12 weeks of gruelling dietary changes, weird foods and hard work, but it’s paid off.
We’ve changed our body - pushed through where so many have given up and made it to the other side.
Body composition: NAILED IT.
So now what?
Ummm… do we stick to the final week meal plan? Forever?
...Diet some more?
…Go back to how we ate before the journey began?
Yeh, no one told us about this part.
BEYOND THE FINISH LINE
Before we dive into it, there’s a reason you don’t see many “Post-Nutrition Plan” Plans - well, two reasons if you count that they sound stupid.
They’re not sexy.
Or cool. Or exciting.
They’re distinctly meh. And meh just doesn’t sell.
There’s no struggle, no big transformation, and no danger.
But despite the yawn factor, it’s probably the most important part of the whole thing.
Without it, those months of monotonous masticating will be for nothing. Fresh new bod: gone in less time than it took to build it.
So how do we hold on to what we’ve worked so hard to achieve?
By taking it easy.
RESETTING THE BALANCE
Our bodies like to stay balanced. Sometimes these are instant adaptations, sometimes they take a little longer.
Too hot? Sweat and push hot blood to the surface veins to lose some heat.
Too much water? Urinate more often to get rid of the excess.
Losing fat (energy) stores? Slow down metabolism to slow the losses.
That last one is important.
After a long period of eating less than you need to survive (a hypocaloric or lose-weight diet), our body takes notice. Displeased at losing its energy reserves, it turns a few physiological dials to slow the losses.
Chief amongst these is the amount of thyroid hormones released into the body. These hormones primarily look after our metabolism - keeping our cells burning fuel (calories) at a steady rate. Sensing we’re losing more energy than we’re consuming, our body starts to slow down and reduce the rate at which it releases these hormones.
Less thyroid hormones means slower metabolic rate, which means it takes longer to burn through stored calories. Fine if we’re stuck in the jungle with no food, not so fine if we’re actively trying to lose weight.
Normally, this isn’t a drastic change that happens days into a hypocaloric nutrition plan, but after a 8-12 week diet things may be starting to slow down. At this point, the end of the diet, we have 3 main options:
Continue eating less and less.
Jump back to our old diet and eating habits, eating more and more
Take it easy - a happy medium between the two
Option 1 is just hell. Our metabolic rate will continue to slow down, so we’ll have to reduce our intake severely just to continue making a small bit of progress. Even exercise is going to be of limited use - with our intake so low we’ll have hardly any energy for a meaningful training session.
Option 2 is going to catapult us back 8 hundred steps. With our metabolic rate reduced, our energy stores will fill up quickly and we’ll be struggling to burn off any excess. The weight will jump back on far quicker than it came off. No thank you.
Option 3 is the way to go - introducing a little more food into our diet, but only so much that our body can recover and set a new baseline without jumping back up to our old weight.
Enter the unsexy maintenance phase.
AM BRINGING THYROID BACK, YEAH
By implementing a maintenance phase after our main weight reducing diet, we can stabilise our metabolic rate, recover and get more energy for daily life, and avoid yo-yoing back up to our old weight.
Here we’re going to add a few calories back into our lives - not too much to pile the weight back on, and not too few to keep our thyroid down. Just enough to let our body know that this is our new set point.
Our new what now.
Remember how our bodies like to be in balance? Well there’s a surprising amount or research to support the idea that our bodies like to stick to a certain weight - it’s set point. At it’s set point everything is operating optimally, and trying to interfere or change the set point will affect the comfort zone of these systems - which is why it resists such big changes in bodyweight.
By leveling off our intake (instead of dropping it constantly during a fat loss program) and sticking to a new weight for a period of time, our body will grow accustomed to the new state of affairs - getting comfortable and accepting this as the new set point. From here it will kindly release more thyroid hormones, bringing our metabolism back up, and letting us operate optimally at this new weight.
We’ll likely gain a little bit of weight in this phase (1-3kg at most), but it’s both temporary and a small price to pay to have all our systems working for us again instead of against us in perpetual dietary hell. If we’re still training hard we might not find any weight gain - the extra energy allowing us to have more productive training sessions, so keeping off any additional weight and getting stronger. Yass.
When planning a maintenance phase, a place to start off is to add back 250-750 calories to your daily intake. Everyone is different, but a general guide is if you’re now nearer to 50kg bodyweight, then add closer to 250 calories to your days; and if you’re now nearer to 100kg bodyweight, then add closer to 750 calories to your days.
If you’re calculating macros/calories yourself, we’re aiming to get to an isocaloric diet - i.e. we’re eating enough to balance our energy expenditure against our intake. No more and no less energy (calories) than is required.
As with any nutrition plan, a little monitoring and adapting will be necessary to make sure there’s not been too much or too little added, but you don’t need to weigh out every gram of food that lands on your plate. Just take it easy, and enjoy a couple extra carbs/fats.
How long the maintenance phase lasts is individual, but usually for about as long as you were dieting - so if you were following a weight loss plan for 12 weeks, then a 12 week maintenance phase will do just fine before hitting the next nutritional goal.
As everyone is genetically different, the optimal maintenance phase duration will vary between each of us - some people may only take a few weeks to feel good to go low cal(orie) again - but sticking to it for the same amount of time you were dieting means all the bases are covered. So we may as well enjoy it.
Who wants to rush into another hypocaloric diet anyway? Absolute psychos, that’s who.
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