We hear the word diet almost every day, but what actually happens in the body when we start to diet with the goal of trying to lose weight?
Everything you eat is used by the body to fuel all of its essential functions, such as breathing, digestion and movement. The way that the body burns the calories in your diet is referred to as metabolism.
The way that the body burns calories each day performing all of its basic functions, without exercise, is known as resting metabolism. Experts calculate that most people's resting metabolism is about 1800 calories a day. In other words, that is the number of calories a person would burn even if they lay in bed all day.
However, some people have fast metabolisms and some slower ones, for a variety of reasons. These reasons include hormones in the body, such as those produced by the thyroid, or the sex organs, and the ratio of muscle to fat in the body.
Various things can upset the delicate balance of hormones, such as stress, and an out of shape body does not run as efficiently as a fit one. Think of the difference between a well-oiled machine, and a rusty one. A body with lean muscle mass will use its calories more efficiently than a body which is out of condition.
What you eat in your diet will also affect your metabolism. Lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains will be processed by the body much better than fatty meats, trans fats found in margarine and store-bought cakes and other snacks, and refined white flour and sugary foods.
The USDA recommendation for daily calorie intake is 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 for men. We can therefore already see that most people are overeating already if they are following these guidelines.
Gaining a pound takes an extra 2000 calories in the diet. Losing one pound takes 3500 calories burned. It is easy to see therefore, that weight gain is inevitable if we are eating even according to the USDA guidelines.
When you diet, and restrict calories, the body starts to break down its own fat cells, which is the body stores excess calories in case they are ever needed, such as when you start to burn calories above the level of your resting metabolic rate. When you begin a diet, and limit your calories, as you burn the 3500 calories needed to lose one pound, the fat cells in your body are forced to start giving up their calorie reserves.
If you keep eating carefully and burning calories through exercise consistently and steadily throughout your diet, you will lose weight. The fat cells changing their chemistry will release about five to ten pounds of water weight to begin with, and exercise to build lean muscle, such as yoga or aerobics or swimming, will help convert flab to muscle, which burns calories even more efficiently.
The biggest danger in dieting is to try to lose too much weight too quickly. Skipping meals and starving yourself might work for a day or two. However, a crash diet like that will eventually trigger a reaction in the body which will cause it to go into starvation mode.
In other words, your body will think that it is in danger of starvation, and will begin to hang on to every single calorie you take in, storing it back in your fat cells directly instead of using it as fuel. Unless you have more muscle than fat, this could result in a freeze in your diet, or worse still, a diet rebound, in which you not only gain back all the weight you lost, but actually put on even more.
Some dieters do well for weeks or even months, then hit a phase in which the scale doesn't budge, or actually even starts to creep back up. This is called a diet plateau. Some dieters will get frustrated and give up. Others will starve themselves even more, and cause diet rebound.
A more sensible choice is to increase your activity level, and eat more lean protein for a few days. Keeping a food diary will also help you see if there are a couple of places you can shave off more calories without compromising on your nutritional needs.
Weight loss and diet are a complicated process dependent on many factors, but one thing is for certain. We can control our weight with the food choices we make and the amount of activity we choose to do. Even if we can't stand going to the gym, studies have shown that 10 minutes of aerobics 4 times a day is just as beneficial to the body as 40 minutes straight. It also improves mood as well as burning calories.
If we read our food labels, and look not just at the calories but also the serving sizes, we can avoid portion distortion and control our weight, instead of letting it control us.