What Happens If You Stop Getting Lean?
Have you heard the term ‘starvation mode’? There’s a good chance you have, or at least heard phrased in a different way because many people blame their inability to get a strong and lean by stating the following:
“My metabolism is rubbish – it stop’s me from losing fat!”
Does this person speaketh the truth? Is there validity behind the claims that a crappy metabolism will stop ANY chance of a leaner physique?
Can your body really stop you from getting lean?
Let's find out!
What is meant by starvation mode?
Quite simply it’s the theory that your metabolic rate becomes so completely and utterly down-regulated that your weight loss stops, or your weight even increases. Scary stuff right?
Metabolism is responsible for burning food and body stores for energy. Ideally fat stores if you want a strong and lean physique, but nonetheless something needs to be burned for fuel and thus energy.
Lower calories, and you start getting leaner. Good stuff so far.
But what happens if your metabolism decides to shut down because your body thinks it’s starving itself?
That’s a very scary thought. Going through all of this calorie restriction, the 3-4 times per week in the gym, methodical calorie counting. All that for absolutely zero progress, or worse - weight gain! No thanks!
Should you be worried?
Good news – it doesn’t exist. It’s a myth. You cannot drop your metabolic rate to such an extent that weight loss becomes impossible! Certainly in none of the literature that’s been carried out on energy balance anyway.
So you can rest assured that a (sensible) calorie deficit is going to yield you a sick looking physique.
But… there is something you need to bear in mind.
Your metabolic rate WILL drop during a diet.
What this means is that the amount of energy you used to need to help you lose fat is no longer going to apply.
Let me explain further.
You’re in desperate need of energy to get you through to the next day, so your brain slows down your metabolism because it wants to conserve energy while your body is being fed less chocolate, and more broccoli.
Your brain says "You've been eating 1,700 calories for about 2 weeks now. I'm pretty happy here so what I'll do is halt any further weight loss to avoid losing any more!"
This is a good thing for long term living (I mean, who doesn’t want to live?) but not so great if you want effortless abs in 3 months time.
It’s best to understand this by throwing in the term – your bodies ‘settling point’. A point in your journey where your body is happy where it is, and no longer wants to go any lower in weight or body fat percentage. That’s the theory anyway.
You must remember that your body and brain are much smarter than you. If you chronically underfeed your body because you are trying to remove a spare tyre from your waist there will always be some form of kick back from your body.
Go from 3,000 calories per day to 2,700 calories with the same volume of exercise, it’s going to very much like that daily calorie intake in about 2-4 weeks.
No problem. We can either up the cardio, or reduce calories by a bit more to around 2,600. Simple.
But notice the calorie deficit. Very small and very gradual. Not cutting things in half from day 1 because we want abs last week. Unless you are very overweight and can get away with a bigger deficit, DO NOT plummet calories.
We need to be smart from the get-go, and not severely cut calories in half just because, well, big calorie deficit = quicker results. You need to give your body time to adapt to a new amount of energy intake before you start slashing away at your source of energy.
Create a small deficit, usually 10-20% so that we lose weight SLOWLY, and consistently.
What you DO want to consider is that your fat burning process will stall at some point. Which is why we then add cardio, or lower calories to counteract this issue.
Slow and steady really does win the race, as life is a marathon and not a sprint.
So what about the people that can’t seem to lose any weight, even though they are in a sensible calorie deficit?
I’d refer you to this post first on tracking calories, and if that doesn’t fix anything, go and see a doctor as you might have an underlying thyroid issue.
So in summary:
starvation mode doesn’t exist
your body WILL drop it’s metabolic rate as you diet down
don’t cut calories in half straight away.
If you still run into problems, you’re probably eating too many calories without even knowing it, or you have an underlying thyroid issue.
So the next time someone says their metabolism is bust, you’ll know what to say!