Friday, February 24, 2012

Biggest Winners Lose Their Weight "Slowly" - Losing 6kg of Body Weight in 15 instead of 5 Weeks is 4x More Effective and Ensures that it is Fat You Are Losing, Not Muscle!

Image 1: "How did I let this happen again?", asks Oprah in her own magazine (as a German I am shocked there even is such a thing as an "Oprah Magazine" ;-) - the answer is simple, Oprah! Your "diet" programmed the YoYo effect! It happened not after, but right while you were starving... ah, pardon "dieting"!
From time to time, I am using the Blogspot stats to check where you, my dear readers, are coming from. Aside from the usual suspects, there are sometimes certain posts, which attract a hell lot of visitors from single threads on any of the major or minor bulletin boards. To cut a long story short, about 2 weeks ago, I hit on a forum where one of you (thank you by the way) cited the SuppVersity as a good source of information for all things related to nutrition and exercise... now, the reason I mention this, is not that without comments like this and people spreading the word, the work I put into this blog on a daily basis would hardly be worthwhile, but rather the feedback the person got from the other "residents" of the board: feedback along the lines of "Pah! I am not into looking and half-naked musclemen!" ...

Obviously the lady who posted that, must have followed the link on a Thursday - in fact one of those Thursday's, where Adelfo was raving about how "disgusting" he wants his muscle to look on the day of his competition. And yes, it may be true that - especially the ladies - probably have slightly different concerns than muscles, which do not look disgusting enough, but the results of a recently published study that was conducted by scientists from the University of Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada, show that even the fair sex could learn a lot from the way Adelfo plans and tweaks his contest prep diet - first and foremost that slow and steady and not rapid and abrupt is the way to go, when you want to make sure that you don't just lose weight, but also see the gratifying results in the mirror, as well.

If you want to get lean and stay lean, you better diet down slowly

What is particularly interesting about the trial, the results of which M. Sénéchal et al. describe in their paper (Sénéchal. 2012) is that they have amazing practical value. After all, the only advice the scientists gave the 23 obese women, who participated in the trial, were ...
  • reduce the initial body weight by at least 5% and, unfortunately,
  • eat a "healthy" diet containing 55%, 30% and 15% of the caloric intake from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, respectively.
While I would agree that the macronutrient ratio may not be exactly optimal, it is still the way most people try to get rid of their superfluous body weight. What is yet even more important that the subjects were free to chose how exactly they would achieve this ends (at least this is how I understand the detailed description of the dietary protocol). The result was that some of the participants lost their ~6kg of body weight within 5-weeks (n = 5), while others took their time and "dieted" for 15 weeks (n = 5) until the 6kg of had fallen off their ribcage, buttocks and who knows whichever other problem areas the ladies had (with 5 women in the rapid and 5 women in the slow weight loss group, this obviously leaves 13 women who were excluded from the analysis, because they did not fit in any of these groups).

Rapid vs. slow - biggest loser vs. leanest winner?

I guess if this study had been part of the Biggest Loser TV show, the ladies in the "slow" weight loss group would already have been voted out before they had made it to the -5% body weight weight-loss limit. After all "fast", "rapid" and "immediate" are what everyone is looking for these days and "slow" and "steady" is for the real, not the "biggest losers" - right?
Figure 1: Prescribed macronutrient composition, identical for all subjects (left), and average caloric deficit (in kcal /day) in the rapid weight loss and slow weight loss groups (right, data based on Sénéchal. 2012)
Well, if you take a closer look at figure 1, this assumption begins to totter. After all, the ladies in the "slow" group had a caloric deficit of only -465kcal/day. Their counterparts in the rapid weight loss group, whose average caloric deficit was -1,338kcal/day, on the other hand, must have literally been starving for 5 weeks straight to achieve their goal - after all, the level of voluntary physical activity remained stable. Exercising the food away, which is a major part of the (idiotic) Biggest Loser regimen, was thusly not part of the equation, the body weight / composition specific results of which I have summarized in figure 2:
Figure 2: Reductions in weight, waist circumference, total and compartmental fat mass expressed relative to daily kcal deficit in the rapid and slow weight loss groups; relative difference in effect sizes slow vs. rapid (in %) are indicated right above the individual bars (data calculated based on Sénéchal. 2012)
As you can see, the negative side effects of the "quick fix"-mentality which gets so many people into a situation, where they have to shed weight, in the first place (fast food, coffee to keep going, sweet treats to get over the day, etc.) are similarly detrimental as the original ones. While you cannot debate that the women in the "rapid" weight loss group lost more than two pounds of body weight per week, this success came at the expense of a highly relevant -2.6kg loss in lean muscle mass (60% less loss in lean mass per calorie by which the subjects reduced their caloric intake compared to baseline) - "metabolic currency", as my friend Carl Lanore likes to say that would not only help them to keep the weight off in the future, but is also a indispensable prerequisite for mobility and health up until the old age. With the data in figure 2 being expressed on a "per kcal-deficit" basis, it becomes even more obvious how wasteful this starvation approach to weight loss actually is - not only in terms of losses in lean mass, but also in "what you get" for the effort (hunger) you invest: more than + 200% more weight loss and reduction in waist circumference per kcal and more than + 400% greater reductions in total, trunk and appendicular (inter-organ) fat speak for themselves - don't they?

Losing slow = losing steady = losing healthy = winning in the long run

If we also take into consideration that the "slow losers" experienced greater reductions in blood pressure and a 4x higher reduction in triglycerides (probably a way better marker of overall health than the likewise reduced levels of total cholesterol), it stands to reason that "starving the fat away" is no viable option, regardless of whether you are obese and trying to get down to a healthier weight, or whether you are a competitive bodybuilder who wants his muscle to shine in all their "disgusting" glory.
Image 2: Regardless of whether you want six-pack abs, like Adelfo or just a "flat tummy" like one of the Shape cover models; starving yourself won't get you there. The tummy wants to be filled appropriately, otherwise it will advice your brain to make sure that the fat under skin and even around the organs won't disappear.
Just a final note: I don't think that it is incidental that this is yet another trial where the "magic no." (although I don't think you should focus too much on that) is ~400-500kcal/day and thusly by no means more than ~30% of the regular total caloric intake, which would be necessary to remain at a stable weight. Anything beyond that, may produce impressive results on the scale... but it will neither result in a continuous nor sustainable reduction in body fat levels and will program you to the ravenousness, about the negative psychological consequences of which Adelfo has written quite extensively in his latest blogpost. It is also becoming increasingly obvious that "hunger and satiety hormones" like GLP-1, CCK, PYY & co exert profound regulatory effects which go way beyond making us raid the fridge: They also make our bodies sacrifice energy consuming muscle tissue and fight for each individual fat-molecule it has stored away over the years... keep that in mind, before you rejoice over another 10lbs you lost within less than 2 weeks | Comment on Facebook!
  • Sénéchal, Martin, et al. "Effects of rapid or slow weight loss on body composition and metabolic risk factors in obese postmenopausal women. A pilot study." Appetite 58.3 (2012): 831-834.