Your body is an amazing machine. It can adapt, recover and grow from many kinds of stress. Part of this resiliency is due to your body’s ability to maintain “homeostasis.” Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to regulate its internal environment. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your body is making changes internally that might be fighting against your efforts! Your body often counteracts some of your best efforts to lose weight, build muscle or eat healthier.
This internal response system affects everything from appetite and blood sugar to muscle growth and fat burning. The good news is that you can stop blaming your lack of willpower or discipline. The truth is that you are no match for millions of years of programming! Instead, you can learn to work with your body’s natural systems to progress toward your goals effortlessly.
Most diets begin with enthusiasm and end with guilt and confusion about 48 to 72 hours later. How can your mentality and self-control change so drastically within one week? In response to a significant, prolonged caloric deficit, your body releases a cascade of hormones that affect appetite, energy and a host of other variables directly related to what and how much you eat. Your body views this as a threat, and does everything in its power to ensure it gets the nutrition it needs to survive.
You can avoid this by tapering your caloric intake gradually instead of sharply cutting calories. You may still experience some hunger or changes in energy levels, but it won’t be as overwhelmingly uncomfortable. This approach works better for long-term changes and diet adherence.
*Tip: Plan a miniature “splurge” meal consisting of healthy foods in case your stomach refuses to stop growling. Instead of completely falling off the wagon, have a blended whey protein shake mixed with fresh fruit or almond butter.
Blood sugar and carbohydrates
Your body has an extremely efficient system for ensuring that blood sugar levels stay within a healthy range. If blood sugar is too high, your body secretes the hormone insulin to shuttle the sugars into fat and muscle tissues. If blood sugar is too low, your body secretes a different hormone – glucagon – to release stored sugars in your tissues into the bloodstream to be used as energy. Extremely high or low blood sugar levels can be deadly, which is why your body is designed this way (Type I diabetics do not manufacture insulin properly, which is why they administer external insulin to lower blood sugar levels).
If you are eating high carbohydrate meals often, you are probably stressing this system and causing excess carbohydrates to be stored as fat. Also, this pendulum-like movement of blood sugar from one extreme to another can cause rapid fluctuations in appetite and energy levels. Avoiding sugar-laden foods and processed carbohydrates will allow your body to maintain a more stable blood sugar level, making it easier for you to stick to your diet and stay energized.
Appetite and Cheat Meals
Just as your blood sugar levels are controlled by hormonal responses, so is your appetite. Eating a diet that is deficient in one or more nutrients for a prolonged period will cause a surge in appetite hormones. You can combat this appetite response by planning a cheat day or splurge day. Individuals vary in how often they should splurge, but planning a cheat day once per week is a good idea for prolonged diet adherence. This also gives you a much needed psychological break from counting calories and worrying about what you eat.
*Tip: Go nuts. Once per week, have your favorite meal – and enjoy every bite knowing that it is good for you!
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance. As the Category Manager of Sports & Fitness, Scott manages the merchandising and marketing of Sports Nutrition products at Vitacost.com. Follow Scott on Twitter @VitaScott, or connect directly through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.