The concept of dieting has gone through many transformations over the years. Trends come and go, strange food combination diets, miracle pills and five minute fitness videos are flashes in the pan of dieting history. The fact of the matter is there is a tried and true key to permanent weight loss: consume less calories than you expend. What makes this a fact is your metabolism.
Metabolism is an ancient, complex monitoring system that has one simple job: Keep the body alive. The metabolism will, in times of plenty, store energy supplies on the body in the form of fat. These fat stores are then later used by the body when food is scarce. And when food is limited, it’s the metabolism that slows the body’s use of these fat stores, to make them last as long as possible. In the humble beginnings of humankind this was a necessary need for survival. In today’s modern world, the all or nothing function of metabolism is, in general, primitive.
With this understanding of metabolism and how it functions, it is no surprise when a person crash diets, severely restricting calories and hits the gym for hours of intense cardio. By limiting the calories and burning more, the metabolism goes into survival mode. While in this mode the metabolism takes every calorie coming in very seriously, even those from a salad with no dressing! And those calories are stored away until this time of famine, which is how the metabolism sees a crash diet, is over. There may be an initial weight loss for a week or two, but then as time passes, the weight loss slows and eventually stops altogether. If this happens to someone they my give up, or they may redouble their efforts, eating less and working out more. This only makes the problem worse. After a dieter has given up after even the briefest of “starvation modes” in metabolism, the body does what it does best, gets ready for the next time. So, after throwing in the towel and eating normally again, the body will store even more fat. The dieter ends up with a possible higher weight gain than before and the cycle continues.
How can you win when your own body seems to be out to stop your weight loss? Easy, fool it! That’s where calorie cycling comes in. The metabolism looks at long period of low calories as a threat to the body and long periods of high calories as a chance to store fat for future use. So, how do you calorie cycle?
There are many factors that need to be taken into account in order to figure out the ideal calorie cycling plan for an individual, sex, age, height, weight and activity level all effect how to cycle. For example let’s take a 35 year old woman of average height, 5’5″, who weighs 165 pounds, she exercises 3 days a week for 20 minutes. While normal thinking of dieting would say she should eat 1600 calories a day to lose 2 pounds a week. This will give her a 7000 calorie deficit (burning more than she’s consuming for the week) and resulting in a two pound loss. As time passes, her losses will slow and then stop.
With calorie cycling, she should instead still have a 7000 calorie deficit, but rather than eat a set amount of calories each day, she would instead plan her week out this way:
Monday consume 1600 calories.
Tuesday consume 1300 calories.
Wednesday consume 1900 calories.
Thursday consume 1600 calories.
Friday consume 1400 calories.
Saturday consume 1700 calories.
Sunday consume 1600 calories.
With a schedule like this, the metabolism never thinks that it is in a starvation mode. Therefore, it will allow the body to burn off fat faster. This results in a steadier weight loss and less frustration on the dieter’s part.
The beauty of calorie cycling is that there is so much flexibility. If the dieter has a higher activity day, that day can become a higher calorie day, or if there is a special occasion coming up, the dieter can plan their high calorie day for then, surrounding it by lower calorie days and still lose weight, without feeling deprived. There is a definite need to monitor the calories being taken in for this program to succeed, but the extra effort will really pay off in the end.
There are several sites on the Internet about calorie cycling. http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm provides an in depth calculator to help individuals tailor a plan to fit their needs.
http://www.sparkpeople.com has information and tools to help with calorie cycling as well as calorie tracking.
Calorie cycling is a proactive dieting plan that uses what we know about the human body, and its functions, to our advantage to get to a healthier and ideal weight safely and without all the frustration.