Whether coming off a strict diet for competition, photo shoot or beach vacation, it IS possible to avoid diet rebounding and maintain a healthy metabolism. Doing so requires discipline, something that usually goes out the window once you have reached your goal. But, once you understand what happens if you stop dieting and working out, your mindset will shift in favor of following a healthy, fit lifestyle all the time rather giving into the yo-yo diet weight rollercoaster–the enemy of a healthy metabolism.
So, with that in mind, here are a few tips to help you maintain a healthy metabolism and stay within shooting distance of your best-ever condition…
Avoid Extreme Weight Fluctuation
If you are serious about your fitness goals and want to be healthy whether you are preparing for an event or not, you should never abandon the basic principles of fit living. If you are a physique competitor, you should consider it a lifestyle choice. Losing a lot of weight over and over again will result in a slowed metabolism and then weight loss will become more difficult.
Remember, gaining and losing weight is a result of calories in and calories out. If during a diet you are expending a lot of calories and not eating very many, the result when you eat more and do less is obvious. So, the key is to slowly introduce more calories back into your diet, which is often called ‘reverse dieting’. As your metabolism adjusts to less caloric output, slowly increase the calories to a point where you are maintaining a healthy weight. Stay within striking distance, about 5-10 lbs, of your best-ever condition (i.e., contest weight). Not only will you have an easier time losing the weight in the future, but you will create less stress on your body. And, competitors…you will be better conditioned come show time.
Strategically Use Carbs
Many diets have little or no carbohydrates. Some even eliminate this macronutrient out completely for periods of time. Cutting down carbohydrates can reduce blood glucose levels and cause the body to tap into fat stores more efficiently. Doing so can also reduce insulin levels and serotonin levels, which can result in serious sugar cravings and low to no energy.
So, here’s the deal…never stop eating carbs, whether you are dieting for a special event or show or in the off-season. Carbohydrates fuel muscles, so instead of cutting them out completely, eat them strategically. Consume carbs when you can get the most out of them like first thing in the morning or immediately after your workout when your muscle glycogen is lowest. The rest of the day, you can keep your carbs low, but it is not necessary to cut them out entirely.
You must determine the right amount of carbohydrates for you. This should be a quantity that allows you to have enough energy to train and maintain a steady blood glucose balance throughout the day without storing excess body fat. You will feel better and have less cravings as a result! Aim for 30 to 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, depending on your ability to process carbohydrates and your activity level. Majority of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, brown rice and sweet potato. Simple carbohydrates like rice cakes or white potatoes can be used to fuel your post-workout muscle glycogen reload.
Avoid Binging Eating
After following a very strict diet, it is very common for individuals to want to binge after the goal is reached and not uncommon to feel like one can’t stop eating. Strict diets can reduce serotonin levels causing depressed mood, upsets in the appetite mechanism, possibly reduced sleep and extreme sugar cravings! Low serotonin levels can cause anybody to want to eat greater amounts of sugar in an attempt to increase serotonin production. And, once you have stimulated this pathway, it becomes very difficult to stop overeating. In fact, research suggests that sugar can have addictive properties!
Insulin is the other side to this story. Insulin gets released when you eat sugar to clear the blood of glucose. Once insulin has cleared sugar from the blood, energy levels tend to fall—particularly if the food you ate was high in simple sugar. When blood sugar levels fall, serotonin levels also begin to fall resulting in another hunger craving for sugary food. This, in most cases, leads to another binge or cheat meal once again causing the release of insulin and drop in serotonin. High levels of insulin can actually block the utilization of fat cells as a source of energy, thus leading to fat storage.
So, instead of reaching for that piece of dessert you have been craving, go for fruit instead. While fruit has sugar, it is also going to provide you with things you need like fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Although it may not be as exciting, you will feel the same satisfaction without the processed sugar crash! The rest of the time, use strategic carbohydrate timing to keep you sustained and fuller for longer—not to mention keep those sugar cravings under control.