Women Who Lost Weight & Screwed Up Their Bodies in the Process
Nearly every female that consults with me regarding nutrition or dietary intake is interested in losing weight or getting lean. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look “sexy” or at least feel “sexy”.
The problem is that looking good is not the same as functioning well. In other words, weight loss programs may help you to “look good” on the outside, but you could be “damaged goods” on the inside.
A 2016 paper by Hulmi et al is an excellent example of looks vs function.
The gist of the paper: researchers took 27 females with at least two years of weight training experience and had them lose a substantial amount of weight (23.1% down to 12.7% body fat) in a four month period (about 20 weeks). They had amazing changes in body composition and looked much leaner. But the researchers didn't stop there.
And this is what makes this study all the better.
The investigators had their subjects come back after a three to four month “recovery period” of increasing their calories and gaining weight back.
What did they find? Keep reading…
How Women Lost Weight
First, the researchers did what most weight loss seekers do… they cut calories.
The scientists dropped their calorie intake from 2400 to 1800 kcals per day (creating a 600 kcal deficit), primarily through a reduction in carbohydrates, while fat hovered between 50 to 60 grams per day and protein was kept high at around 3 g/kg of body weight.
For example: for a 120 pound woman (54.43 kg), they made sure that she consumed 163.29 g of protein per day.
It's also important to keep in mind that the average intake of protein in women is usually around 91 g/day of body weight (Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1554S-1557S.) So these women were taking in close to 2X the national average.
Exercise was also kept quite high during the diet protocol at 4 to 5 bouts of resistance training (weight training) and 4 to 5 bouts of aerobic exercise per week. These subjects then popped back up to around 2200 kcals for the recovery period and lowered their aerobic work significantly.
What Happened Following Their Weight Loss
First the good news, these women lost 16.5 lbs or around 50% of their body fat, and may have even increased muscle mass (not significant) during this well-thought-out, long term dieting protocol. The weight loss was achieved even though 20 of the 27 females were below the lab reference range for free T3 during the diet protocol.
T3 or Triiodothyronine, is a thyroid hormone. It affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. It is well established that thyroid hormone status correlates with body weight and energy expenditure. This means that if T3 levels are off… your metabolism (weight loss ability) may also be off.
Other important thyroid hormones to consider are T4 and TSH. T3 and T4 levels should never be too high or too low.
Why is knowing this important? Because these women had low reference ranges of T3 hormone during the diet, which means that they should not have been able to lose weight. But they did. I'm sure this was due to the strict program that they were placed on… High protein intake and rigorous physical activity.
Baseline T3 levels have been associated with a person’s ability to lose weight such as those findings discovered by Liu et al, printed in the 2017 edition of the International Journal of Obesity.
Results of the above mentioned study showed that those who had higher T3 levels at baseline demonstrated better weight loss. This conclusion reinforced the hormone’s role in weight regulation.
As such, the difference in people’s baseline T3 levels can be one of the reasons why people lose more weight compared to others.
Now for the bad news.
20 of the 27 women dropped into hypothyroid ranges for free T3 during the diet, while TSH actually lowered slightly and free T4 stayed about the same (which has been seen in previous research and has been termed ”free T3 syndrome”).
Then, after the 18 week recovery period, free T3 increased, but not to baseline levels, and 13 out of the 27 subjects still remained below the reference range for free T3.
This means their hormones were still screwed up after their weight loss.
Testosterone also tanked during the dietary protocol and did not increase back to baseline levels after the recovery period.
Other important things to make note of:
- 44% of the subjects missed menses while dieting
- 28% were still showing a lack of menstruation following the recovery period
That means that even after a three to four month recovery period the female hormonal system had not yet fully recovered.
And this is after one extremely well-thought-out and executed weight loss program designed to science the shit out of weight loss.
What Happens to Our Body When We Diet Long Term?
We have absolutely no idea. But this particular study shows us that weight loss, fat burning and hormone regulation is far more sophisticated than we think. And there are major players in the autoregulation of metabolism.
It's just not as simple as calories IN vs calories OUT.
And if what you're doing is working… meaning you do lose weight and look great… it doesn't mean that your body is functioning well, so the long-game may not look so pretty for you.
Just because you lose weight and look great, doesn't mean your body is functioning well; which never turns out to be sexy in the long-run.
At the heart of all this complicated physiology is an often ignored, but obvious crucial structure for health – The Brain. The brain creates a set point weight for your body, much like a thermostat.
So your body weight is actually tightly regulated by the brain. And this is why your body starts fighting back against weight loss. It's why diets don’t work.
Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you.
If you want to drop a few pounds (or 50) or your goal is to get as lean as possible, this doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your get-healthy pursuits. (But remember… looking good doesn’t automatically equate to being healthy.) What you have to know is that the answer is simply not to eat less.
An easier and more sustainable method is to do things that make your brain more comfortable at a lower weight. Ultimately, you can lower your set point weight so that your body is happy carrying around less fat.
Both animal and human research suggests that eating a diet of unrefined, lower calorie-density, and simple foods is key.
Other important non-diet factors key to weight loss include regular physical activity, managing your stress, and getting the right amount of sleep.
Why Nutrition Coaching with a Professional is Important
My mind goes to all the women out there who do this yo-yo dieting over and over.
How jacked up are their hormones? How metabolically damaged have they become? I'm not here to influence anyone’s goals. If you want to look a certain way, go for it.
Every human being has a right to know the risks and rewards of their personal health goals. I don’t believe that most women are aware of the risks that come along with this type of body re-composition, let alone maintaining it for long periods of time.
The reason why I started Nutrition Coaching is because I have seen so many of my patients undergo body transformation programs that screwed up their body's despite their weight loss.
As a Functional Medicine physician, my goal is to help someone become the best version of themselves, not just look good, but to function their best as well.
If you're like most of my coaching clients, you've tried stuff in the past to get in shape — diets, workout programs, fancy fitness gadgets.
And you've probably reached the same conclusion most people do with these programs:
The all-or-nothing, crash-and-burn, sweat-your-ass-off approach… simply doesn't work in the long run.
These programs give you crazy rules to follow; they don't mesh well with your real, day-to-day life.
And they try to fit you into their ‘one-size-fits-all' program, rather than fitting the program into your life.
They just suck. Plain and simple. You know it. I know it.
And even when they do give some results, they typically don't last and worse, they screw up your hormones.
With my Nutrition Coaching program, you'll learn how to:
* Eat better, without dieting or feeling deprived.
* Get active, no matter what shape you're in now.
* Ditch the food rules, dropping the fad diets and conflicting advice.
* Build fitness into your life, without it taking over.
* Achieve, and maintain, your goals, even when life gets busy.
not jack up your hormones in the process
The result? You'll:
* Lose the weight / fat you haven't been able to shed for years.
* Build physical strength and confidence in your body.
* Gain mental confidence, no longer hiding your gifts and talents.
* Let go of food confusion, learn what to do, how to do it.
* Get off diet rollercoasters, once and for all, never look back.