Is “Metabolic Damage” a real thing?
Most people start off on an innocent health and fitness journey wanting to lose some weight and tone up a little bit. You start changing your diet, eating less food, and exercising more. You start to see results! Weight loss! It gets exciting. You feel “happier” and you get motivated to keep going! And you think you can keep going forever.
BUT, did you know that after you restrict calories for so long, your body becomes tired, you’re hungrier, you’re crankier, and you’re more likely to plateau?
It’s frustrating to hit a plateau because the thing that once motivated you to push harder (the constant leaning out of your physique) is no longer happening. So what’s the normal reaction? You start cutting even MORE calories an exercising harder and longer. I mean, it worked before right? So why can’t it work now? Then the cycle begins again. You lose a pound or two and you’re happy. But then…it stalls. AGAIN.
This time you’re hungrier than ever and your energy levels plummet drastically. UGH! What’s going on?! You’re doing everything “right”. Dieting, exercising. WHY does this keep happening? Why isn’t my body changing?
Then, you start to realize that something isn’t right. You aren’t fueling your body with enough nutrients to function properly. I mean, you’re HUNGRY and tired all the time – so that’s not a good sign! So, you start eating “normal-healthy” again. It’s not like you’re eating junk food all day erry day. But you’re not eating 1000 calories a day of just vegetables and protein. You find that you’re reacting weird to food. You become bloated. Gassy even. You may become irritable, constipated, and your sleeping habits are unnatural.
Why is all this happening? Well, when you push your body so far through diet and exercise, you experience something called adaptive thermogenesis, the fancy term for “metabolic damage”. Basically, this means that your body is adjusting to the low calories that you have been feeding it. As a result, you can’t expend as much energy because your body is holding onto those calories. The reason why your body does this is because it is a human survival reaction. Back in the day, our ancestors had to hunt and gather food. A meal was not guaranteed. So in order to survive, they could not spend more energy than they consumed. This means that they could not keep burning excessive calories if they could not find something to eat! If they kept doing this, they would shrivel away and die. Our ancestors were NOT worried about weight loss. They ate to live!
Because there are too many debating schools of thought on what “damage” actually means, I am going to now refer to this condition as “metabolic disruption” for the sake of clarity in our conversation. In my personal experience, metabolic disruption exists. I endured it and eventually, I healed from it. It took me 3 years, but I dug myself out.
Here’s a vlog I just filmed sharing my metabolic disruption story with you.
This all happened to me while I was preparing for my bikini competition. Advised by my trainer, I was put on this crazy diet – only eating about 1000-1200 calories a day and working out for about 4 HOURS every single day. 1000-1200 calories is NOT enough energy to sustain such an intense workout routine – I was weight lifting, doing cardio, HIIT, and teaching POP Pilates classes. My calories came from vegetables and protein mainly. I wasn’t allowed fruit, grains, or fat sources. I became SO tired and irritable. Some days I literally had no energy to do anything. I would just fall asleep. My mind was foggy and I couldn’t concentrate. So, for 8 to 10 weeks I endured this crazy plan, I did the bikini competition with my new, lean body, and then I decided to go back to “normal-healthy.”
I decided to introduce a variety of foods back into my diet, like brown rice, quinoa and different types of protein – not just chicken breast and tilapia. I’m talking salmon people! Salmon.
Well let me tell you, my body did NOT like that. My body acted like a sponge. SOAKING EVERYTHING UP.
For the next 3 years, I gradually gained weight. And there was nothing I could do to stop it. During this time, I was STILL working out really hard for about 1 hr a day like a normal healthy person! But my body just didn’t respond. It backfired and rebelled instead! It was seriously so frustrating because in my mind, I was doing everything right. Diet + exercise should = weight loss or at least maintenance. But because of the damage and stress that I put on my body during that bikini prep, my hormones changed…in a bad way.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases when you significantly lower your calories, over-exercise and/or don’t have enough sleep. And cortisol plays a role in increasing abdominal fat! Even more specifically, LOWER BELLY FAT. AHH. This stress also decreases leptin, the hormone that controls your appetite. So, you feel EXTRA hungry all the time and it’s likely that you may crave those carby, high-fat foods. That’s EXACTLY what happened to me!
Beyond the scientific reasons for my weight gain, it was very much a psychological game. When I was dieting like crazy, I was labelling food as “good” and “bad”. I felt like I was trapped in food jail.
But you know what happens when you start labelling food as bad? You start craving everything you CAN’T HAVE, even if you never liked it to begin with! All I wanted for some reason was cereal and bread! I honestly never cared too much for those things before. And now, they were controlling me.
It even got so bad that I would look at a banana and think “OMG, it’s going to make me so fat.” I feared bananas for crying out loud.
Metabolic damage doesn’t just happen to people who do bikini competitions. It happens to anyone who puts themselves through extreme dieting and exercise routines. Now listen up, I don’t want to scare you. Just because you see a plateau in weight loss and experience increased hunger, THIS DOES NOT MEAN you have metabolic disruption or adaptive thermogenesis.
Metabolic disruption includes many more severe symptoms:
-You literally cannot lose weight
-You become extremely bloated and “puffy” when you eat certain foods
-You become depressed and irritable
-You experience many digestive issues
-Hormonal dysfunction – lower levels of leptin and higher levels of cortisol
-Loss of motivation
-Loss of libido
-Amenorrhea (women will stop menstruating)
-You are cold all the time
So, what do you do if you feel like something’s not right?
It’s the simplest answer. REST. RELAX.
You need to sleep. Strive for about 8 hrs a day, so that you body an recalibrate itself.
You need to stop restricting calories.
You need to stop over-exercising.
Look, I know this sounds weird. I know you won’t want to do it. And I know you may think that you’ll turn into a lump of a potato if you do this, but you won’t. Because that’s what I did, and it worked for me. Unfortunately, I resisted for 2 years as I slowly gained weight. It was a torturous time for me mentally. But in the 3rd year, I decided to just eat whatever I wanted and not work out as much and my body started to recalibrate. I allowed myself to relax.
Then a mind shift happened.
I realized, why the heck am I so concerned about my physique when really, I should be concentrating on working out because it makes me happy! And eating food because it makes me energized!
When I stop focusing on the skinny and started focusing on the strong, I started to see results again. This was the inspiration that propelled the birth of PIIT28 – the Pilates Intense Interval Training program that I do every single day. It’s what I look forward to because it makes me a happier, healthier, sharper and more invinceable person. And why wouldn’t I want to do something that makes me feel that way?? And the best part is, it’s only 28 min and 40 sec a day.
If you want to hear more details of my personal story, please watch my video above!
I hope you learned a lot from this post. I used to get mad that I wasted a few years of my life worrying about weight gain. But now, I understand why it happened. It happened for a reason. I am meant to share my story with you to help you find your joy in health again.