Have you ever wondered why people who were once overweight find it so difficult to keep off any fat they lose?
Often, they’ll slim down, and lose quite astronomical amounts of body fat, only to rebound pretty quickly, adding it all back on (and often more.)
Is this just a case of them being lazy, not tracking everything and lacking consistency, or is there something more to it?
As easy as it would be to say that these folks aren’t dedicated, that they tried too extreme an approach and couldn’t stick to it, or that they just needed to be more diligent and consistent, something else might be at play.
Read this chapter carefully if you’ve previously been overweight, or know you’re carrying more than just a little excess body fat right about now, but you want to have the most successful diet possible.
Set Point Theory
The set point theory revolves around the idea that our bodies get used to being a certain weight and shape, and so are always fighting to get back to that.
The longer you stay at a particular weight, the more your body starts to believe that this is its “set point” and that this is where you need to be.
Genetically, everyone has a different set point, hence why some guys and girls are naturally bigger, while some seem to eat whatever they want and never have to diet, but always walk around pretty lean.
Once you understand this, you start to get an idea why people who either genetically carry more body fat, or have been overweight or obese for several years often struggle with sustainable weight loss.
What Happens When You Diet?
Let’s say you have 100lbs to lose.
You start dieting, and in theory, you can keep your calories quite high, as being heavier means your BMR and daily calorie burn will likely be higher. You’ll probably start off okay doing this, but you can plateau pretty quickly, even if you’re sticking to things pretty meticulously.
People will say that you must be cheating on your diet, not hitting your macros, as you should be losing weight.
However, many processes are whirring beneath the surface.
If your body is comfortable at, say, 300lbs, as soon as you start to lose more than a few of those, it fights to take you back to your set point.
It will do this in a number of ways, but most of them revolve around NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.) Your non-essential functions will be down-regulated to a bare minimum, and subconsciously, you’ll start to move less, meaning you burn fewer calories and fat loss slows.
Eventually, this likely forces most dieters to give up, and even revert back to their old ways. Because their metabolism has essentially slowed, it then takes fewer calories for them to get back to their old weight.
On the whole – it sucks.
Fortunately, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
I won’t sugar coat things, as losing weight if you’ve been overweight or obese in the past WILL be harder, but with the following strategies, you can massively increase your chances of success:
1. Diet slowly
You could have probably guessed this one, but a slower approach is almost always better.
Consider it “tricking your body” so it doesn’t realise you’re gradually moving further away from your set point.
2. Diet on as many calories as you can
If your metabolism will slow and NEAT will go down regardless, you don’t want to make this even worse by starting out on a low calorie intake. As tempting as dropping 5 to 10 pounds a week by only eating 1000 calories per day may be, in the long run it can have some pretty serious and long-lasting effects.
If training and dieting are both new to you, then you’ll potentially be able to add some lean mass while you reduce your body fat. That extra muscle will do a little to help keep metabolic rate up, and training means you can eat more.
4. Incorporate diet breaks
As it takes time for your body to change its set point, having diet breaks is a seriously smart move.
If your aim is to go from 300 lbs to 200, instead of trying to do this in one go, you might shoot to get to 270 in your first 4 to 6 months. Hang there at maintenance for 2 to 3 months, then have another fat loss phase where you get a 20 to 30-pound drop, followed by another diet break and so on.
Due to the fact you’ll be more susceptible to weight regain, one move could be to diet down to under your ideal weight, and then allow yourself to put on a bit more.
This sounds a little crazy, but remember – your body wants to regain weight, so why not let it, while still being happy with your physique.
If your goal is to get to that 200 lbs, follow the strategy in point 4, but add a final phase where you drop down to 185 to 190 lbs, then reverse diet so you gain 10 to 15 back.
You’ll still be lean and strong, but your body will be satisfied, knowing it’s gained some back.
Don’t Let Your History Define You
Genetics and dieting history will play a part in your quest for the ultimate physique, but don’t let them defeat you.
You might have to diet longer, you might have to cut calories more, and you might have to train a little harder, but with a sensible, steady approach focusing on the long-term, there’s no reason why you make have some epic body composition changes.