Metabolic Damage: What it is, Why it Sucks, and How you can Avoid it!


by Justin Woltering

So, you’ve bulked up a little too far, and now you’re ready to shed that extra fat. You know you could do things slow and steady, but why wait? You can get ripped quick by going on a super low-calorie diet for a few weeks, right? Wrong!

While a crazy cutting diet will certainly make you lighter, it won’t necessarily make you leaner. A bird-like food intake will cause you to shed muscle and fat indiscriminately, and your workouts and strength will seriously suffer. Even worse, rock-bottom calories will do long-term damage to your metabolism, making it even more difficult to gain muscle and lose fat in the future. Read on to get the details on metabolic damage – and how you can avoid it.

Dieting Too Hard

Diets of 1,000 calories or fewer are all too common among crash dieters, weekend bingers, and even experienced fitness freaks. While they’ll certainly work well in the short term – a week or two at most – they are devastating for your metabolism in the long run. Your body is built for survival, not aesthetics, and it will horde fat like crazy if you feed it poorly.

That’s right, crash dieting can actually make you fatter! Or, at the very least, it can prevent you from burning as much fat as you need to lose. This is why slow, steady diets work well. By feeding your body properly with slightly fewer calories than you’re burning, you can goad your body into fat loss without putting yourself into full-on starvation mode.

Your Body Will Adapt

Still considering a month or two of low-calorie hell? I know you want to get lean quick, but consider your long-term progress and results. Your body will quickly adapt to your new diet, and it’ll “learn” to store any excess you consume as fat. After all, it think it’s starving! You might reach your ideal leanness, but you’ll balloon right back up once you increase your calories – even if you’re still eating clean. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to worry about gaining fat just because I added a couple of sweet potatoes back into my diet.

Even if you don’t suffer any long-term metabolic damage, you body WILL get used to your diet in a matter of weeks. What are you going to do if you’ve plateaued at 1,200 calories per day? Go even lower? That’s just not sustainable! Issues of discipline aside, you’re going to feel like crap and have horrible workouts, making it even more difficult to hold onto your hard-earned muscle.

Fats and Carbs: You Can’t cut Both!

No two ways about it – if you want to get leaner, you’ll need to cut way back on either fats or carbs. To put it simply, these are the “energy” nutrients, while proteins are your “building blocks.” Your body’s not going to use its own fat for fuel if you’re pumping it full of energy from outside sources.

That said, you don’t want to go crazy and cut them both out entirely. That would leave you with the typical bodybuilding crash diet: ultra-lean proteins, green veggies, and not much else.metabolic damage3

Which one should you restrict? Opinions vary, but for most people, a low-carb, moderate fat, high-protein diet works wonders for fat loss. Restricting carbs to your post-workout meal will keep your insulin low all day long – a necessity for fat burning. Plenty of healthy fats will also optimize your hormone levels and prevent your body from “thinking” that it’s starving. In fact, eating more fat than carbs is a great way to let your body know that its own fat is a good source of fuel.

How to Reset

Don’t fret if you’ve already screwed up your metabolism with a crash diet. It might take a little time to get yourself back on the right track, but you can definitely do it if you’re careful.

First, do NOT jump right back into your “normal” diet. You’ve unfortunately established a new normal, and even a moderate 2,000-calorie diet could cause rapid fat gain. Instead, up your daily calories by 150-200, maintain that intake for a week, and adjust. Since you’ve probably cut most of the fats and carbs out of your diet already, focus on those before you add more protein.

After a month or two, you should be at a healthy maintenance level where you’re not gaining or losing. You may see a slight gain – and don’t panic if you do – but your goal for the time being is to keep your weight stable. Keep increasing the calories weekly until the scale starts to move, and then reduce back down to that maintenance level.

Hold your weight steady for about a month, and then reassess. If you still have fat to lose, go on a SANE diet, one that allows for about a pound of fat loss per week. If you want to gain muscle again, gradually increase your food until you’re gaining two to three pounds per month. Bodybuilding is a marathon, not a sprint, so remember not to screw up your long-term progress short-sighted obsessions!