It is a common misconception that in order to lose weight, you need to deprive yourself. As a society, we’ve been taught to restrict calories (or fat, or carbs, etc., etc.).
When you think of it that way, it’s easy to see why “diets” fail. It is impossible to sustain a way of eating that is based on depriving your body. Thousands and thousands of years of evolution guarantee that you will fail if you try. Your survival instinct is much stronger than your “will” to stick with a deprivation diet and it always wins in the end.
(Exception to this rule: sugar and highly-processed non-foods, i.e. food products. While your body may be tricked into craving them, it doesn’t need sugar and other bad-for-you ingredients, and, in fact, does much better when they are kept to a minimum, while still enjoyed every once in a while.)
The best way to lose fat is to work with, rather than against, the will of your body by FEEDING it, OFTEN. Yes, that’s right, eating food is how you will lose weight. It seems counterintuitive only because we’ve been brainwashed by misinformation.
Each year during our New Year New You Body Transformation Challenge, we spend a lot of time talking to the participants about this concept, trying our best to drill it home. Still, each year, the first couple weeks are filled with comments like, “I feel like all I do is eat! Are you sure I’m supposed to eat this much?!?!”
And, each year, we have a few challengers who just can’t overcome the deprivation mindset and eat way too little. It’s not until their first InBody assessment, when they learn that they’ve not only not lost any fat, they’ve actually gained a pound or two of body fat, that they start to try it our way. (The InBody assessment is a super-sophisticated “weigh-in” where we are able to pinpoint to the 10th of a pound how much body fat a person has. Learn more about the InBody.)
Here’s the thing – if your body thinks it’s in a famine and could possibly starve it holds onto everything you eat in order to survive the ‘famine’. “But I’m not in a famine! I’m just on a diet,” you might say. Unfortunately for you, your body doesn’t know the difference between choosing to deprive yourself and an actual famine on the subconscious level – the level at which your heart beats without you thinking about it. And your liver functions without you thinking about it. And your metabolism functions without you thinking about it, etc., etc.
Reversely, when your body is constantly being fed nutrient-dense, real food, it operates as if it is living in a period of abundance and, therefore, has no problem burning through what it was just fed because it expects to be fed again real soon.
Most experts, including us, recommend eating every 2-4 hours, roughly 5-6 meals a day, usually 3 larger meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and 2-3 snacks. If you consistently feed your metabolic fire, you’ll lose fat. Starve it and not only will you stop losing fat, you’ll eventually gain it too.
It’s important to note two things with this:
- It is imperative that the food you eat is mostly good-for-you, nutrient-dense food. If you are eating a lot of junk, your body will actually become malnourished and operate under the same premise as if it was starving because, essentially, it is. While you may be giving it a lot of calories, they are empty calories that the body will immediately store as fat and “save for a rainy day”. So, our command to EAT! does NOT apply to junk food. Definitely LIMIT the junk!
- If anyone is out there wondering, “Well, what about someone who is anorexic? She/he is VERY skinny and he/she is living in EXTREME deprivation.” Here’s the thing. When you starve yourself, the first thing your body uses as an energy source is its protein, i.e. its muscle. It holds onto its fat, on the other hand, as long as possible. Eventually, in order to survive, it will eat into that too, which is why an anorexic will sooner or later lose all his/her fat and become no more than skin and bones. From the bottom of our hearts, we hope none of you ever go so far as that. If you find yourself (or anyone you know) traveling down that road, please seek immediate medical attention.