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Can Postmenopausal Women Reverse A Wrecked Metabolism From Yo-Yo Dieting?

For women who have spent years repeatedly losing weight with low calorie diets only to regain it (aka yo-yo dieting), it seems with each dieting attempt the weight loss is less and less until finally the scale just won’t budge. Ughh!

While there are certainly physiological factors at play here, often times I’ve found these women have an unwarranted fear that “I’ve wrecked my metabolism and now I’m doomed.”

Easy does it…take a deep breath and relax. Yes, there’s hope as a history of yo-yo dieting isn’t a life sentence for a sluggish metabolism and captivity in a body that’s unable to burn excess fat.

Breaking new research published in the journal Metabolism seems to confirm that postmenopausal women with a history of yo-yo dieting have not lost their ability to lose weight.

More after the jump…

This study looked at data from 400 overweight or obese and sedentary postmenopausal women which were randomly assigned to one of four groups.

- A reduced calorie diet only

- Exercise only (brisk walking)

- A reduced calorie diet plus exercise

- Control group (no intervention)

After one year, the exercise plus diet group lost an average of 10 percent of their starting body weight. No surprises there as the combination of exercise and diet invariably produces more physiological change.

But before we get into the specifics on the best way for postmenopausal women to lose weight, let’s look deeper into this study.

Researchers then analyzed the data to examine the impacts of a history with yo-yo dieting. Among the entire group approximately 20 percent met the criteria for severe weight cycling, which is defined as having lost 20 or more pounds on three or more occasions.

While the severe weight cycling group weighed an average of 20 pounds more than the women with no history of yo-yo dieting, there were no significant differences in their ability to lose weight, including body fat lost.


J. Metab June 2012- “History of weight cycling does not impede future weight loss or metabolic improvements in postmenopausal women.”

So what can we learn from all this?

Well, it certainly appears that women who have a history of yo-yo dieting do gain more weight and tend to keep it on over the years, the reasons are more complex than simply pointing to a wrecked metabolism.

They haven’t lost their ability to lose weight, but rather made weight loss from low calorie dieting alone more difficult. Equally important but seldom discussed, is the fact that they’ve developed reoccurring patterns with behavior and belief systems.

I’ve long held the position that yo-yo dieting doesn’t necessarily permanently wreck the metabolism. There’s been enough cases of reversals in my experience working with personal training clients to confirm this assertion.

While physiological changes in the body does occur with repeated yo-yo dieting attempts, and resetting balances does take time, it most certainly can be done.

What really happens in the body with yo-yo dieting…

There’s no question that metabolism slows down with each yo-yo dieting attempt. Most everyone knows that metabolic slowdown is often the result of the body being put into starvation mode with prolonged low-calorie diets.

This is a basic self-preservation mechanism that’s pretty easy to understand. Starve your body long enough and it adapts by lowering metabolic rate and works to store body fat at every opportunity.

What’s really behind all of this at the physiological level is a complex series of changes with hormonal balances and lean body composition.

In a nutshell, the thyroid gland reduces production of thyroid hormone which sends a signal to lower metabolic rate and body temperature. In the absence of sufficient energy to meet resting metabolic rate needs, the body begins to sacrifice it’s own lean muscle tissue.

This creates a cascading series of events with other hormonal balances being impacted and muscle mass being lost. With each passing attempt, more muscle is lost and metabolic rate continues to decline.

More than ANYTHING else, it’s the loss of lean muscle tissue that does the most damage from a metabolic standpoint. With supportive nutrition and the right diet, the body can turn off the fat-storing switches and turn on the fat burning switches.

However, without a “concern for muscle” the actual fat burning will be hard to come by since metabolically active lean muscle is the only place body fat can be used for energy production.

Therefore, the PRIMARY concern for postmenopausal women who have repeatedly practiced yo-yo dieting is rebuilding muscle mass.

No amount of cardiovascular exercise will do the trick. You can spend hours trudging away on the treadmill, elliptical, or stairclimber in attempt to “burn calories,” but it’s not your answer.

There’s no shortage of women who can raise their hands and attest to this fact. But once again it goes back to the fundamental flaws with belief systems.

Low calorie diets work best for weight loss…

The more calories you burn with cardio the better…

Weight training is going to make me bulky, I only want to lose weight…

These are all absolutely and definitively FALSE!

So what is the key for postmenopausal women to lose weight?

Let me be completely blunt and honest with you. If you’ve repeatedly performed yo-yo dieting and have lowered your metabolism and lost a lot of muscle in the process, it’s going to take more work on your part to reverse it than a woman who’s not cycled their weight.

It’s not that you can’t do it, there will just be more time involved and work on your part. You’ll have to be patient and simply commit to the time-tested and proven strategies that work to reverse metabolism and burn excess body fat.

From my experience working with hundreds of postmenopausal women over the past twenty years (many of which who were previously yo-yo dieters), the most effective strategy is a combination of a supportive nutrition diet and burst training to support lean muscle development and favorable hormonal balances for weight loss.

The diet and nutrition side of things….

From a diet perspective, I’m not talking about one particular diet per say. You don’t necessarily have to be on South Beach, Atkins, or whatever diet. The fundamental common denominator, regardless of dietary preferences, is the support of lean muscle tissue through sufficient caloric intake from frequent small servings of whole, natural foods.

This is going to require you to completely abandon the mindset of calorie reduction being the all-important factor. You need to STOP dieting and learn to simply eat a balanced diet of supportive nutrition foods.

If you don’t do this you’ll never be able to provide the energy and nutrients needed to support the rebuilding of lost muscle tissue. Remember lean muscle holds the key and your diet must be centered on supporting it.

Instead of putting yourself in a box, which is what most diets do by restricting certain groups of foods and making others completely off-limits, simply look to follow the principals of balance and moderation.

Eat the healthy foods you know support lean muscle development the majority of the time, and leave room for the occasional treat in moderation. The more you try to make a certain group of foods or occasional treat in moderation “completely off-limits,” the more you’ll think about it and want it.

It’s like telling a kid not to go near the cookie jar. What’s in there that I can have and why can’t I have it? Because it’s off-limits I’ll want it that much more.

The illusion of willpower and discipline…

This is basic psychology that doesn’t change just because we grow up to be adults. The most successful women with weight loss from my experience have been those who simply changed the way they look at food.

It’s not like one day you’ll wake up and detest the taste of peanut butter pie or what have you, it will always taste good and provide a sense of pleasure from eating it. Let’s be honest here.

The fundamental shift in thoughts however is looking at that piece of pie and determining whether or not it will help you achieve the body you want or NOT.

When you really, really, want to make a change in how you look and feel, your thoughts will change and you’ll begin looking at things differently. Start with the desire, the strong emotional want for something different.

When you really want something bad enough, and you think about it day and night, your subconscious will help guide you to make the right decisions.

I know we’re getting into some deep meta-physical stuff, but it’s really true. Program your mind with a target and things simply fall into place. The whole idea that strict discipline and iron clad will-power is the key to weight loss success is nothing more than an illusion.

Discipline, behaviors, and good decisions are the result of repeated actions that come from an emotionally charged and laser focused mindset.

Exercise for the postmenopausal woman who wants to increase metabolism and lose weight…

The women in the aforementioned study who combined dieting with exercise (in the form of brisk walking) lost the most weight over dieting alone and exercise alone. That’s no surprise.

However, weight loss could have been significantly increased if the women had abandoned the low-calorie dieting for a supportive nutrition diet, and incorporated resistance training instead of just brisk walking.

All things being equal, resistance training will have more benefit for weight loss compared to cardio. The combination of both will have even greater benefit.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym doing weights and cardio. There is a way to incorporate both at the same time and get even greater benefit from hormonal responses.

What is it? I’m talking about the “burst training” that I mentioned earlier. Think about it as merely combining a series of resistance exercises with cardio bursts in a fast paced circuit style workout.

By combining the two in short bursts of high intensity effort you’re able to trigger powerful fat burning hormones like adrenaline and growth hormone.

In essence, you’re getting the best of both worlds all in one while saving time in the process. Sure it’s hard work and it won’t be the leisurely stroll on the treadmill while watching TV, but oh how it will be worth it.

Burst training workouts take less than 30 minutes to complete and in my experience represent an optimal means of time-efficient exercise for middle age adults (men and women alike).

This is exactly what we do at my Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios and the strategies of supportive nutrition and burst training principals have created numerous success stories and testimonials to back up the claims.

See for yourself by browsing through this website. The thing is I’ve built my business specifically to serve middle age adults who want to see a body transformation. After everything I’ve tried over the years, I’ve settled on these strategies not solely based on research or opinion, but rather because they worked better than anything else I tried with clients.

To put it simply if burst training wasn’t effective or superior to other methods from my experience, I wouldn’t be using it in my personal training studio. The results as they say, always speak for themselves.

The bottom line in all of this is YES, there’s hope in transforming your body regardless of age or what you’ve done to your metabolism and muscle mass in the past. It can be difficult making the necessary changes all by yourself, or for that matter knowing what your unique needs are.

This is where the support, accountability, and direction from a fitness professional can pay huge dividends. If it was just as simple as doing the right set of exercises or following a cookie cutter diet, I wouldn’t be of much service to people in my community.

As I’m sure you know, everyone is different and has a unique set of needs and conditions. Getting help with determining the best course of action for your unique needs, then having the support to “stick with it,” can make all the difference in the world.

If you live in the Charleston, SC area and would like to learn more about how I can help, sign up for a free no-obligations consultation at Shaping Concepts. No pressure to become a client, any way I can help I’m happy to do so, even if that’s just with some recommendations.

If you don’t live in the area feel free to hit me up with any questions. I may also know a fellow fitness professional in your area that could help.

My hope is that this post has in some way inspired you and given you hope. Don’t believe the lies that you’re forever doomed to be stuck in a body your not happy with because of a seemingly wrecked metabolism.

You can do it! But you’ll have to start with the decision to begin doing things differently than you have in the past. When the “old way” isn’t working any more the definition of insanity would be repeating it over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Be open to doing things differently, get help with making changes, then simply build a red hot desire to see a different you in the mirror.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fat Loss.