Written by Sara Frenza (@sara_frenza)
Photos by Katie Goode
We all want to be strong and lean. Of course, dieting can be a powerful tool to achieve your health and fitness goals, no doubt, but it’s important to know when it’s time to stop dieting and take a much-needed break. Trust me, your body will thank you, and you’ll SEE and FEEL the results.
You diet because you want to reduce your calories with the end goal of dropping weight and revealing a tight, toned physique. However, staying in a state of short-term extreme caloric deficit or a state of long-term moderate caloric deficit puts a high amount of stress on your body and tips your body systems out of homeostatic balance. Homeostatic balance exists when your body can maintain a stable internal environment, even during times of external stress. Believe me, you want—and you need—this balance for your body. It’s the healthiest state to be in and you’ll reach your goals faster when you’re in balance.
Unfortunately, long-term dieting takes your body right out of balance. This impacts your hormone systems and without the proper balance of hormones, building lean muscle and losing weight both become much harder.
Flex the Recovery Phase
Don’t worry. I’ve got the fix for you. What you need is a recovery phase. A recovery phase just means healing time for your body. During your recovery phase, it’s time to return to a maintenance level of caloric intake to give your body a chance to restore balance and adequately fuel itself. In other words, a recovery phase = a dieting break.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Trust me, girl—after completing a recovery phase, you can jumpstart weight loss again as your strongest, most balanced self. Best part? The results will astound you.
When should you take a dieting break? When your body tells you to. So peep these five warning signs that it's time to hit the pause button:
5: Your Progress Has Stalled
So you’re no longer losing body fat or seeing the body composition changes you want. Your body is very good at adapting.
Why does this matter for weight loss? When you’ve been dieting for a long time, you can stop losing body fat due to metabolic adaptation. Metabolic adaptation happens when your body adjusts to any external stressors, and dieting is one of these.
The lower calorie intake and lower energy expenditure that comes with dieting causes your body to maintain its current fat store and conserve energy. This means your metabolism may slow down in response to the prolonged calorie deficit that happens during long-term dieting – and we all know that a slower metabolism makes it more difficult to keep losing body fat. Time to take a break!
4: Your Energy Levels Are Extremely Low
When you diet, getting the nutrients your body needs is difficult because you consume far fewer calories. In response to this lack of nutrients, your body may start to slow down your metabolism to preserve the energy it already has.
This happens because your body has no idea why it isn't getting the calories it needs and assumes a threat to survival is imminent, so it preserves what energy you do have in case energy stores get even lower. How will this make you feel? You got it: tired and sluggish.
3: You Are One Moody B!
Diets can and do impact mood. If you're feeling irritable, moody, or anxious, it may be time to take a step back. What's the big picture telling you?
Dieting for a long period of time can cause hormonal imbalances in the body, which can alter your mood. Dopamine and serotonin—those feel-good hormones we all love so much—decrease when you're in a state of caloric restriction.
If you're not feeling those happy vibes like you used to, it's time to make a change.
2: You're Training Just as Hard—But You Feel Weaker
So what's up with that? If you not consuming enough calories to fuel your daily activities and exercise routines, you may experience a decrease in strength and endurance.
Strength can decrease when you've been dieting long-term because of a combination of factors. Reduced caloric intake leads to nutrient deficiencies and because your muscles need those nutrients (Hello, protein!), you may also notice a decrease in muscle mass.
When dieting long term, your body may also start to break down muscle tissue to gain energy because it isn't getting enough energy from the food you eat. Losing that muscle mass will definitely leave you feeling weaker.
Seriously, it's time to take a break and get back to your strong self.
1: Your Energy in the Bedroom Is Just… Meh
Long-term dieting puts your body under stress, and in response, it may start to ramp up production of the stress hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol can reduce sexual desire and function. Your body may also decrease the output of other hormones, such as testosterone, and testosterone plays a huge role in revving up libido.
Your time between the sheets will get a lot more fun once you give your body the break it's asking for, so get ready to dive back into bed. You'll love your newfound sexual energy! So will your partner. ;)
But Wait… One More Thing!
One more common side effect of long-term or extreme dieting? Brain fog. You know you're smart. I know you're smart. So why isn't your brain cooperating? Brain fog feels like you're thinking slower and simple concepts can seem confusing. You may have a hard time putting sentences together or making plans.
This happens because your brain requires significant energy to function properly. Long-term or extreme dieting means you're not consuming enough calories, so your brain may not receive the nutrients or energy it needs to perform at its best.
Your brain needs glucose to think quickly, generate new ideas, and even recall memories. In fact, glucose is the primary source of energy for the brain—and when you don't eat enough food to give your brain adequate glucose, it may struggle to perform even basic tasks.
Time to re-fuel! Without a doubt, dieting can be a powerful tool to achieve your fitness goals, but you gotta know when it's time to pause!
Remember, your fat-loss phase should be quick. You want to get in and out of that phase ASAP. And if you've got a lot of weight to lose, it's still important to work in dieting breaks to keep your body in the most effective and efficient state for weight loss.
It's time to listen to your body and get back to your peak performance power. Now, it's your move. Make it count.