Often weight loss involves caloric restriction, which is a simple calculation, right? Eat fewer calories than you use, so you will need to burn your own fat to make up the difference, right? Well yes, and no. Caloric restriction such as intermittent fasting can put you in a deficit, but if not done properly, weight loss won’t be sustained for very long.
Metabolic Set Point
What happens with continued caloric restriction?
Initially, during caloric restriction, your metabolism will keep burning at its normal set point even though you aren’t eating enough calories to sustain it. This will trigger you to lose weight. But once your body gets used to the new base line of calories coming in, then your set point will drop, and so will weight loss. Then you can often begin eating even less!! It can continue until you’re literally eating like a rabbit, but still can’t lose any more weight.
Often the body starts tucking into its muscle mass in a bid to draw more energy from the body. Muscle mass goes down, and fat mass goes up. I have seen this in myself when I haven’t been on track with my diet, and in patients’ quite a lot. In fact I lost 1.9kg in muscle mass and gained 2.5kg of body fat over 8 weeks of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction.
How can we maintain our Metabolic Set point but still lose weight?
So it begs the question…. How can I keep my metabolic set point burning, but keep losing weight? Well one method is to cycle your caloric restriction. Six weeks on, then 2 weeks off i.e. 6 weeks on a low calorie diet, then 2 weeks increasing your calories back to your normal basal metabolic rate (BMR calculator here).
If you eat more food, your body temperature will rise, and your metabolism speeds up to increase the energy expenditure. This will help keep your metabolic rate firing at its normal rate. I personally increased my calories by 1000 each day and the scales went down by 2.5kg in only 5 days! There could be further discussion here about inflammation, the stress response associated with prolonged calorie restriction and the need to hold onto water.
How to Increase your Calories
Don’t do what i did and jack your calories up quite as fast. A slower approach is best Add about 200 calories per day each week (200 in the first week, another 200 in second week etc). The goal will be to have added around 600 calories after the course of a few weeks.
As your body starts to be fed correctly, your metabolism will increase and find a higher set point. Keep in mind this takes some time and patience, and you need to go slow. The goal is to feed your body enough to allow your hormones to start to work efficiently once again. The thyroid hormones will increase, leptin levels will no longer think you are in starvation mode and muscle tissue will increase.
You must eat at regular intervals. Below are some dietary strategies to work with;
2 x boiled egg = 200 calories
2 Tbsn olive oil = 240 calories
4 Tbsn mixed unsalted nuts = 220 calories
1 x avocado = 220 calories
2 medium bananas = 210 calories
1 cup brown rice = 250 calories
1 cup quinoa = 220 calories
2 x apples = 190 calories
1 can tuna (95g) with 8 x Plain Sakata Whole grain rice crackers = 170 calories
Another option to boost your metabolic set point is to drink water!
Drink Water, Burn Calories!
A 2003 study found that drinking 500 ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30%! The increase occurred within 10 minutes and reached a maximum after 30–40 minutes. The total thermogenic response was about 23 calories. This was mainly attributed to the body needing to warm the water up from room temperature of 22 degrees, to body temperature of 37 degrees. Could you burn more by drinking colder water? Logic would say yes, but I can’t see any supportive evidence as yet.
Starting your day with 500ml of cold water might be a great way to really get your body firing.
If you get in your 2 ltr of water a day, you will increase your thermogenic response by 92 calories! Combine this with the re-feeding protocol I have just described, and your metabolism will remain in balance, and you will continue to reach your weight loss goals.
*Note – Of course weight loss involves many other factors such as food choices, time of eating, thyroid function, cortisol, and hormonal balance. If you struggle to get the results you’re looking for, deeper investigation is in order, which I’m happy to help you with.