Harmful effects of chronic dieting and four signs that it’s time to take a break

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It wasn’t until I was studying for my nutrition coaching certification that I learned how detrimental it is to the body and weight loss to constantly be on a “diet.” By diet, I mean being in a calorie deficit. This is when you eat fewer calories than your body burns throughout the day to promote fat loss. When you are in a non-stop deficit, your body actually adjusts to this energy balance over time and you will stop seeing weight loss progress. This is a great way to kill your metabolism! Your body naturally fights to protect you. Therefore, if it feels it is threatened over a long period of time, your weight will remain stubbornly stable. Being in a constant deficit can also have an adverse effect on hormones, and for women, it can disrupt your menstrual cycle. 

If you have substantial weight to lose, the best strategy is to plan deficit and maintenance phases. So how do you know when it’s time to stop eating in a calorie deficit and go back to maintenance calories? Here are four indicators:

Time to stop dieting sign #1: You’ve hit a weight loss plateau

If you’re eating at a healthy, consistent calorie deficit, you may find that you are able to lose 1-2 pounds per week for several weeks, maybe even a few months. You’re on a roll! Then one month, you notice that the scale stops budging. A true plateau is stable weight for a month or more. Also, remember that the scale is just one piece of data. Your body weight may stay stable, but your measurements could be changing, so don’t put all your stock into the scale. If you feel like you have reached a true plateau, then I recommend taking a diet break and going back to the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight.

Time to stop dieting sign #2: You are feeling a loss of energy

A long-term calorie deficit may begin to take a toll on your energy and mood. Be aware of your energy levels and how they change throughout the day and weeks. If you feel like you hit an energy wall every afternoon, this could be a signal that you need more energy IN = more calories.

Time to stop dieting sign #3: You’re feeling burned out

Long-term dieting can take a toll not just physically but mentally. Constantly worrying about weighing/measuring food and counting macros or calories can become a stressor or burden after awhile. It is okay to take a break! If you find that tracking your food too closely creates disordered or obsessive habits, this is also a sign that it’s time to take a step back and prioritize your mental health around your relationship with food.

Time to stop dieting sign #4: It’s not the right timing

Want to enjoy a vacation or the holidays without worrying about everything you eat? Take a break! Many people in the macro-nutrition world plan their deficit and maintenance phases strategically based on what’s going on in life. It just makes sense! Work on your weight loss during times of the year where you will be able to adhere to your nutrition plan the best. Set yourself up for success! Try not to plan phases of deficit for times when you will be faced with lots of temptations and can’t enjoy yourself.

How to stop dieting

If you’ve determined it’s time to take a dieting break, I recommend eating the calories you need to maintain your current weight for at least as long as you were in a deficit. This will signal to your body that it is safe and being properly fueled. If you feel that you have more weight to lose, you can then go back into a deficit once your body has had time to recover. Here is a basic calculator you can use to determine maintenance calories.

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