Fighting Metabolic Adaptation

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This week’s “Coachspeak” message comes courtesy of our “Resident Badass,” Coach Sarah, where she riffs on recent ideas for ways to overcome a weight-loss plateau.

What is metabolic adaptation?

There is SO much information available today that the average person is inundated with the good, the bad, and the ugly of nutrition knowledge. Whenever someone comes to me with something they saw on Instagram, read on the internet, etc. I say, “you can find evidence for any argument you want on the internet.”

One common idea that is being discussed frequently these days in the world of nutrition is “metabolic adaptation.” Metabolic adaptation occurs often in physique competitors as well as chronic dieters. The body is HIGHLY adaptive, and its main goal is survival. Now, we are NOT talking about “starvation mode,” so let’s not go down that slippery slope.

Metabolic adaptation, however, is when the metabolism down-regulates in order to save energy expenditure when in an extreme deficit (either restricting calories or over-exercising). When metabolic adaptation has occurred — aka you have hit a weight loss plateau — the WORST thing you can do is continue to drive calories down or cardio up. Well, why? Because you are continuing to force the metabolism to further down-regulate.

So what do we do?

Diet Breaks and Reverse Dieting

There have been several studies on the concept of “diet breaks” and “reverse dieting” recently.

Diet breaks are a newer concept that have been shown to decrease the chances of metabolic adaptation occurring. Diet breaks are “cutting calories” for three weeks, followed by a one week (or thereabouts) period of bringing calories back up to “maintenance.”

Reverse dieting is pretty much what it sounds like: a diet turned upside-down. Instead of cutting calories and ramping up time spent on the treadmill, you increase metabolism by gradually adding calories back into your diet while reducing cardio.

Either option can serve a purpose to reprogram the metabolism and reignite the gains. So before continuing to cut calories, think about this!

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