Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Crash Diets, Starvation and Stress are making you fat!

Many people have lost weight using some form of Atkins, or other extreme low-carb, diet. Rapid weight loss that involves high-fat, formerly forbidden foods may sound too good to be true. “You mean I can eat bacon, eggs, steak and hamburgers and lose weight, and all I have to do is leave off the bun?” It sounds too good to be true.

People will forever be looking for a magic potion. And yes, people initially lose weight on this diet and, for that matter, on most diets. But, weight loss has less to do with the food consumed during the diet and more to do with people becoming conscious of what and how much they are eating.

We lose weight when we burn more calories than we consume. Period. I remember when I used to read on-line reviews of Turbo Jam or Turbo Kick. There were always those who offered negative reviews because THEY hadn’t lost as much weight as they had hoped. In some cases, they had gained weight. Of course, anyone with common sense knows that there is no form of exercise that will make you gain weight. There is only one thing that will slow your weight loss or cause you to gain weight: EXCESS CALORIES.

Those who follow a strict diet plan—even one that doesn’t include calorie counting—will find they are limited in the amount of food choices available. This regimen results in a reduction of calories. The reduction of calories and sugar consumption results in weight loss. Deny yourself certain foods or create too great a deficit of calories and over time the weight is often regained.

The most commonly followed and least helpful diets:

Another popular form of diet is what I call the “half-day starvation” diet. Those who follow this plan skip breakfast. They start their day with coffee or caffeine and make it past lunch with just a handful of grapes or half a bag of M&M’s. By late afternoon, the body senses a famine in the making, slips into a starvation protection mode, thus storing fat and slowing the calorie burn to accommodate the lack of nutrition coming in. Half-day starvation is a popular form of weight control that many women learn, and have some success with during their teens and early 20’s. As they gain weight and continue to resort to this torturous eating practice, they find it loses its effectiveness; and what used to facilitate weight loss now seems fruitless. The half-day starvation method is very common in overweight people, those who have high-stress jobs, and chronic dieters. By 3 pm, they can’t take it anymore. The hunger and fatigue are overwhelming. The only comfort seems to be large quantities of simple carbohydrates!

When questioned, they often explain, “I normally don’t eat all day until I’m home after work, or when the kids get out of school.” They describe feeling in control of their hunger until late afternoon, sometimes even forgetting that it’s lunch. By mid-afternoon, they feel run down, weak and suddenly famished. The hunger is so strong now it seems that only a simple carbohydrate snack will do the trick! Those who deny themselves meals or “planned food” make the following mistakes:

1. They consume high-fat, high-carbohydrate and unsatisfying snacks in greater quantities.
2. They find themselves in an “urgent” food situation by the time they’re ready to eat.
3. They often consume more “quick” unsatisfying snacks than the average person consumes well-balanced nutritional meals.
4. They activate the “starvation” switch, which tells the body to slow the metabolism and store fat.
5. They increase their evening hunger and create an inability to feel “satisfied” by a meal.

Ironically, those who go all day without a meal actually consume more calories than they know. What’s worse is that these are often the least satisfying, most damaging calories of all. Forced to account for every mindless calorie, many people on the half-day starvation plan will find they can consume up to a 1000 calories before ever having a “meal.” Here’s an actual example from a former client of mine who explained to me that she was “starving” all day and only ate one meal at night. Here’s her diary. It’s followed by an estimation of her calories. See if you can picture yourself in her shoes.

6:00 am Coffee with cream and sugar (2 big cups)
7:30 am Skipped breakfast, but I admit I ate 3 or 4 bites of my daughter’s leftover pancakes
8:30 am Ate a handful of peanut M&M’s at the receptionist’s desk while chatting with her
9:00 am Another cup of coffee with cream and sugar
11:00 am Chatted with receptionist again and, out of habit, I ate a few more M&M’s
12:00 pm Skipped lunch, not hungry yet; must be the M&M’s!
2:00 pm Now, I’m starving, but I’m tired and need caffeine! Picked up an iced mocha on the way to get the kids
2:30 pm Driving to soccer from school – ate Rachelle’s leftover goldfish from the lunch I packed her
3:00 pm Spent several hours at the soccer field with no food. I’m famished! All I can think about is dinner!
5:00 pm Back home and starving! Preparing dinner; ate a few handfuls of chips out of the bag to tide me over!
6:00 pm Finally, a meal! Healthy Dinner – Chicken breast, steamed vegetables, and water! Pretty good!
9:00 pm 3 cookies – just something sweet to watch my show with! I told you I’m bad at night!
10:00 pm Cocktail to unwind – (Just one. I needed it today!)
11:30 pm Not really hungry, but wanted something salty. Ate a few potato chips, then off to bed.

6:00 am Coffee w/ cream and sugar (2 big cups) 150 cals
7:30 am Bites of daughter’s pancakes – 100 cals
8:30 am Peanut M&M’s - 150 cals
9:00 am Coffee with cream and sugar – 75 cals
11:00 am More peanut M&M’s – 150 cals
12:00 pm Skipped lunch
2:00 pm Large iced mocha – 350 cals
2:30 pm Goldfish crackers – 100 cals
5:00 pm Chips while preparing dinner – 300 cals

At this point, she feels she’s been depriving herself of a meal all day. She’s unsatisfied and starving, hasn’t had a meal, yet she’s already consumed 1,400 empty calories and put her metabolism in slow motion.

6:00 pm 7 oz chicken breast, steamed veggies, brown rice and water! – 350 cals
9:00 pm 3 cookies – 250 cals
10:00 pm Cocktail – 200 cals
11:30 pm Chips– 150 cals

She goes to bed feeling as though she stuffed herself at the end of the night, starved herself all day, and to make matters worse, she consumed in excess of 2,300 calories and did no exercise! Not a lot of calories, unless she’s only burning 1800 a day, in which case she is on pace to gain a pound a week or more! The worst part about this is that she’s destroying her body’s ability to burn calories efficiently. She feels as though her efforts are for nothing. She’s frustrated, disappointed and living a tortured existence controlled by food and an ever-expanding waistline.

Starvation Protection Mechanism:
There are those who actually consume little to no calories for half of the day. They tough it out in the morning and afternoon and just stop eating. Yet, when we stop eating for more than three hours, science shows us the body literally flips a switch on that slows our basil metabolic rate. When the switch gets flipped on, the body activates the starvation protection mechanism (SPM). SPM is the result of thousands of years of human evolution meant to protect us from famine.

Our bodies are designed to store fat and burn muscle while in SPM mode. In this state, our bodies are ready to store fat, and often use muscle and other healthy fuel stores for energy. It is for this reason that Sumo wrestlers are encouraged to fast during the first portion of the day, train and then consume excessive amounts of calories. Are you training like a Sumo wrestler?

By eating every two-and-a-half to three hours, you lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and has been proven to be associated with stored belly fat, depression, insomnia and a weakened immune system. Those who eat healthily, and avoid going more than 3 hours without meals, can burn an increased number of calories even at rest and prevent muscle loss, which keeps the metabolism active. By eating small, well-balanced meals, you constantly ‘rev’ the metabolism!

But, the bottom line is that weight loss is a matter of calories in versus calories out. Eat or underestimate what you’re eating by more than 500 calories per day (a couple handfuls of chips), and you’ll be on track to gain 1 pound a week. How can we burn more but still enjoy eating effectively and with satisfaction on a more regular basis?

The simple answer:

Exercise more ---- Eat less.

That’s what you’ve been told. But, there’s far more to it.

The more complex answer:

Know what you’re burning so you know what you should/can consume to obtain your weight loss or weight maintenance goals. Do things that increase your body’s ability to burn calories, such as frequent small meals and strength training to build dense lean muscle tissue and cardiovascular activity to burn additional calories and maintain cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular activity should consist of 30 minutes or more of exercise 5 to 6 times a week with programs such as Turbo Kick, Turbo Jam, Hustle or whatever program you will do and enjoy (I mean that!). Strength training should be performed 3 times a week with programs such as ChaLEAN Extreme or P90X.

Move more and you burn more. Build muscle and you create a muscle tissue which burns more calories at rest than fat. Eat frequently so you can keep your metabolism working and avoid SPM.

It’s not magic. It’s science. Here’s what eating every 2.5 to 3 hours will do for your body.

1. It turns off our SPM, or starvation protection mechanism
2. It allows the body to use stored fat—not muscle—for energy! That’s critical.
3. It lowers our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that comes from not eating and putting your body in the stress mode with starvation. When you lower your cortisol, you reduce belly fat first.
4. You teach your body to constantly reset its metabolism. It is almost like a workout for the body every time you eat a balanced meal.


laura said...

Hi Chalene,

I'm your blog reader and fan. I've been watching my meals, building muscles and doing cardio workouts and I have lost 14 pounds since the first time I did them on February 09. I'm still loosing it now but I'm planning to stabilize my weight soon. I'm planning on shaping my legs BUT I don't want to lose more weight, it will make me looks too skinny and even now my mom has complaint about my size (I'm size 12, 5.5 ft and she already complaining, lol). Do you have any tips for this situation?

Thank you!

theadamsfamly said...

Chalene, thank you for your words of encouragement on today's blog. I have been getting frustrated, because I feel I "mostly" follow the rules. I don't to the starvation thing and I do my cardio 5 - 6 times a week, and I squeeze in the strenght training as well. I have "Chalene Extreme", but I am only on the first phase of that. I am seeing results as far as some toning, but no weight loss, only a few inches here and there. But today's blog showed me that I need to just keep it up and not give up, as you say "it is never too late". Your workouts have changed my life, I just pray that I will soon see the results I am looking for--- I just want to be fit and tone and a little smaller AMEN! Thank you for your dedication and your love for all of us. May God bless you and your entire adorable family.

With Love
Kim A

M said...

Normally I really love your posts and gain a lot from them, but I cannot get behind the ideals in this one.

Low to moderate carb diets are not doing anyone any injustice nor are all calories created equal. Our bodies uses different fuels in different means and foods produce different levels of satiety. If it's up to me, I'd prefer lifting heavy 30 minutes per day, going easy on carbs and starches and fueling with quality fat and protein. The higher amount of cardio one performs, the higher demand of daily carbs. I do HIIT twice per week, and lift 3x per week at 40 minute spans and that produces a desired fat burn for me. The rest of my activity is low level cardiovascular activity in random interval.

There is no justification for me to eat beyond my needs of carbohydrate nor is there any reason I should be working out beyond a reasonable means to combat what I put in my mouth. Why perform 75 minutes of cardio when I can effectively burn more fat eating a more controlled diet and performing shorter bursts of intense workout? The solution seems simple to me. Work smarter, not harder I say.

Fasting or not eating at a regular interval of three hours is hard wired into our genetics. I don't believe our ancestors stopped every 2.5 hours and munched down a granola bar. They ate filling, higher fat diets that kept them at a higher level of satiety for longer periods of time.

The example shown describes someone refueling on sugary choices or processed foods. "High fat, high carbohydrate" is a poor example. The villain here is the sugar, not the fat. The same for the carb and fake oil binge known as potato chips. The sugar is the source of the insulin spike (i.e. "the crash").

The degree to how one spaces their meals out or the size of a particular meal is more intuition than following a prescribed pattern. If I eat a filling breakfast of 4 eggs and bacon, I doubt I'm going to want to snack in the morning NOR should I. But in doing so, I'm not throwing my metabolism or ability to burn fat stores a curveball, no. Quite the contrary, I guarantee my body is MORE wired to burn fat than when I am feeding it a stream of carbohydrate throughout the day.

Zorn Family said...

Thank you for sharing this Chalene. I lost about 40 pounds and when people ask me how I did it (probably looking for some kind of magic) and I tell them that I ate healthy and exercised about an hour a day (I worked my way up to an hour a day) their eyes start to glaze over. There's no magic way to lose the weight-it's hard work and I think a lot of people just don't want to put that much into it.

John said...


Another brilliant post :)

Always worth the read and truly engaging! Can't wait for camp! See you then!



dean dyer said...

hey chlene, I love your plan and the way you outline a cool excerse plan too.... and I totally agree that starving yourself is not the way to go, except when your'e completely broke and you can't buy food, then everything suffers...
but I was wondering if you had any ideas on how I could learn to live with out cluten... I mean I just found out I have ciliac desease and I can't eat much of anything... it's all wheat.. and I'm haten it badly... what can i do .... god I've gotta read the labels of everything, even ice cream has cluten in it... I've gained 40 pounds in 6 months and I can't believe how fat I am... I've never had a 40 inch waiste... of course this was last year that I found out, and it's taken me that long to get myself back down to the 200 lb that I was... but I'm still freaken out.
anyway.. thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

What I would REALLY love to know, Chalene, is what to eat in a day. I would love for you to post a sample day of eating correctly like you did the sample day of eating incorrectly so that I can better visualize the right foods along with the smaller portions more often through the day like you suggest. Thanks! Enjoy your blogs.

Kristie VanWagoner said...

Oh I am so stoked that you have a BLOG! My Best Friend introduced me to TJ and she looks amazing and can I say I have only worked out to your videos like 5 plus times but I am loving it and I crave it! You make working out so much fun!

Luv Kristie
Thanks a Million for TJ WOOT WOOT

Kristie VanWagoner said...

Where do I find the TURBO GIRL sticker like on your car? Luv it

Jackie Legg said...

Hey Chalene,
My life has changed completely since I found your workouts four years ago. I have all of the Turbo Jam and Chalean Extreme series, and I love every one of them. I've used them to lose the weight after three babies, and only didn't for my first baby because I hadn't discovered the workouts yet! My kids know the names of everyone in the videos. My son asked for weights for his fourth birthday so he could join in with me, and my six year old joins in as well. Thank you!! I follow pretty much every piece of advice you give, most recently my husband gave me the bodybugg for my birthday. So when you say interval training is best,I intend to do that. I was just wondering if you could do a blog post about interval training. How and why does it work? Thank you again!!!

Trainer T.s Fitness said...

Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it with the clients cal count.

Just shows how fast empty cals ad up.

Cheryl Adkins said...

This is so true. I know people who say they hardly eat anything but that means they hardly eat anything at meals. I know for myself sometimes I have to force myself to eat a healthy meal instead of grabbing a few bites on the run. In no time I will be hungry again and grabbing a few bites of something else.