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What is Metabolic Damage?
Metabolic damage, or adaptive thermogenesis, is a condition in which the body undergoes a complex set of adaptations to an intense and/or prolonged caloric deficit. As a result of an extended restricted diet and usually in conjunction with increased workouts and cardio, essentially, the body enters a ‘starvation mode’ and attempts to conserve everything it gets in an evolutionary response to survive a famine. While this worked great for our ancestors thousands of years ago in the event of an inability to get enough food, it is devastating to our bodies today. Starvation mode triggers a major down regulation of the metabolism through semi-permanent adjustments to thyroid and other hormones and can be extremely difficult to reverse if it persists long enough, but damage can be done in as little as a few weeks.
There are three stages to adaptive thermogenesis:
Stage 1 – Metabolic Compensation – This is the body adapting to changes in our caloric expenditure and/or caloric intake. Once we start a new diet, at first we feel great and we are losing weight. Fast forward a week or two though and we start to feel hungry, crave fatty and sweet foods and our energy levels fall. Our weight loss also stops or we even gain back a pound or two. This is the body moving into the first stages of starvation mode.
Stage 2 – Metabolic resistance – The next step comes when we react to stage 1 by further cutting our calories and upping our activity level. Once we do, we may not feel great, but we tough it out and lose another few pounds over the next few weeks. Our energy plummets at this point and we ultimately hit a standstill in our weight loss again. On top of that we are desperately craving foods and now taking more fat burners and pre-workouts, but still have to drag ourselves to the gym. We have now hit stage two.
Stage 3 – Metabolic Damage – The final step comes once we keep pushing through despite our crashed energy, massive hunger and lack of progress. We maybe step up the pre-workouts and stimulants to triple what we started with but at this point they have almost no effect and we need them just to function. New issues begin to surface like indigestion, bloating and we look flat and waterlogged. This final step is when your body has completely shut down and is fighting you tooth and nail. Serious damage is being done each day this persists and the body becomes hardwired to conserve.
The worst thing to do at this point is to stop dieting altogether and start eating like your body is telling you it wants to. Doubling or tripling your calorie intake when your body is primed to store and conserve like this will leave you gaining massive weight and fat rapidly. Your metabolism isn’t ready and most of what you eat turns directly into bloat. Your body can’t process it. Maybe at this point you feel guilty and horrible about the weight gain and go right back to ultra-low calories and tons of cardio and further reinforce the starvation mode. Only now you have begun a starve/binge cycle of training your body to store everything it gets as it may not get fed again anytime soon.
How can we fix Metabolic Damage?
What we need to understand about our metabolism is it is far from a finite process and much more acts like a thermostat, it adapts to what we are doing. There is no such thing as a basal metabolic rate, at least, not for more than a day. Much like a thermometer, as temperature rises, needle rises, as temperature falls, the needle falls; and as our calories and activity rise and falls, as does our metabolism. Every change in our diet or activity level subsequently changes our basal metabolic rate for better or for worse. Eat less or exercise less, the rate drops, eat more or exercise more, the rate increases. This is our body’s pre-wired program to stay in homeostasis. While it is very adaptable, it can’t always keep up, which is why we see so many obese people and also why we are all subject to metabolic damage.
Just as we trained our bodies to shut down energy levels and store everything we eat, we must now retrain ourselves to burn more and spend more. The first step is to start exercising less and/or eating more. We must do this in small steps to allow our bodies a chance to adapt without storing the surplus as fat. We start with a period of rest to take the load off the body in which exercises are minimal and we eat easily digestible foods. We also begin a food and supplementation regimen to feed the body the nutrients it needs to restore proper thyroid function. Week by week we make changes and the metabolism responds by burning more. We feel better, look better and often, even start to lose weight.
The process can take a few short weeks or several weeks depending on the level of damage, but it is an absolutely imperative process to ever have success with dieting and your physique again. A metabolism restoration process is a necessity for those with metabolic damage or high metabolic resistance and recommended for everyone coming off of an intense diet to recover full thyroid function.