Why calorie restricted diets make you fat

stop dieting

Following on from my previous blog; where I explained why not to diet because of the Diet Cycle…

Today you will gain some educated understanding on why calorie restricted diets actually make you fat!

That’s right your diet could be working in reverse.

Restricted calorie diets, where you count calories, watch everything you eat, and effectively starve yourself hungry (i.e. reduce the calories in) while also going to boot camp or gym, and pushing yourself with hard exercise (i.e. increasing energy out) in order to lose weight; well… guess what… THEY DO NOT WORK.

There are numerous studies showing that weight lost with diets is regained within a year, often with interest. This is especially true during menopause.

Here’s why…

Restricted calorie diets tell the fat cells that starvation is approaching, and so to protect against starving they start storing every scrap of energy as fat. This energy comes in the form of food calories that we consume, so it is easy to see why we have been fooled into thinking that if we cut the calories we will not get fat.

Calories in our food come mainly as fat, carbohydrates and protein. Carbs have 4 calories per gram, while fat has more than DOUBLE this at 9 calories per gram. This is why too much dietary fat was seen as the reason why we get fat.

sugarAttention has shifted from fat to sugar in more recent times. To understand why sugar makes us fat you need to know a little about digestion and metabolism.

Fat and carbohydrates get digested in our gut into fatty acids and simple sugars which get absorbed into our bloodstream. The sugar goes straight through the gut lining causing an immediate increase in blood glucose.

Carbohydrates get broken down in the gut to simple sugars which are then absorbed, pushing blood glucose levels higher.

The fats get broken down by lipase enzymes and bile into fatty acids and glycerol which then get absorbed. The fatty acids go to cells for either oxidation for energy or for fat storage.

The glycerol can also be converted into glucose. So, all food calories cause an increase in blood glucose, but at different rates. This rate is called the glycemic index (GI).

Sugars have a high GI because they cause a rapid rise in blood glucose, whereas some carbohydrates that take a long time to break down only raise blood glucose a small amount and are deemed low GI.

GI graph

Why is blood glucose a problem?

High blood glucose leads to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and here is why.

Our bodies are designed to control blood glucose levels within a tight range of concentrations. The control comes from the hormone secreted from the pancreas – insulin.

As blood glucose goes up, it is detected by the pancreas which secretes insulin.

Every muscle, fat cell and liver cell in our body has receptors for insulin. Receptors are like the lock on the glucose door.

Insulin is the key that opens the lock and lets glucose escape from the blood and into the cells. This lowers the blood glucose level down to a normal range again.


The fat cells are the most important when it comes to insulin’s effects and to weight gain.

unhealthy-foodWhenever there is surplus energy from high GI foods converted to sugar and pushed into fat cells by insulin it gets converted to fat for storage. And when energy intake is too low, and blood glucose drops below the optimal zone, we get cravings and feel the need to eat – NOW!

If you have previously done a lot of calorie restricted dieting your fat cells have higher levels of fat storing enzymes and low levels of fat releasing enzymes. This is true for both men and women, so also partly explains the middle age spread in men as well.

These spikes in insulin are also very dangerous.

The lock on the door gets fatigued when the insulin key hits it too often – it gets worn out and increasingly more and more insulin is needed to open the door. This is called insulin resistance and is what leads to diabetes.

So what should we do?

Once we understand that it is these spikes in blood glucose that drives insulin levels up, and insulin is the key to the door into the fat cell, we can start to look at balanced nutritional strategies.

  1. healthy-foodAvoid blood sugar spikes by cutting down or cutting out all added sugar. Avoid sugary drinks, even fruit juice which seems healthy but is loaded with sugar. Avoid processed, packaged foods, most of which have added sugar. Start to notice the sugar levels on food labels and consciously avoid and reduce sugar.
  2. Look for low GI food sources that help with satiety – that feeling of satisfaction without being overly full. Protein and fibre are essential for satiety.
  3. Eat smaller meals more often. By keeping a regular flow of nutrients to our body we can avoid the binge that spikes blood glucose. Healthy snacks between meals that are high in protein will help take the edge off your appetite and keep a slow release of energy through the day.
  4. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water plays such an important part in weight management that it deserves a whole blog on its own. But for now just know that water helps with satiety, avoiding cravings and hunger, and helps keep body fluids hydrated and functional. It is also important to help flush out the breakdown products of fat metabolism when you are burning fat.

If you read my previous blog and have taken your assessment look in the mirror, accepted where you are at and want to progress in a self-loving way, with a balanced nutritional approach to managing how you look and feel, then stay tuned for my next blog in this series on weight management.

The Life Cycle

In the meantime start implementing the four steps above and start to feel more energy daily.

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This is the time when menstruation is well and truly over, the ovaries have stopped producing high levels of sex hormones and for many ladies, perimenopause symptoms subside.

Estrogen has protective qualities and the diminished levels mean organs such as your brain, heart and bones become more vulnerable. It’s also a key lubricant so your lips may become drier, your joints less supple and your vagina might be drier. In addition, your thyroid, digestion, insulin, cortisol and weight may alter.

At this juncture, a woman might experience an increase in the signs of reduced estrogen but she should have a decrease of perimenopause symptoms. That said, some women will experience symptoms like hot flushes for years or even the rest of their lives.


Peri = ‘near’

Most females begin to experience the symptoms of perimenopause in their mid-forties. Your progesterone levels decline from your mid-30s but it’s generally from around 40 that the rest of your sex hormones begin to follow suit. 

Perimenopause is a different experience for every woman and some women may barely notice it. The first indicators are usually changes to the monthly cycle. This means that for some ladies, this can be accompanied by things like sore breasts, mood swings, weight gain around the belly, and fatigue as time goes on.

For those with symptoms it can be a challenging time physically, mentally and emotionally.

Importantly, perimenopause lasts – on average – four to 10 years. The transition is usually a gradual process and many women enter perimenopause without realising.