By Nicky Perks
Two things are required for weight loss – a calorie deficit and hormonal balance. One without the other just does not work. You can cut calories and you might lose some weight, but if your hormones are all over the place you will probably struggle to reach your ideal weight and keep what you have lost from returning with interest. On the flip side, your hormones could be the picture of perfection – but stuffing your face with too much food (even the healthy variety) will prevent you from losing the flab.
The calorie reality
Most people enjoy amazing weight loss success and better health when they turn to a low carb, high fat diet, but there are others who REALLY struggle to lose fat. Could the problem be a lack of a calorie deficit ? It is a very plausible explanation. Think about it – the fat that one eats on LCHF is very calorie dense. Drink enough bulletproof coffees in a day and your calorie deficit will go out the window. No calorie deficit, no weight loss. It is that simple. You can’t eat huge quantities of food and pour fat down your throat at every opportunity, and think that you can still lose weight. LCHF is not magic. So when the kilograms don’t just fall off you like some well-meaning zealots would have you believe, give careful consideration to the above. While I am not a big fan of obsessive calorie tracking, it can certainly be very helpful if you need a reality check. Use the links below to work out how many calories you should aim for if trying to lose weight, as well as online tracking tools to record what you are eating.
Of course, too much of a calorie deficit can also be problematic. The “eat less and exercise more” dieting approach is by far the worst strategy for losing weight and keeping it off. Key metabolic hormones like leptin, ghrelin, thyroid, cortisol and others get disrupted. So yes, you might lose weight in the short-term, but you will gain metabolic damage in the long-term. Next time you try and lose the weight (because you will put it back on again), it will be even more difficult. Use this approach enough times and eventually weight loss will become next to impossible. This is the perfect example of calorie restriction without the hormonal balance required for sustained fat loss. The body is incredibly intelligent. It knows that in order to survive it needs to defend its fat stores. Hunger and cravings increase to make you eat more and your metabolic rate slows down so that you can conserve energy. Very few people have the willpower to fight back against the powerful survival tactics of the human body.
I despair when I see people posting a small plate of food on some of the Banting Facebook groups and stating that it was their only meal of the day. Seriously? My 8-year-old daughter eats more than that in one meal! There is no way it is sufficient for a fully grown adult, especially if you are active. If you are highly fat-adapted (which takes a long time and consistent low carb discipline by the way), and you have no metabolic damage or hormonal imbalances, extreme fasting could work for you without consequence. But, for most of us mere mortals who have yo-yo dieted all our lives and suffer from a degree of insulin resistance, that kind of metabolic flexibility can be rather elusive. Drop calories low enough and your body will punish you right back.
The bottom line? When it comes to calories don’t go to the extreme (in either direction). You need to find the “Goldilocks” calorie deficit. Not too much, not too little, but just right. Rather lose weight slowly and keep it off. Your skin will also thank you. No-one wants boobs by their belly button, arms with bat wings or a saggy bum that keeps the backs of their thighs warm.
While extreme calorie restriction can lead to hormonal chaos, some people start their weight loss journey with hormones that are already in disarray. Poor choices around food, sleep, stress and lifestyle can all affect your hormones. Age does too. If you are doing everything else right, and you are still not losing weight, please go and have your hormones checked out. If you are suffering from cravings and hunger, have low energy levels, insomnia, PMS, bad periods, anxiety, depression, etc, chances are you have a hormonal imbalance. Until you get this sorted out, fat loss is going to be incredibly difficult for you.
To solve the problem effectively, you need to get to the root of what is broken. The truth is that hormones don’t come right overnight. It can be a long and tedious process. But, I encourage you to make the effort.
So to recap. In order to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way you need a calorie deficit as well as hormonal balance.
- Eat real food at least 2 to 3 times a day.
- Don’t skimp too much on the protein – it is important for maintaining muscle mass and metabolism.
- Include lots of veggies for their fibre, vitamins and minerals.
- Orange list (starchy) veggies are not the devil and a little can go a long way towards hormonal harmony.
- Stop eating when you have had enough.
- Approach fasting cautiously (if at all), especially if you are a woman.
- Track your food intake, at least for a little while.
- Experiment with the amount of calories, carbs, proteins and fats that will allow you to lose weight without hunger, cravings and low energy so as to keep your hormones happy.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Exercise, even if it is only a daily walk with your dog. It does make a difference.
- Make time for relaxation.
- Get professional help if you don’t come right.
- Listen to your body and treat it with the respect it deserves.
- Health is just as important as losing weight so don’t sacrifice one for the other.
And lastly, we are all different, so take the time to figure out what works well for YOU.