The age old rule of thumb is that in order to lose weight all you need to do is simply consume less calories than you expend on a daily basis. Therefore, weight loss is as easy as calories in needing to be less than calories out (CICO).
However, after years of coaching hundreds of clients we have found that there is much more to this equation. We found ourselves often asking “why are the clients who are staying on track right down to the 0.001 gram of protein, still not losing weight after weeks of being in a deficit?”
The novice coach would simply just assume that they are not being adherent to the plan, even when they tell you they are. However, the advanced coach would take into account the multivariate system that is the human body and the many dysregulatory factors that can impact metabolic rate and its dynamic nature.
Dieting History, Adaptive Thermogenesis, and Hormones.
The impact of past diets on your present metabolic state can be thought of as events that leave “fingerprints” on your metabolism. If severe enough, they can have a lasting impact on metabolic rate, future fat cell count, and how aggressive you would need to get to lose body fat in the future.
Lowering caloric intake can directly lower metabolic rate. Furthermore, it indirectly decreases metabolic rate through a decrease in muscle mass (our favorite metabolically active tissue). Therefore, your body’s metabolic rate will “slow down” and need less and less calories to sustain its everyday needs as it responds to your calorie cut over and over again.
It is also noteworthy to mention that severe periods of calorie restriction can be a stressful event on the body. Your thyroid gland, which is the master regulatory center of your thyroid hormones, shrinks as we age with exposure to stress. When thyroid function slows during stress, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone levels fall. Also, the conversion of T4 hormone to T3 may not occur, leading to higher levels of reverse T3. Insulin resistance and issues balancing blood sugar also often occur alongside hypothyroidism.
Outside of a diet history that involves way too many crash diets, being able to manage stress itself is going to be very important to manage progress outside of diet and training adherence. Now that we understand how stress can directly impact metabolism, let’s talk about different aspects of stress that might be getting in the way of progress
Stress Perception, Stress Resilience, and Stress Response.
Physiologically, how we perceive stress in our minds sends signals to our body through sympathetic ganglionic nerves that run from the brain to the rest of our body’s systems and ultimately alter its physiology. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do about stressful things happening to us. It is simply a part of life. If you are alive, you can expect that life will throw a few wrenches your way. Unless you live in a bubble, you will never be able to escape this inevitability. So what do we do about it? We make it work for us, rather than against us. We change how we perceive stress to ultimately improve our stress resilience and stress response.
Studies have shown that when individuals perceive stress as challenges that they can overcome and will eventually make them better often find more success in whatever they are trying to achieve. However, when individuals viewed stressors as threats that were going to be obstacles to their success, they often had the opposite results with much more difficulty in achieving those goals or not achieving them at all.
Developing greater stress resilience, often starts with changing our stress perception. Furthermore, greater stress resilience will change our physiological stress response. For a deep dive into this stress physiology relationship, we highly recommend the book The Upside Of Stress, which we often refer to when speaking to clients on this matter.
If you’re someone who has been adherent down to the 0.001 gram of protein but you’re still not seeing any progress after multiple changes, we recommend considering other dysregulators such as dieting history, hormonal health, and stressors!