Updated: Jun 4, 2021
One of the most common goals people come up to me with is to lose weight. This is mainly due to aesthetics (who does not want to look good in a swimsuit?). Others want to lose weight either to improve their performance and health or to meet a weight category in their sport. Whilst losing weight has many advantages, it needs to be done appropriately. Losing weight too fast can lead to serious health consequences such as having lack of energy, losing muscle mass, hormone imbalances in females, reduced testosterone in males, and an increased risk of injuries (including bone fractures), illnesses and diseases. These risks are even higher when psychological stress is added such as exhibiting low self-esteem and the stress leading for a competition which may lead to eating disorders. Low-calorie diets also affect performance. Aerobic performance decreases as the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system is reduced (cardiac output, stroke volume, and plasma volume is decreased) which limits oxygen and muscle glycogen transport to the muscles, as well as increase the time to eliminate body waste such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, prolonging recovery. There is less effect on maximum strength as, after following a restriction diet, people typically displayed the same amount of strength. However, technique and the ability to coordinate the body to produce force is greatly reduced, thus still reducing performance. Muscle glycogen stores will also be greatly reduced, thus reducing the amount of energy that can be used during training and competition.
Many people follow strict starvation diets and manage to lose a lot of weight very quickly. Whilst some of the weight loss is indeed lost from fat, a lot of the mass that is being lost is also from muscle. Muscle mass increases our metabolism (the number of calories we burn during rest). Therefore, once their diet is over and people start eating normally again, they find that they will get the fat they lost back quickly (often with some extras). This happens as the number of calories we need daily greatly reduces as the body does not have a big-sized engine anymore (muscles are smaller). This repeated dieting and weight gain are usually termed the yo-yo diet. Unfortunately, many ‘trainers’ expose the quick weight loss strategy through 21-day challenges in which they encourage people to heavily restrict calories for three weeks. Other fads include fasting, laxatives, exercising in sweatsuits, dehydration, diet pills, saunas, diuretics, and self-induced vomiting. These methods are particularly used to make weight before a competition such as weightlifting, boxing, and martial arts. All these methods are harmful to the body as they increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, gall bladder diseases, and in extreme cases, even death. Still, at least 72% of these athletes used one potentially harmful method to reduce weight during their careers in an attempt to gain an advantage over lighter competitors. It is also common for athletes to start a competition in a state of dehydration. The main reason why yo-yo diets cause so much damage is that a lot of weight is also lost from lean tissue including muscle and organ tissues, as well as nutrient deficiencies. Gaining the weight back so quickly after re-starting can also be psychologically stressful as it may harm self-esteem and confidence. Weight-loss goals should be long-term goals, not quick fixes. When leading to a competition, body mass should only be reduced between 2 and 3% to avoid negative performance outcomes.
Therefore, the goal for weight loss should not be to starve yourself. Rather, the priority should be to manage your lifestyle and create a negative energy balance plan, where the number of calories you burn during rest and exercise is larger than the energy that you consume from food. With a good nutritional plan, you can easily lose fat, whilst eating well and healthily. When a nutritional meal is planned in conjunction with a good exercise program, you will become leaner and stronger too! Remember that the more muscle you build, the higher your metabolism will be and the easier it becomes to lose fat. In addition, you will also be meeting the daily needs for your vitamins and minerals without the need to consume any additional supplements. The premise is simple:
If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body’s energy expenditure to create a negative energy balance
If you want to gain weight, you need to eat more calories than your body’s energy expenditure to create a positive energy balance
If you want to keep the same weight, you need to eat the same number of calories than the body’s energy expenditure to create an energy balance
There are no miracle solutions or healthy quick fixes. Long-term consistency is the best method to lose weight. A successful weight-loss plan is when it decreases more than 10% of the initial body weight and maintains that loss for more than a year.
Thanks for reading, and as always stay fit!
Contreras, R. E., Schriever, S. C., & Pfluger, P. T. (2019). Physiological and epigenetic features of yoyo dieting and weight control. Frontiers in genetics, 10, 1015.
dos Santos, S. L. C. Pre-Competitive Period in Olympic Wrestling Athletes: Losing Weight, a Risk Factor.
Moore, J. L., Travis, S. K., Lee, M. L., & Stone, M. H. (2019). Making Weight: Maintaining Body Mass for Weight Class Barbell Athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 41(6), 110-114.