How long should I diet for?

So you step on the scale and realize you’ve gained a few pounds. 

In response, you attack the situation head on. You increase your exercise, dial in your nutrition and then, slowly, you lose some of the weight. Before long, you’re down seven of the 10 pounds you gained and are almost at the finish line for your goals. 

Then….nothing happens. Weeks go by and you can’t seem to get over that hump. The scale reads the same, some times, it even goes up. You’re mentally frustrated and oscillate between being ‘good’ with your diet part of the week, and cheating on the weekends after having done this for more than two months. 

Ever been there before? 

You’re far from alone if this is you. When you start to diet, (reads, eat less food with the intention of weight loss), your body will compensate physically, psychologically and hormonally in order to maintain your current weight. Even if you have pounds to lose, your body may not actually be on board with that idea. 

As you go through your diet, your hormones will make it such that you want to overeat and maintain your weight, your energy will be lacking because you’re simply not eating as much and your mental resources will be spread thin to choose the right foods at the right time and always say no to the overindulgence of the good foods you may enjoy. 

This doesn’t even account for the fact that you’ll be burning less calories through your metabolism the longer the diet goes on. 

This is why the research suggests that there’s a limit on how long you should ever be dieting, or restricting calories for the purpose of weight loss. That time limit is between 8-12 weeks. Anything shorter than that suggests that there will be little to no results in length for losing fat mass. Anything longer than that and you’re likely to volley between following your plan and falling off no matter how strong your willpower is. 

So what does that mean if we still haven’t lost all the fat mass we’ve shot for? 

Good question. 

If the goal is losing 10 pounds, and you lost seven pounds in 12 weeks, we need to establish a  new set point at that lower weight for 8-12 weeks after dieting. After dieting, our body works to return to our original weight through manipulating hunger hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, which is why most people return to their old way of eating and end up either gaining the weight back or actually gaining more body fat than they originally had. 

The answer lies in slowly increasing your metabolism over the same, or similar, period of time that you reduced calories to begin with. This is the concept of reverse dieting which adds calories periodically in order to increase metabolism, decrease dietary fatigue while establishing a new set point for your bodyweight. 

To make that fat loss permanent, a good maintenance phase is as important if not more important than the initial actual fat loss phase. 

But what if I didn’t actually lose that much weight when dieting, you say? 

This maintenance phase then becomes even more important. If you drove in circles but only got one mile closer to your 10-mile away goal, you still had less fuel in your car than when you initially set out. 

Don’t know where to start on maintaining your weight? Contact us to get help with building your metabolism and setting yourself up for your next diet!