Is your metabolism damaged after a bikini competition? Let’s find out…
The term “metabolic damage” has been thrown around quite a lot recently and has been the go-to blame for many individuals’ lack of progress in the fitness world—but what does it mean exactly and is there a “cure”?
Metabolic damage in the literal sense is not a diagnosis or something that we can test for. To understand its true meaning, we first need to look at what the metabolism actually does and what hormones are used to regulate it.
What does your metabolism actually do?
If you’ve been dieting off and on for years, you’ve likely experienced the wild hunger swings that come along with it. The metabolism is in charge of regulating our energy intake in the form of calories, and our energy output in the form of movement and basic life functions.
In its simplest form, the body combines calories with oxygen that converts to energy for you to use. This process even occurs at an extremely sedentary state just to perform all the things you don’t think about like breathing, circulation, hormone production, and muscle repair.
It influences how well we sleep, how much we eat, move, drink, how our hormones regulate, how we burn fat and so many amazing things! But when we put ourselves through extreme dieting phases, it can alter these functions drastically and it takes a trained experienced eye to recover an athlete from these side effects.If you’re struggling to regulate your metabolism after a bikini competition, let’s chat! I love helping women restore their mind, body and soul after years of dieting and feel CONFIDENT in their bodies every day.
Four things to know about your metabolism
Fewer calories in and more calories out is the magic equation for weight loss, right? If only it was that simple! Our bodies are complex, and each person’s metabolism functions at a highly different rate based on dieting history, body composition, sex hormone production, menstrual cycles (or lack thereof), and your age.
When you place your body in a calorie deficit (more calories are burned than our being consumed), we need to consider these four pieces of the puzzle.Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
This is the basic life functions we talked about above, your ability to breathe, create cells, repair muscle, digest food, and nutrient absorption—all the cool things our bodies do without us even knowing! As we diet, the RMR is lower due to a smaller body mass and less energy it takes to perform those basic functions.
Thermic effect of food (TEF)
Ever heard the idea that if you eat more, you will burn more and “fuel your metabolism”? The thermic effect of food is where that comes from! (Hint hint, it’s not true!) Read all about why eating more frequent meals is a total myth and isn’t the key to weight loss here.
The thermic effect of food is simply the energy it takes to digest the food you eat. When you diet and are naturally eating less, you will be expending less energy through this process. That’s why cardio and step goals come in to ensure you are still burning what you need to from a calorie perspective while things like TEF are being downregulated. This brings us to our next point, NEAT!
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
Wasn’t that a NEAT transition? Ok back to the nerdy stuff. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis includes the calories you burn doing all the things outside of structured actuality like walks, workouts, cleaning, stretching, etc. So when you are fidgeting at your desk, standing in line at Starbucks, or folding the laundry, these can all be considered NEAT. And as we diet, we naturally do these things less and less because of the less fuel we are giving ourselves.
Physical activity / exercise
Finally, the fourth piece of the puzzle is how many calories you burn on purpose by working out or playing sports!
All bodily functions begin to down-regulate.
The human body is so smart! As weight is lost, it adapts to protect that “energy out” in case energy is needed to fight off a bear to survive … ok, that’s a lot less likely in today’s environment but we haven’t evolved all that much from those days!
Dieting at extremely low calories affects two main hormones right away, which are our hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is the satiety hormone, the one that tells you that you’re full. When dieting, this is significantly down-regulated and the feeling of being full is few and far between. You know when you just finished a meal and could eat an entire second serving? That’s when leptin is not functioning properly.
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that signals your brain when it’s time to eat. I like to remember how to differentiate between them by ghrelin makes your stomach “grrr” when it’s hungry. Cheesy, I know, but it works!
As diets are prolonged all of these puzzle pieces that make up our metabolism begin to shift. NEAT is lower from lack of energy, ghrelin is higher from eating less, your resting metabolic rate comes down and you burn fewer calories from basic activities. So when asked the age-old question if dieting is bad for your metabolism, the answer could be yes in the sense that it alters the way our brain and metabolism work together to keep us going!
In addition to the basic hunger hormones that are directly affected by dieting, in women, extremely low calories cause high cortisol levels, and low progesterone leading to amenorrhea, low testosterone and so many other things you need to heal with a reverse diet after a bikini competition prep diet.
Mental effects of competition prep dieting
While there are significant internal and hormonal shifts in your metabolism you might not directly see, there are mental repercussions of metabolic damage from dieting. When energy is low, mental health can take a turn. You are moving less which often correlates to doing less of the things that make you happy like playing with the kids, date nights with your significant other or walking the dog.
There can also be unexpected results of dieting mentally and physically from a food perspective that occur like bloating from foods you’re no longer used to eating or unconscious labeling of “bad” foods that may have been off-limits during a dieting phase.
If you’re coming out of a bikini prep and trying to retrain both your metabolism and your mental health when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle around food, it can be so hard to do it alone! Just know that there are so many people out there who are recovering or have recovered and that you will get there too. Educating yourself on what stage your body is in and connecting with like-minded women like you is the first step.
During my 12 weeks to recovery after a bikini prep program, you don’t have to follow a meal plan or fear foods. You get to learn how to naturally listen to your hunger cues and fuel your body with the foods you love.
Check out more details of my program below and get 1:1 coaching to heal your metabolism, mind, body and soul while connecting with thousands of women in a private Facebook group to feel supported every step of the way.