How chronic dieting kills your gym progress
written by Philip Stefanov | NOVEMBER 10, 2020
The Muscle Loss
Any dieting, especially as a natural person, hides the risk of muscle loss (1). The longer and more aggressive the diet is, the bigger the muscle loss is (2). Also, the leaner you get, the more your body begins to protect its fat stores and instead burns lean tissue.
If you continuously find yourself dieting, not only are you sacrificing time that would be better spent toward building muscle, but you are also at risk of losing the muscle and strength you already have.
This is primarily thanks to the physiological and hormonal changes that take place. A significant issue here is the lowering in testosterone to cortisol ratio which is often used to measure anabolism and catabolism (3, 4, 5). This creates a net catabolic state where your body breaks down tissue to meet its caloric needs. At that point, building muscle is near impossible unless you’re a beginner, de-trained, or using PEDs.
Eating Disorders and Binges
The even more devastating effects of the chronic calorie deficit are the eating disorders we can develop.
Dieting is stressful to the body and mind. As you lose fat, hormones responsible for satiety such as leptin, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin decrease (6, 7, 8). Ghrelin, well known as the ‘hunger hormone’ skyrockets (9, 10).
Your body becomes primed for fat storage, and your endless appetite and dozens of cravings make it incredibly easy to overeat. You get to a point where all you can think about is food. More specifically, how much you miss it.
And if you’ve diet long enough, you eventually reach a point where you’re so hungry that everything looks good. A bowl of chopped up cabbage with some salt and apple cider vinegar? Oh my, bring it here!
On the one hand, you want to keep going because you want to get leaner. On the other hand, you want to eat like a normal human again. But this feeling of starvation eventually leads to slip-ups- like bingeing on ten thousand calories in a day sort of slip-up. And this is where it all goes down the drain.
You enter the binge-purge cycle. You finish a binge session, feel disgusted and ashamed, so you put yourself in a calorie deficit again to offset it. A week or so goes by, and you’re back to your hungry and deprived self. So you binge again. And so you purge again. On and on it goes.
It’s no secret that extreme dieting (e.g., for a bodybuilding show) often make people develop eating disorders, at least temporarily. It is stressful as hell, and it’s why many people find themselves regaining all the weight, and then some.
Spinning Your Wheels
One often underestimated factor about both bulking and cutting is momentum.
Building muscle and losing fat are similar in many regards, but there are key differences with the training and nutrition. Muscle-gaining periods require higher training volumes (which often include more exercises), and more food (11). Fat loss requires less training volume and fewer exercises combined with a calorie deficit.
This means that you may develop different habits for each goal. For example, I practice intermittent fasting when looking to shed fat because it makes it easy for me to stick to 2500-2700 calories. But I eat from morning to dawn when looking to build muscle because I wouldn’t be able to push down 3600-3800 calories otherwise.
I also train four to five times per week when gaining muscle and only three if my goal is fat loss.
Already there are two significant changes to my daily habits. But once I gain some momentum in either direction, my habits make it easy to continue. It becomes automatic, and I don’t have to put much thought.
But if I were to switch between dieting and gaining every few weeks, I would end up spinning my wheels. Intermittent fasting one week, then eating breakfast the next. Doing lots of volume and having more training days one week, then cutting it all down the next.
There’s also the importance of psychological momentum. Gaining a bit of body fat after dieting can be disheartening and almost make you quit. But if you spend a few weeks in a surplus, you’ll feel much more comfortable and won’t fret about every single pound of scale weight.
The same goes for fat loss. The initial week or two might suck a bit because you’re eating less and feeling hungrier, but that often passes once you gain momentum. Hunger becomes much less noticeable, and you don’t always think about jumping back into gaining.
There is also a case we can make about our hormones. We know full well that both weight gain and fat loss have distinct effects on our hormones.
Fat loss leads to lower testosterone, insulin, and T3 (12, 13). It also leads to lower leptin levels and higher ghrelin and cortisol levels (14, 15). This creates a catabolic environment, lowers your metabolic rate, and increases the likelihood of overeating and storing fat.
Weight gain has the opposite effect - our testosterone, insulin, IGF-1, cortisol, and T3 stabilize. Leptin increased, and ghrelin decreases. This creates an anabolic environment, our metabolic rate increases, and our appetite improves.
What to Do Next
If you’re interested in learning more about chronic dieting and how to break free from it, click here.
Until next week,
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