Weekly Wellness: Break free from crash dieting for good

AP Photo
AP Photo

Our weekly fitness column, “Weekly Wellness,” is back again. This week, Matt Gallagher, from MFC Sports Performance in Darien, discusses how you can maintain a good metabolism, despite your age, and how you can repair your metabolism, if you’ve already damaged it through bad habits.

In the last two articles, I defined metabolic damage and how it happens. I also discussed how most overweight individuals are not necessarily overeating, they are actually metabolically slow. We also learned how low-intensity, long-duration cardio thwarts your fat loss efforts over time by encouraging your metabolic rate to dwindle, and keeps your metabolic rate in a repressed state.

At the end of last week’s article, I suggested that an individual should have the mindset of breaking free from crash dieting, or yo-yo dieting, or just a dieting mindset altogether. Remember, dieting slows your metabolic rate over time via restricted caloric intake. After some initial weight loss (mostly from muscle, water weight, glycogen, and some fat), and when calories resume to normal, that weight typically comes right back on and then some. You end up being fatter than when you began and have effectively reduced your metabolism to a lower level then before the diet. Are you not sick of this cycle yet? It is time to break this cycle for good.

First, let me begin by addressing a certain stigma about metabolism that really bothers me. I hear this all the time from older clients, and from older people in general, about metabolism and weight loss:

“Well, I am just old and my metabolism is slow because of that.” 

I do acknowledge this is partially true – maybe a portion of a reduced metabolism is because of age. Maybe. But let me tell you, age alone is not a factor. It is what comes with age that causes the slow metabolism. The decisions someone makes in their 20s, then 30s, then 40s, all build upon each other, and, during this time, the metabolism is encouraged to either stay strong or slow down. There are simply way more opportunities for weight gain and metabolism reduction in a longer life than a shorter life. Multiple years or decades of wrong choices (small amounts of physical activity, lack of proper nutrition, crash dieting) will put a person into this mess of the repressed or damaged metabolism, but age alone will not cause this.

Please, if you have used age as an excuse for lack of health, I want to beg you to stop with this self-defeating mindset. The trainers at MFC Sports Performance and Midwest Fit Club have men in their 50s who are eating between 3,000 and 4,000 calories on most days and performing strength training feats that would embarrass most 20-somethings. I have personally helped many men in their late 50’s drop lots of body fat, build lots of muscle, and get incredibly strong and fit. Let me stress this again one more time: A slow metabolism is slow because a person chose to live in such a way that encouraged it to be slow, and age is only a fraction of the influence of factors that puts a person into this situation.

If I still have your attention at this point, you probably do not like me anymore. Half-truths aside, that needed to be said. I will stop my ranting now and give you practical advice that will help you break free from crash dieting and increase your metabolic rate and get healthy for good.

First, you must develop the mindset of improving metabolic rate. You have a body designed for movement, and that movement requires sufficient fuel (calories). You must make choices daily that have you moving and have you eating. This will start to increase your metabolism.

Second, this is a long, long process. How many years did it take you to end up with 20, 30, 70, or 100 pounds of excess body fat? Do not expect miracles in two months. This will be a one, two, or even five year journey to get healthy. Repeat:  this will take months and years, not days and weeks.

Third, you need to get your body fat tested. Suck it up; it is time to see where you stand. This is just a number, do not let a number define your well-being. Let it fuel your fire for change to get healthy.

Fourth, after you have your body fat tested, figure out your daily caloric needs through equations. This is one of the best online calculators to do this: Daily Caloric Needs Calculator.

Fifth, after you have figured out your daily caloric needs and you see how many calories you really should be consuming to maintain your current body weight, you need to figure out how many calories you are currently consuming. This will be the hardest step for most people, and the step that will take the most time. 

As an example, let’s say a man comes to me, who should be consuming 2,700 calories per day based on his body fat level and height and weight. Yet, he has been in the calorie restricting mentality and eating pattern for months and is afraid to increase his calories for fear of weight gain. He has been consuming only 1,500 calories per day (yet is 30 pounds overweight). We know this man has a problem, and a very slow, possibly damaged metabolism. If we bumped him immediately to 2,700 calories, yes, he will gain a ton of weight. Therefore, we literally start by adding 5 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat per week (about 100 calories) while adding in appropriate metabolism-boosting activities, and after a week we test his weight gain. If he does not gain weight, we continue this process until we have his metabolic rate built back up to normal, healthy, functioning levels.

That last step will take the most effort, time, dedication, and planning. But do you not owe it to yourself after years of abusing your metabolism, doing activities that do the opposite of what your unique human body was meant to be doing? To reiterate, you are geared for movement and movement needs fuel. Remove movement (sedentary life) and remove fuel, and this is how you ended up fat with a slow metabolism.

Sixth, you need to start doing physical activity that boosts your metabolic rate over time. Translation: you need to start doing things that make you hungry. It will depend on your current situation, but the single best way to increase metabolic rate is strength training with short rest periods of time. Literally, this is the single-greatest way to boost metabolic rate and is scientifically-proven. It’s time to hit the iron, do push ups, do bodyweight squats – really any activity that has you using your muscles for 30-60 minutes in an aggressive fashion.

Seventh, restore your joint mobility. Let’s face it, if you’ve been sedentary for months or years, I can guarantee you are tight and restricted. Furthermore, you are most likely tight and restricted in your upper back, hips and ankles. You didn’t move your joints, so why should your joints remain mobile? Your body adapted to the stimulus you gave it, which was very little. If you don’t move your joints, you lose your joints. Two older gentlemen I know are brothers, both in their sixties, and one has not done any flexibility or mobility work for years and the other has been doing yoga two times per week for 10 years. The brother who has not done any flexibility or mobility work for years needs two new knees and a new hip, and the other brother has the mobility of an 18 year old (I have seen it). Take care of your flexibility and mobility. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and that’s when pain sets in.

THE TAKEAWAY: This is a very long process. It takes months or years to deteriorate health, and months or years to build health back again. Do everything in your power to have a long-term vision and to increase your metabolic capacity. Choose activities that actually have you exerting yourself with some aggression, and then fuel your body with the appropriate caloric intake. Take care of your joints or they will be gone. Your metabolism is slow because you let it get that way, not because of your age. And remember, your mindset must shift from restricting your calories to providing your body with the right number of calories for optimal performance. Get your body fat tested, figure out your caloric needs, add healthy, whole foods that meet your requirements, and choose daily activities that get you sweating and breaking down muscle. Remember, we were designed to move and it’s time to start feeling good again. 

Go get ‘em!

Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com

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