Newsletter: The Metabolic Tomb

This week, we talk about nutrition once again. I wanted to introduce you to a new concept that –hopefully– will make you think twice before trying some of the crazy diets out there that consist of eating air and little else! This concept is called “the metabolic tomb”, and it is a rather playful way of talking about a damaged metabolism.

The metabolic tomb is the phenomenon that happens when, despite following a hypocaloric diet in which our calorie intake is lower than our calorie spend, we are not able to lose body fat. It is quite easy to fall into the metabolic tomb when we don’t properly plan our diet and exercise regimes, so we’ll explain today how to avoid it, and how to get out of it if we get in it.

It’s the typical thing that will happen to you if you follow a very restrictive diet, and it will happen through a process called “adaptive thermogenesis”, which simply means that our bodies are incredibly good at adapting to whatever we throw at them. (Picture this: you need ~2,000 calories per day, so you decide to eat ~1,000 to lose some weight quickly… and then some time later you stop losing weight, you get frustrated, stop the diet altogether, and then receive as a reward the same weight you lost plus a couple of extra kgs. Whoops! –and the same happens if you add a lot of cardio to the equation… do not think that that will save you!–)

So, once we find ourselves inside the tomb, it’s time to “reset” our metabolism. And to do so, we simply need to eat what we should be eating (sorry about that rebound!) for a month or two, and then, if we are still interested in losing weight, our goal should be to reach a ~500 calorie deficit little by little (e.g., increase the deficit by ~100 calories per week). Furthermore, always keep in mind that cardio will accelerate this process simply because it will consume calories as well and generate its own thermogenic adaptation – we covered this topic in a previous newsletter, which you can request if you missed it!

“But wait – are you telling me that I should skip exercise if I find myself in the metabolic tomb?” Au contraire! I’ve merely said that you should avoid cardio. And I have been specific about this because not all types of exercise are created equal: just like a couple of weeks ago I told you about HIIT as an efficient aid to diet in the task of fat loss, this week I’m going to recommend you both HIIT and weight lifting as the best types of exercise to stimulate your metabolism.

I know what some of you are thinking: “What do you mean with weight lifting? I don’t want to look bulky!” And of course, this is probably the best place to say this freely: if you do not eat enough food to actually get bulky, weight lifting will not make you bulky. It’s really as simple as that. I have been lifting weights for around 9 years now (on and off, but I still hit the gym at least a couple of times per week), and I have never tried to be bulky – so I’m not. Weight lifting is one of the best ways to stimulate your metabolism (it does not really generate a thermogenic adaptation, and neither does HIIT), and an exceptional way to help you keep looking healthy and fit while you attack your body fat with your diet. We’ll talk more about the (many) benefits of weight lifting in a future newsletter…

…but to finish today, just a little bit of advice to avoid entering the metabolic tomb:

  1. Keep a “food diary” – Many people think they know what they eat, when they actually don’t. I personally knew a girl who thought she ate around ~1,000 calories per day but couldn’t lose weight… and the day she started taking notes and trying to count seriously she counted over 2,000. Whoopsie!
  2. Avoid very restrictive diets. Just avoid them and prevent all that unnecessary suffering. No “only tea for a week” diets, nor similar inventions. They will throw you right into the metabolic tomb, and you’ll have to put up with the rebound later. (Note: I’m not including here creative diets like intermittent fasting, etc., which I consider to be perfectly okay and hope to cover them in a future newsletter!)
  3. Be creative! If the only exercise you do involves running for an hour 3x per week, you’ll inevitably adapt to it and increase your chances of entering the metabolic tomb due to your body adapting to these new caloric needs. Even if you still decide to just keep running, be creative – do short series, fartlek, strength exercises for runners…
  4. Lift weights. Seriously. And a powerful reason here: if you want to lose fat, you want to burn as many calories as possible, right? Great, because muscle is the most expensive tissue you have in your body energy-wise (save for the brain, of course). Muscles consume vast amounts of calories just to be maintained, so one of the best ways of increasing the difference between what you eat and what you need is simply to have more muscular mass, or at least to keep the one you already have as your weight climbs down! (And if you ensure that you are eating enough protein, you won’t lose much of it while you maintain this caloric deficit.)

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