How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Cycle of Failure

You’re excited. Early on, you are seeing good results from your diet and exercise efforts. You look and feel better. You’re losing weight. At this pace, you’ll be purchasing a whole new wardrobe in a couple of months. You feel confident because all your hard work is paying off, because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And then it happens…seemingly out of nowhere. It is what countless others face who start a diet and exercise routine encounters:

You’ve Hit The WALL

Your progress comes to a complete stop. A couple of weeks pass and nothing has changed. You may have even gained a pound or two.

So now you increase your efforts. You cut even more calories, and work out harder. This works for a couple of weeks, but then you hit the wall again.

This time, it’s different. Now you are tired. Not just after your workout, but all the time. And you’re hungry. Really hungry. You have constant food cravings. A cheeseburger takes on mythical proportions. You are moody and irritable. Little things set you off.

It’s not getting easier. It’s getting harder. Much harder. And, it no longer seems worth it.

No one starts a diet and exercise routine expecting to hit the wall, but everyone does. And it almost never ends well.

Millions of people go through this cycle every year (sometimes several times a year). For every person who succeeds, there are thousands who fail. You are not alone.

How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Cycle of Failure

So Why Is This Happening?

Scientists believe that the body has a set point. This is a weight and body fat percentage range that your body seeks to maintain. Weight gain happens so slowly that your set point recalibrates to your new weight, and body fat percentage, and maintains those newly adjusted levels. The end result: you slowly gain weight over time – and it is hard to shed, because your body slowly establishes new set points – and maintains them.

Think of it like a thermostat maintaining a constant temperature in your home. You open a window during winter to cool the house off. Once the temperature drops a certain amount, the thermostat triggers the furnace to turn on to raise the temperature back to the set point. It works both ways…it keeps you from gaining weight fast (which is good), and losing weight fast (which is not so good).

But No One Wants To Lose Weight Slowly

Most people are looking for visible results relatively early into their diet and exercise routine. Early results help keep you motivated to stick with it. If you’ve gained 15 pounds over 5 years, you don’t want to take 5 years to lose those pounds.

This is what creates the problem. When you make a sudden, yet seemingly modest, reduction in your caloric intake (through diet and exercise), your body will attempt to maintain its set point.

This is the unexpected consequence of diet and exercise. You create a calorie deficit. The initial weight loss happens, but because it is happening so fast, your body actually slows down your metabolism and restocks its energy storage cells (i.e., fat cells) to get back to its set point as fast as possible. You’re working hard to lose weight and get healthier, but what you are really doing is gaining fat.

This process is called Metabolic Adaptation (or, as many people call it, Hitting The Wall).

There Is Nothing Mental About Hitting The Wall

Metabolic adaptation cannot be overcome by a having positive metal attitude, by willing yourself to get past it, or by increasing your efforts (i.e., powering through it). People have tried. It just doesn’t work. It’s also not as simple as calories in, calories out (which has always been an oversimplification of how we gain and lose weight).

You see, when metabolic adaptation takes place, the worst thing you can do is to further decrease your caloric intake and step up your exercise (which is what most people do). That’s like opening even more windows. Your metabolism will work even harder to get back to its set point by triggering these things:

  • Lowering your leptin and glycogen levels, causing you to be hungry.
  • Slowing down your basal metabolic rate. This is the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest. This slowdown will cause you to feel tired and lethargic.
  • Reducing your sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone (so you feel irritable and moody). Your partner won’t like this.
  • Losing muscle mass, as your body uses muscle as an alternative energy source while it attempts to replenish its fat cells.

Some health and fitness professionals talk about breaking your metabolism, which can happen when you overdo diet and exercise. When people go off their diet and exercise regimen, this broken metabolism is what causes people to gain even more weight from when they started their diet and exercise regimen. It is a cycle that most people experience as they see their weight increase over the years, even though year after year they have tried to get healthier by dieting, exercising, or both.

Wait! You can break your metabolism?!%?

You (And Everyone Else) Hits The Diet & Exercise Wall. Here Is How Your Can Leap Over It!

You’ve probably heard this before: focus on fat loss, not weight loss. Weight loss is important, but it can be a deceptive indicator. This is especially true during metabolic adaptation. Water weight and muscle mass could be the primary source of your weight loss – both of which aren’t sustainable or healthy ways to lose weight.

Start by determining a baseline for your average daily caloric intake and energy expenditure. Calorie tracking apps, like MyFitnessPal (by far my favorite), do a good job of estimating your average daily caloric intake. They can also make you aware of the nutritional value of the food you are eating, so you can make healthier choices.

At the same time, you will want to track your daily activity. How many calories are you burning during a normal day? Fitness trackers, like the Fitbit, do a decent job of tracking your daily energy expenditure. Keep in mind – it is just an estimate. These devices make estimates based on your age, height, weight, and gender. They do not take into account your current metabolic rate, which is variable – and the most important factor in how many calories you burn.

Finally, you want to determine your current weight and body fat percentage. A quality scale can determine your weight, and there are inexpensive body fat measurement calipers that you can use to help you assess your body fat percentage. Okay, no one wants to look at these numbers (not even people who are fit), but it is very important to the process.

How to Leap Over the Diet and Exercise Wall. From How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Cycle of Failure

You’re Going To Trick Your Body Into Change

Once you have a baseline for all four of these factors (caloric intake, energy expenditure, weight, and body fat percentage), you can start your diet and exercise regimen by either keeping your daily caloric intake constant and increasing your energy expenditure (exercise), or lowering your daily caloric intake and maintaining your current daily energy expenditure. Once a week, measure your weight and body fat percentage.

This approach will produce better, faster, and more consistent, results than traditional diet and exercise while putting far less stress on your body. Maybe not as fast as a diet pill, but much safer. Seriously, don’t take diet pills. It may take a week or two before you start seeing results, but what you are looking for is a drop in your body fat percentage. Don’t worry, the weight will follow. As long as you are seeing progress, you can incrementally reduce your daily caloric intake and increase your energy expenditure every two weeks. You will want to do this slowly, so your metabolism adjusts without going into metabolic adaptation.

This Is The Exact Slight Change You Will Make

Reduce your daily caloric intake by about 5%, or do short intense exercise 3 days a week, or longer moderate exercise 4-5 times a week. You are training your body to draw energy from your fat cells, thus reducing them.

If you notice that your weight stabilizes for more than 2 weeks, and/or your body fat percentage increases, then go back to the previous level of daily caloric intake and energy expenditure. This may seem counterintuitive, but it works.

One of the best things about taking this measured approach is it can be maintained. You develop the habit of closely monitoring your body and develop the instincts to make the right changes based on your observations – without overcorrecting, sending your body back into metabolic adaptation.

How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Wall. From How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Cycle of Failure

Need Help?

Hitting The WALL is something that everyone experiences. How you approach it will determine your success or failure. If you have a question on how to apply this ask your questions in the comment area below and I’ll answer you. If I don’t know the answer I’ll reach it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and what has worked for you when you hit the wall. For most people, getting results from diet and exercise is hard. It doesn’t have to be.

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How to Overcome the Diet and Exercise Cycle of Failure

Ed ForteauEd Forteau is a former marketing liaison and medical researcher for Janssen Pharmaceutica (a division of Johnson & Johnson). He is also the host of Power Up Your Health, a nationally syndicated radio show which aired on the CBS Sports Radio Network.

Please note that this article is not intended to offer medical advice. Place consult your physician before you start any diet or exercise program.

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