Back in high school, my eating habits were extremely unhealthy. I was so sold on being a part of the social norm of skinny = beauty. I equated 6 days of running on the treadmill and incline walks for 60 mins every day as mandatory. If even one day was missed, I would have to reconsider everything I ate and beat myself up over it. I do believe I was eating anywhere between 1,200 calories to scratching the surface at 1,400. 1,200 - 1,400 calories are the average caloric intake of a 2 to 3-year-old. I was on this “diet” for a very extended period. I was always perplexed as to why I wasn’t furthering my “weight-loss journey”. So this is where my explanation of the question at hand begins. “What happens if you are always in a calorie deficit?”
Let's theoretically say that you only have 2-5kgs to lose. You already are very lean and there’s minimal body fat to work with. With that in mind, you still have the desire to lose more weight. Here comes the negative effects of furthering your calorie deficit. To bluntly answer the question, as you continue to lose weight, your body will require fewer calories. The only way to lose more weight is to reduce the calories even further. In due time, there will be insufficient calories to sustain your body. You will not be able to keep yourself healthy. That means, for me at the time, I would have had to cut another 300-500 calories more. Doing this would leave me at around 700-1000 calories which aren’t even enough to suffice a toddler.
Maintaining an aggressive calorie deficit, over an extended time, will also result in a slower metabolism. You will then end up losing muscle, and slowing the fat-burning efficiency of your body. If you are not eating enough calories, then your body tends to hang on to fat to sustain the lack of nutrients and energy supplies entering your body system.
Now obviously, someone with a greater amount of body fat would be able to sustain this calorie deficit for a greater period, due to the amount they have to work with. That does not mean it is also smart nor healthy to forever stay in the calorie deficit.
So if that is the case, what is the solution?
The answer is 'phases', also known as seasons. Just as you shed new clothes from winter to summer, and vice versa you should also find the right phases to build muscle mass, and then to find the correct period to start and END your cut. It’s quite similar to how athletes have on and off seasons as they cannot play year round at their optimum level. Another example, would be how physique competitors have recomp stages, off season, and then prep.
The reason being if you go on a very strict cut where you are eating a minimal amount of calories, you will find that the weight loss is quite rapid. Realistically you won’t be able to sustain this lifestyle since you may experience negative side effects, eg fatigue, hunger, lack of sex drive etc. Thus, resulting in potential binging and overeating to satiate the side effects. Hence, why an aggressive cut like this would only be substantial for a short time. Not only will you be short-handing your progress but it will also create a cycle that is difficult to stop. Thus, depending on your situation you could extend a less aggressive cut over a longer duration of time to make sure you are efficiently performing alongside progressing your physique goals.
Even taking yourself through phases of maintenance eating and seeing breakthroughs there may be of greater benefit than in a long drawn out aggressive cut. Bulking is also a great tool to help make room for the growth of new muscles and establish new strength goals simultaneously.
A long drawn out aggressive approach to a cut will not sustain your body nor will it do the things you are wanting it to. Thus, the most important factor to take away from this is that the health of your inside must match the outside. They must work simultaneously. Your body is capable of great things, but it is essential to listen and care to its needs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edana Keijdener is NASM certified personal trainer and pre and post natal training specialist. Her focus is on women’s health and fitness. More specifically hypertrophy and strength training. She is also a competitive powerlifting athlete as well as a group class coach for Thailands 3rd best strength and conditioning class rated by ClassPass.