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Why Your Diet Has Stopped Working

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Tell me if this sounds familiar… You begin a diet and you are all in.  You immediately cut your calories in half and start exercising your butt off.  And it’s working!  You are losing weight and feeling good.  Then a few weeks down the road you step on the scale expecting to see another 5 lbs. down, but you don’t.  In fact you gained a pound from last week.  You ask yourself how is this possible?  You’ve been fully committed and haven’t cheated on your diet at all.  So you decide you must need to eat less and exercise even more.  After a few weeks of eating next to nothing and working out more than ever, you only have a few extra pounds to show for it.  After a while it starts to get too difficult to maintain this lifestyle without any weight loss to show for it and you fall off the wagon and revert back to old habits, regaining a lot of the weight you worked so hard to lose.

If this sounds familiar to you, don’t feel bad.  It’s a very common outcome in dieting, but it does not need to be.  I am going to explain the pitfalls of this sort of crash diet as well as a more favorable approach to ensure long term success.

First, we must consider a key component of daily energy expenditure, your resting metabolic rate (RMR).  This is the level of energy required by your body to sustain its vital functions at rest.  Our resting metabolic rate adjusts itself to match our energy (food) intake.  In other words, when you eat less food than that required for your body to maintain normal function, your RMR decreases and when calorie intake is increased above what is needed of the body RMR increases.  This prevents large disturbances in energy balance during times of calorie insufficiency or excess.

So, when you decrease calorie intake on a diet, it lowers your RMR, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight as both calorie intake and RMR decrease.  Research suggests that the largest decrease in RMR occurs when diets reach about 1000-1200 calories.

As you can see it is not in your best interest to enter a huge calorie deficit at the very beginning of your diet.  Although you do need to burn more calories than you are consuming in order to lose weight, too drastic of a deficit can quickly lead to a lowered RMR and stalled progress.  Instead I would advise you to eat as much food as you can while still losing weight.  For instance, if you can decrease your calorie intake by 300 calories per day in addition to exercising, you will most likely lose weight without feeling like you are starving yourself.  Then when your progress stalls as your RMR lowers you can decrease your calorie intake a little more and so on.  So, you should try to lose weight with as little of a calorie deficit as possible for as long as you can before cutting more calories.

The next logical question would be what do I do when my calories drop down too low (1000-1200 cals) and my resting metabolic rate is in an extremely lowered state?  Well it is very possible if you fall into this category that eating more food could be the best thing for you.  Increasing your calorie intake will raise your RMR back up to a normal level where you can either maintain your body weight or perhaps perform another cycle of progressively cutting calories if you have more weight to lose.  Another strategy that can be useful is to have a weekly or biweekly cheat meal or refeed day.  The purpose of this is to increase your calorie intake and raise your RMR allowing you to hopefully see continued results with your diet the rest of the week.

While there are many ways you can use this knowledge to your advantage, I think we can all agree that you must be very careful about starting one of these crash diets and that there are better ways to lose weight than just starving yourself.  Work smarter not harder.

If you’d like to take the guesswork out of your diet and get a personalized plan to help you reach your goals reach out to us at or visit our coaching tab at

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