Cut­ting cals to shed pounds in a hurry? Read this first


It’s 3pm on a Tues­day and you should have your eyes and at­ten­tion trained on the Ex­cel doc in front of you. In­stead, they’ve been di­verted to your weather app; specif­i­cally, the fore­cast for Mykonos 14 days from now. Thoughts turn to the in­evitable bikini pics and the lengths you’re will­ing to go to in order to forge a flat stom­ach be­tween now and the de­par­ture lounge. While you know that so-called sum­mer bod­ies are built in win­ter and good nu­tri­tion is for life, the pre-hol­i­day body panic can feel as dif­fi­cult to opt out of as the hot­dog­sor-legs snap and the jump-in-the-pool Boomerang. And it isn’t just the im­pend­ing sun­shine break that has the power to make you part with salary and sense in the name of slim­ming down stat – there’s also the mat­ter of get­ting one or both sets of limbs out at the on­slaught of sum­mer par­ties and wed­dings. So what is it about th­ese date-in-the-diary events that makes even the most sen­si­ble among us want to shrink? ‘Th­ese oc­ca­sions tend to be un­der­stood as par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause you feel like you’re on dis­play,’ says psy­chol­o­gist Jess Baker. ‘Un­der­pin­ning this is the fear that you’re go­ing to be judged. You seek other peo­ple’s ap­proval and believe that chang­ing your body and look­ing your “best” is the way to win this,’ she says. Dialling up the self-scru­tiny is so­cial me­dia: a win­dow into the ‘best side’ of bil­lions and the real-time val­i­da­tion that comes with a quick check of your likes. ‘Shar­ing im­ages of your­self on so­cial me­dia – or know­ing that you’re go­ing to ap­pear in con­tent that oth­ers post – means not only open­ing your­self up to praise (the idea of which is a mo­ti­va­tor in it­self ), but also judge­ment and crit­i­cism from a wider pool of peo­ple than you’ll ac­tu­ally encounter at the event you’re count­ing down to,’ ex­plains Baker. ‘It’s nat­u­ral to want to pro­tect your­self from neg­a­tive judge­ment, and so you try your hard­est to look what you per­ceive to be your ideal.’ The big­ger the stage and more daz­zling the glow of the spot­light you’re in, the more pres­sure there is to shine brighter than the high­lighted cheek­bone of a Jen­ner sib­ling.


But sud­denly cull calo­ries out of nowhere and not only will your rum­bling stom­ach take um­brage, your hor­mones are bound to have strong opin­ions, too. They’re the bi­o­log­i­cal equiv­a­lent of couri­ers, de­liv­er­ing mes­sages around the body, so do things that in­ter­fere with their nat­u­ral rhythm and shit will go down. It’s an in­con­ve­nient bi­o­log­i­cal truth that your body has a healthy weight zone in which it would like you to stay. And, given that it’s mo­ti­vated by the his­toric sole pur­pose of pro­cre­ation, the ideal mus­cle/fat ra­tio may not chime with your spring/sum­mer 2018 goals. ‘Re­strict your food in­take sig­nif­i­cantly and the en­docrine sys­tem sends out a hor­monal cry for help along the lines of, “I need more calo­ries, feed me more,” in an ef­fort to keep your weight from fall­ing,’ ex­plains reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Priya Tew. ‘Your ap­petitere­duc­ing hor­mones lep­tin, pep­tide YY and CCK (chole­cys­tokinin) de­crease, while the ap­petite-enhancing hor­mone ghre­lin in­creases,’ she adds. ‘Your body is now so con­cerned about en­ter­ing what it per­ceives to be a famine state that it will move this op­ti­mal weight win­dow higher as a backup plan,’ says Tew. ‘Its pri­or­ity is to stop you from starv­ing – and this way, even if you find your­self with­out food again soon, your body will have more fat stores to sur­vive off.’ In short, at­tempt to put your body on a crash diet and it will re­pay you by in­creas­ing your fat stores. Mis­sion far from ac­com­plished. Plus, if you’ve ever walked past a Pizza Ex­press mid-diet and teared up at the smell of fresh dough balls, you’ll be well aware of the fact that crash-di­et­ing trig­gers an emo­tional re­sponse just as it elic­its phys­i­cal fluc­tu­a­tions. ‘Two peo­ple can be fol­low­ing ex­actly the same diet and have very dif­fer­ent emo­tional re­ac­tions,’ ex­plains Dr Joanna Sil­ver, coun­selling psy­chol­o­gist and eat­ing dis­or­ders spe­cial­ist. A his­tory of dis­or­dered eat­ing is an ob­vi­ous in­di­ca­tor that crash-di­et­ing could be prob­lem­atic for you, but it isn’t al­ways that clear-cut. ‘A per­son’s emo­tional re­sponse to a diet can also de­pend on the im­por­tance and mean­ing they place on los­ing weight.’ Have a date cir­cled in your diary that you care deeply about look­ing good for and you heighten your risk of an emo­tional fall­out. Dr Sil­ver cites the ex­am­ple of the sem­i­nal de­pri­va­tion study ‘The Min­nesota Star­va­tion Ex­per­i­ment’, which saw 36 men have their daily calo­ries cut to just 1,500 for six months. Re­searchers con­cluded that be­ing de­prived of food led to de­pres­sion, mood dis­tur­bances, gen­eral ap­a­thy for life, an ob­ses­sion with ‘food-get­ting ac­tiv­i­ties’ and gloomy re­la­tion­ships – even af­ter they re­sumed nor­mal eat­ing pat­terns. Last year, re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Helsinki reached a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion: that ‘dis­or­dered eat­ing’ (ar­bi­trar­ily de­cid­ing when they were hun­gry or full – re­gard­less of how they were feel­ing – or ha­bit­u­ally weigh­ing their food) among 24-year-olds led to ‘lower psy­cho­log­i­cal wellbeing’, even up to a decade later.


The idea that you get out as much as you put in can prompt you to rev up your fit­ness sched­ule in order to get big­ger re­sults, quicker. But, when it comes to elic­it­ing healthy changes in the body, go­ing hard and fast isn’t of­ten the finest modus operandi. ‘Re­sis­tance train­ing – such as weight-lift­ing, TRX and cer­tain Cross­fit work­outs – cre­ates micro-tears in your mus­cle that can take up to 72 hours to re­pair,’ ex­plains Niko Al­gieri, di­rec­tor and co-founder of Equilib­rium To­tal Bal­ance (wea­ree­qui­lib­ Th­ese tears are the key to build­ing strength,

Go­ing hard and fast isn’t al­ways the finest modus operandi

but only if you al­low your body to re­cover sub­se­quently. Go back to train­ing the same group of mus­cles the next day or sud­denly de­mand more from them than they’re used to, and not only will those micro-tears be­come ex­ten­sive and painful, you’ll also slow down the re­cov­ery process. Con­tinue to book back-to-back classes and you’ll put your­self at risk of in­jury, too. But that’s not all. ‘In some cases, ex­tended pe­ri­ods of re­sis­tance train­ing or car­dio can put your body in a catabolic state,’ ex­plains Al­gieri. Which means? ‘Af­ter a while, your body be­gins to use up its pre­ferred sources of en­ergy – glyco­gen and glu­cose – and once th­ese stores are ex­hausted it starts to break down tis­sue in order to burn pro­tein found in the mus­cles as en­ergy, which can lead to loss of mus­cle and strength, in­ter­rupted sleep and even flag­ging en­ergy lev­els.’ While it’s dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate when catabolism will kick in – no two hu­man bod­ies are the same – stud­ies sug­gest that an av­er­age athlete work­ing out at a mod­er­ate level will run out of glyco­gen af­ter one hour and 45 min­utes; with high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise it can hap­pen af­ter as lit­tle as 15 min­utes. As to the ques­tion of how long you should leave be­tween work­outs, there’s no hard and fast rule and it’ll vary de­pend­ing on your age, level of ex­pe­ri­ence and the in­ten­sity of the ex­er­cise. For those work­outs that push your body to its max, some ex­perts rec­om­mend leav­ing 48 hours – the time re­search sug­gests it takes for mus­cle sore­ness to peak post-ex­er­cise – be­fore re­turn­ing to it, while oth­ers sug­gest a full 72 hours if you’re a be­gin­ner. If you want to stay ac­tive dur­ing that time, know that your mus­cles can take move­ments in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions and planes, and Al­gieri sug­gests some ac­tive re­cov­ery, such as steady-state car­dio.


Your en­docrine sys­tem is just as op­posed to over-train­ing as it is to you cut­ting out food groups and slash­ing calo­ries. ‘Train in­tensely for over an hour and your body re­leases cor­ti­sol, which works to pro­vide your sys­tem with the glu­cose en­ergy it needs to help you fight or flee,’ ex­plains Al­gieri. ‘And if cor­ti­sol lev­els re­main high, the body con­tin­ues to con­sis­tently pro­duce glu­cose so your blood sugar lev­els stay raised.’ But

Put your body on a crash diet and you’ll up your fat stores

– face palm – your cells won’t ac­tu­ally be us­ing that glu­cose for en­ergy. ‘Sus­tained cor­ti­sol re­lease also sup­presses in­sulin, the hor­mone whose job it is to trans­fer glu­cose from food to cells to use it for en­ergy.’ So your cells re­main hangry for fuel, send SOS hunger sig­nals to your brain and the next thing you know, you’re one step away from tak­ing down an un­nec­es­sary car­bonara. And the un­der­utilised glu­cose float­ing around in your blood­stream? ‘That gets stored as body fat,’ adds Al­gieri. Right. To avoid this series of un­for­tu­nate events, he ad­vises call­ing time on in­tense work­outs af­ter an hour – and be­ing as rig­or­ous about rest days as you are about your end goal.


Ac­cord­ing to Dr Sil­ver, one way to fu­ture­proof your men­tal health ahead of a nu­tri­tion or ex­er­cise over­haul is to ex­am­ine your mo­ti­va­tion – es­pe­cially if want­ing to ‘look your best’ is in fact code for want­ing to look like your best mate on her ex­ten­sively doc­u­mented Caribbean hon­ey­moon. ‘Com­par­ing your body with those in your so­cial cir­cle is un­fair on you and the ob­ject of your scru­tiny,’ says Dr Sil­ver. ‘Even if you get to a point where your body ap­pears to be a sim­i­lar size or shape to theirs, you may have vastly dif­fer­ent ge­netic make-ups, so

mea­sur­ing your­self against them isn’t just point­less, it’s dan­ger­ous.’ And per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, it won’t do your re­la­tion­ship any favours, either. ‘It can wreck your self-es­teem and, in many cases, ruin friend­ships. A friend will be able to tell if you start look­ing at them as a dress size, rather than as a whole per­son.’ To get a han­dle on whether you’re sim­ply tweak­ing your diet and fit­ness to live your best life or you’re in the grip of crash-di­et­ing, Dr Sil­ver sug­gests reg­u­larly tun­ing into not only how this new regime is mak­ing you feel, but how it’s af­fect­ing your be­hav­iour. Case in point: so­cial life. It’s a heavy irony that the blink­ered fo­cus you em­ploy in a bid to look and feel your best can chip away at your here-and-now joy. Wine and pizza with ex-col­leagues? Risky. At­tend­ing a friend’s bar­be­cue where you know you’ll be ca­joled into sausages and Sauv? No chance. ‘Oc­ca­sion­ally turn­ing down an in­vi­ta­tion be­cause you need time for your­self or can’t face the in­evitable hang­over is fine – sen­si­ble even,’ says Dr Sil­ver. ‘But if you’re can­celling din­ner plans to avoid be­ing around food, that’s a con­cern. If it be­comes a habit, then it could feed into feel­ings of iso­la­tion.’ And lonely isn’t a re­al­is­tic spring­board from which to cre­ate your health­i­est self.


It’s clear the dangers of crash-di­et­ing are real – so what of the ar­gu­ment that it could have a place in the long game of healthy liv­ing? This is the take­away from a brand new study by Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford re­searchers. Af­ter spend­ing nine weeks con­sum­ing noth­ing but shakes and soups, par­tic­i­pants lost over 10% of their body weight. ‘A meal-re­place­ment diet is a good chance for peo­ple with un­healthy habits to break them and es­tab­lish new ones,’ says lead re­searcher Pro­fes­sor Su­san Jebb. ‘Our re­search was done on peo­ple who were obese, and I would only ad­vise peo­ple to con­sider such an ap­proach if they’re more than 2st over­weight.’ In other words, un­less your GP is con­cerned about your weight and you strug­gle to adopt healthy habits – eat­ing nu­tri­tious food, work­ing out in a way that chal­lenges your body, prac­tis­ing self-care – a speedy purge of pounds is not for you. A much bet­ter ap­proach is that which you’ll find on the pages of this mag­a­zine each month: it’s achiev­able goals, form­ing good habits and that much-touted word, bal­ance. ‘It might take you weeks or even months longer than the date on your cal­en­dar to reach your tar­get– and you might never get to that ideal,’ ex­plains Tew. ‘But any changes you make are more likely to be sus­tain­able steps in pur­suit of the ul­ti­mate prize: a healthy you.’ Try to cheat the sys­tem and your body and mind will suf­fer – plus, you’re not guar­an­teed to get the end re­sult you’re pin­ing af­ter any­way. But play by the rules and your changes will last long af­ter the tan has faded or the wed­ding pics have been printed.

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