take on board, then your body thinks it is being starved and so starts to slow things down in order not to burn up fuel as quickly as it usually would. Your body’s goal in doing this is to keep you alive when food is scarce. The body will indeed start to consume fat stores when the amount of food available to it is low, but to keep you alive for longer, it decides to burn fat at a much slower rate. Your metabolic rate can, in extreme circumstances, reduce by up to 40%.
There is worse news, though, for those of you thinking that a crash diet like this will help you reduce your body fat content quicker. The lack of calories means that you will start to lose muscle too. So, if you think that when you lose the fat, your muscle tone will be more defined, think again. So why does this happen? Well, muscle is expensive in terms of the number of resources the body is required to expend to sustain it.
Consequently, in times of starvation, the body will start to break it down and get rid of it, thereby freeing up the much-needed protein for use elsewhere. The weight you lose during a crash diet may consist of up to 50% muscle tissue. By crash dieting, you will end up achieving the exact opposite of what you intended. You will start to lose muscle tissue, but you will lose fat at a much-reduced rate.
So what should you be doing? In short, take some hints from how your body works. In the end, your body is much better at deciding how to use up the resources you feed it than you are. Don’t reduce your calorific intake by a substantial amount in a short space of time, but instead lower your calorie intake by a smaller amount over a more extended period. Around 15 – 20% below what you need to eat to maintain your current weight is about right.
Focus on losing body fat gradually. By taking this approach, your metabolism won’t crash, and you will achieve the result you are looking for, which is the preservation of lean muscle tissue and a steady reduction of body fat over a more extended period. You will also feel much healthier and more energetic as you won’t be starving yourself. You will never achieve these results with a crash diet.
This is “Myth #1″ in our “8 Myths of weight loss” series. Follow the link for Myth #2 – Lose fat by eating less?