It’s transformation Tuesday, and due to rebound weight gain, I’m 20lbs fatter than I was three years ago. After several years of restricting sugar, salt, and processed foods from my diet while lifting intensely, my body began to suffer on the inside. My case wasn’t too terrible, but I can’t lose weight anymore. I can lose a few lbs for a few days but I’ll crawl back up to my set point, as that’s what my body mandates based on the years of restrictive eating I’ve put myself through. During those years, I was not living up to my full potential because of fatigue.
Now, after gaining weight and eating intuitively, my energy is where I’d like it. I am myself. I am not a fatigued version of myself. I am the fullest version of myself. And this is because I’m not resisting rebound weight gain.
Bodybuilders have tried to resist the gain with “reverse dieting” which is a careful adjustment of calories after a competition to ensure hormones return to baseline while minimizing fat gain. But without fat gain, the hormones won’t achieve balance, as the mere presence of fat can stimulate the shift in hormones via the increase in leptin. Attempting to thwart this process will result in worse health. So you must ask yourself if you’re reading this, what is your goal? Is leanness more important to you than your health?
Enter leptin, the master hormone
Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells, and it is modulated by our caloric intake. Starvation reduces leptin and fat mass. Obesity involves increased fat mass and high leptin. One reason why children are going through puberty earlier is because of increased leptin levels, due to increased fat mass.
Fat signals to us that energy is available, thus allowing for costly functions such as reproduction. This is why competitive bodybuilders, dancers, wrestlers, and other athletes whose sports involve restrictive dieting experience a decline in reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
A recently published study for the first time examined serum hormone alterations in female fitness competitors; it’s basically modern-day female bodybuilding. It involves getting really lean. So lean in fact that many fitness competitors lose their breasts and get implants as a result, as I’ve discussed on Instagram. That’s obviously not a healthy sign.
But anyway, this study found that testosterone, estrogen, leptin, and triiodothyronine (T3 – the active thyroid hormone), fell in response to the 4-month dieting regimen and coincided with menstrual irregularities. After 3-4 months, testosterone and T3 failed to return to baseline, but the other hormones did. The fitness competitors also gained most of the fat that they had lost (a cause for celebration).
From the paper:
Anorectic females have very low serum estradiol (Tolle et al., 2003) and testosterone (Miller et al., 2007). Not surprisingly, in the present study, serum sex-hormones estradiol and testosterone both decreased during the diet. In addition, estradiol, but not testosterone, recovered at or close to baseline levels within 3–4 months of recovery.
This is just one study, involving 27 participants, but it does corroborate what we sort of know. Getting really lean poses health risks. What is the benefit then? I personally do not know, but I’m sure female competitors find value in the look achieved from this type of dieting. I know that I would prefer to be leaner than I am now, but I would not want to have to suffer internally via unfavorable hormonal alterations.
Studies like this one are fascinating, for revealing to us the evolutionary advantages of fat mass. Let’s celebrate fat! Obviously, excessive fat mass in obesity is a major burden. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Let’s celebrate the purpose of fat. The benefits of fat. Let’s broaden our understanding of adipose tissue, to more than an unsightly thing, but a valuable resource that has evolved to help us survive.
Our modern living situation has exemplified the problems with this evolutionary past. Our bodies protect us from weight loss, as throughout most of our evolutionary history, starvation was a threat (it still is for millions of people unfortunately). This is exactly why children born during a famine in the Netherlands in 1944-45 became obese. Nature was trying to protect them from a future famine. Nature wasn’t upset or anything; it just thought that rebound weight gain would balance things out.
Feed yourself adequately, and your body won’t find a reason to have to protect you from starvation via rebound weight gain. But if you have dieted a lot, your body will suffer the longer you resist the change. The benefits of rebound weight gain are thus your health. It’s hormonal balance.
If you struggle to eat intuitively and follow your body, realize that it can be a long process to change your habits and accept new ones into your life. I promise though that once you do, you’ll experience a different level of health. To get there you’ll have to confront your fears and reinvent yourself in a way.
To learn more about how to eat intuitively, you can download the free version of my intuitive eating ebook by signing up for my newsletter in the box below this post!
And don’t hesitate to reach me and schedule a free consultation to get started in this journey or ask me any questions you may have. I’ve come a long way in eliminating a restrictive dieting mentality and have embraced real health as a result. Let’s make this a movement!