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How Low Calories and Too Much Exercise Can Hurt Fat Loss

An odd situation that some people often experience is one where combining very low calories and too much exercise can actually harm rather than help fat loss.  Though I’ve addressed this issue elsewhere on the site, I wanted to look at it again for the following reason.

An Interesting Case Study

This week, several people have brought a recent case-study to my attention and asked me for comment.  In it, a 51 year old female began marathon training along with a (self-reported) low calorie diet and either appears to have gained weight or not lost weight (she also showed a very depressed metabolic rate, nearly 30% below predicted).

By raising her calories gradually, her body fat (as measured by BIA) came down and her metabolic rate increased.  Now, without more details, it’s hard to really comment on this and the link to the case study is the total amount of information available.

But we’ve got an older (either post-menopausal or peri-menopausal) woman, undisclosed anti-depressant medication, self-reported food intake and a method of body fat measurement that is, at best, problematic.  Odd things happen metabolically around menopause, some medications can cause issues, food reporting is notoriously inaccurate and BIA isn’t ideal to track changes.  Then again, the measured metabolic rate change is pretty interesting; something was going on.

I actually discuss the above situation in great detail in The Women’s Book.  And it has to do with something called energy availability (EA).  This represents the number of calories “left” for the body after exercise has been taken into account.  And when it falls too low, women’s bodies react by lowering metabolic rate, raising cortisol, dropping thyroid hormone, etc.

In that situation, raising calories, or specifically EA, has the benefit of improving metabolic rate along with many other benefits.  That said, there are other things going on with the combination of low calories and too much exercise that can seemingly impact this.

My First Experience with Low Calories and Too Much Exercise

Back in my early 20’s, I remember a very specific client I had.  She was a little bit, well, to be honest nuts.  She was older, I think she had gone through menopause but I wouldn’t swear to that.  In any case, she started working with me, determined to lose weight and immediately jumped into something like 2 hours of cardio per day and cut calories massively.  She claimed 600 calories per day and claimed dit was insane.  She claimed, for example, to be eating half an egg for breakfast.  How do you eat half an egg?

Now, I didn’t know much at that point but I had this general idea that too much activity and too few calories was a bad thing.  For weeks on end I entreated her to either cut her activity or raise her calories.  She adamantly refused.  I mean, how could that possibly work?  I tried to point out that what she was doing wasn’t working either and she could hardly do worse by trying something different but that line of logic went nowhere.

In any event, at one point she went on a cruise or a vacation or something.  And what do you think she did?  Exercised less and ate more like everybody does on vacation.  And she came back something like 5 pounds lighter (some of which may very well have been The LTDFLE mind you).  “See, see.” I told her, “You ate more and exercised less and good things happened.”

And she immediately went back to a massive caloric deficit and over-exercising.  But that’s how it goes sometimes.

My Own Experience with Low Calories and Too Much Exercise

Later in my 20’s, mind you, I’d do the same thing during the now infamous Bodyopus experience (probably the singular experience that taught me what NOT to do during a fat loss diet).  Frustrated by stalled fat loss (I had dieted far too long at that point in the first place), I worked even harder, cutting calories further and adding more activity.  That coupled with some genuinely awful “carb-loads” (that were too high in fat intake) brought fat loss to a standstill.

In addition to those case studies, this is a phenomenon that I’ve seen elsewhere including the support forum, I imagine readers run into it constantly: people (frequently but not always women) who try to combine excessive caloric deficits with massive amounts of activity (often with a lot of that activity being high-intensity activity) and nothing is happening.  And if you can get them to reduce activity (or just cut back the intensity to reasonable level) or increase calories, things invariably start to work better.

Let’s Talk about Cortisol

.Cortisol is one of those hormones that I imagine everyone reading this has heard about and about which a lot of misinformation exists.  Simply cortisol is a stress hormone, released by the body in response to nearly all kinds of stress.  In the fitness/bodybuilding world, cortisol has gotten an almost exclusively negative reputation (cortisol is ‘bad’ in the way that testosterone and thyroid are ‘good’) although this is simplistically incorrect.

Rather, whether cortisol does good things or bad things in the body depends on how it’s released.  Simply (and I’d simply, ha ha, refer folks to Robert Sapolsky’s amazing book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for a detailed look at this; I also talk about cortisol in The Stubborn Fat Solution), acute pulses of cortisol tend to do good things and be adaptive and chronic elevations in cortisol tend to be bad and be maladaptive.

For example, the morning cortisol pulse helps to promote fat mobilization.  In contrast, a chronic elevation of cortisol (especially in the face of high insulin levels) tend to promote visceral fat accumulation.  As a non-fitness related topic, acute pulses of cortisol tend to be good for memory which is why we often remember stressful situations in such detail.  In contrast, chronically elevated cortisol, as occurs in depression, makes memory go down the toilet.

There are endless other examples of where acute cortisol pulses are good and chronic elevations are bad.  See Sapolsky’s book for details.

In any case, dieting in general is a stress.  And of course training is a stress.  And the more extreme you do of each, the more of a stress occurs.  And I suspect that a lot of what is going on when folks try to combine excessive caloric deficits with massive amounts of activity is that cortisol just goes through the roof (there’s another issue I’ll come back to at the end that relates to this).  Simply, you get these massive chronic elevations in cortisol levels.

There is also a personality profile, called a restrained eater (specifically rigid eaters) that has been shown to have elevated cortisol levels to begin with.  In my experience, it’s usually those people drawn to extreme diets while trying to perform excessive amounts of exercise.

Tangentially, this is also one reason I suspect that various types of cyclical dieting help with some of this issue.  For at least brief periods, when calories are raised to maintenance or above, you break the diet/training induced elevations in cortisol.  This of course assumes that the person isn’t mentally stressed to the nines by raising calories like that but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why is Excessive Cortisol Bad?

.As noted above, chronic elevations in cortisol can cause a lot of bad things to happen. One of them is simply water retention and I’ve mentioned in previous articles that water retention can mask fat loss, sometimes for extremely extended periods.

I talked about this in some detail in The LTDFLE and suspect that some of the ‘fat loss’ is actually just water loss when calories are raised and cortisol mediated water retention dissipates.  Reducing total training (volume, frequency, intensity or some combination) does the same thing.

But that’s probably not all of what’s going on.  Another effect of chronically elevated cortisol levels is leptin resistance in the brain.  I’m not going to talk about leptin endlessly here again since I’ve done it elsewhere.  When the normal leptin signal to the brain is blocked, a lot of things can go wrong metabolically and I suspect that this is part of the problem.

In this vein, although not necessarily related to cortisol per se, at least one study found that the addition of 6 hours per week of aerobic activity to a very low calorie diet (in this case a protein sparing modified fast) caused a larger decrement in metabolic rate than the diet alone.  The body appears to monitor caloric availability (simplistically caloric intake minus output) and if it gets too low, bad things can happen.

This is why I so strongly suggested AGAINST the inclusion of much cardio in The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook.  It causes more harm than good.  Invariably, the biggest source of failure on that plan is when people ignore my advice and try to do a bunch of cardio.  And fat loss stops.

In any case, there are several different plausible mechanisms by which the combination of excessive caloric deficits an large amounts of activity can cause problems.  Whether it’s simply cortisol related water retention, a drop in metabolic rate due to leptin resistance or something else, something is going on.  From a more practical standpoint, for a lot of people, the combination simply doesn’t work.  Mind you, some seem to get away with it but not all.

An Additional Variable: Personality

.There is another variable that I have noticed over the years in looking at this issue.  As odd as it sounds, it has to do with personality.  In discussing this, for example, I’ve often noted that the people who seem to have the biggest issues with the whole lots of cardio/big caloric deficit tend to be a little bit ‘tightly wound’ (to put it politely).  A bit less politely they are stress cases.

You can almost “hear” the stress in their typing.  Every post has lots of exclamation points and there is this undercurrent of “I MUST LOSE FAT NOW!!!!!!”  in their posts. When fat loss stalls for a day, they freak out and want to cut calories or go add another hour of cardio.  You can almost “see” the tension in them as they sit hammering at the keyboard looking for solutions.

And this is an issue because these types of folks already over-secrete cortisol.  As a true oddity, there is the issue of amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle).  Typically it’s been thought to be related to body fat levels or caloric intake and this is a general cause.  But there is often a type of amenorrhea seen in women without any of the normal predisposing factors.  In this case, it’s all due to mental stress.

Basically, there is a subset of folks who are already high-level stress cases. They tend to be drawn to harder is better in the first place, tend to be resistant to change (like my client from my early 20’s) and their already high level of cortisol production is simply amplified by the combination of too much activity and too few calories.  And suggestions to raise calories and/or reduce activity are invariably met by resistance (again, like my client from ages ago).  What they really need is to just chill the hell out.

But invariably the approach that they are intuitively drawn to is the wrong one for them: moderate deficits and moderate activity always work better in those folks.  It’s getting them to do it that’s the hard part.

Tangentially, I suspect that the classic hardgainer is of a typical type but that’s another topic for another day.

An Exception: End Stage Extreme Dieters

I guess I should mention a seeming exception to this that often comes up.  In extreme dieters, here I am talking about those dieting to the extremes of low-bodyfat such as physique athletes, it’s common to see low calories coupled with very large amounts of cardio.

Now, certainly these athletes can show what I feel is stress related water retention that seems to stall fat loss.  However, as often as not they do not.  Again, this is especially true if they incorporate refeeds and diet breaks which helps to briefly break the over-secretion of cortisol.

But there is an additional issue which is adaptation.  In general, dieters who have reached that level have been gradually bringing down calories as they increased activity over fairly long time periods.  In the modern era contest diets may last 6 months so it’s not as if they start on low calories with lots of cardio.  This gives their bodies time to adapt and is far different from the person who jumps straight into low calories with tons of cardio.


.So that’s that, a look at one of the oddities of fat loss, the situation where the combination of excessive caloric deficits and excessive amounts of activity seem to hurt rather than help fat loss, along with some gross speculation (and just enough research to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about) on what may be going on.

In a practical sense, of course, most of the background isn’t that relevant.  The simple facts for the majority of folks is this: you can either cut calories hard OR do large amounts of activity.  But you can’t do both.  Well you can do both, you just probably shouldn’t under most circumstances.


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40 thoughts on “How Low Calories and Too Much Exercise Can Hurt Fat Loss

  1. And then the problem is that the person who’s been doing all this heavy dieting and exercising says “nothing’s gonna work for me, I might as well give up,” and since they’ve been doing all this heavy dieting, goes diving headfirst into the Oreos and screws up the progress they’ve made.

    How do you teach people patience? Not sure you can ever keep people from overdoing things when they’re so damn impatient.

  2. Very well written as you described me to a TEE but i suppose that makes sense as a recently recovered anorexic with amenorrhea. none the less, well written, but now you need to convince the stubborn to change.

  3. Lyle, I just wanted to comment on this Blog entry because it hit home for me.

    I have been following your RFL for the last 3 1/2 months. Not 100% perfect mind you but as best as I can. little over 300lbs to start and as of yesterday 259 lbs

    I have dropped over 45 lbs (of fat). My lifts have increased, my strength has increased. My energy is fantastic during the lifts too.

    I used to be the follower of Eat less and workout out more (harder/more often) Until I read your book. Now I eat way less and workout maybe 2x a week (Always at least once) full body routines (heavy lifts, short rests and no longer than an hour in the gym)

    Its the first time in my life that things seem to be working for me in dropping the weight. And if I fall off the RFL wagon for a couple of days I dont jump back up in weight, its amazing. I followed Keto for a while and every time I would fall off or have a bad carb load my weight would balloon. I never made progress.

    I have to say that its proof positive in me, Eat less Workout less and feel great. Thank you!

  4. Hi Lyle, it’s interesting that you put this post up because I’m about to implement the principles you mention in your Rapid Fat Loss Handbook. I also see that you’ve alluded to it in this blog post and I hope you don’t mind if I asked you some questions about it. 

    You obviously talk about very low calorie diets. Is the PSMF that you outline in that book a very low calorie diet and is it feasible to do it for 4 weeks straight with only a refeed once per fortnight? My caloric intake on the diet will range from 700-800kcal each day.

    Also, I’ll not be really following your guidelines on the lifting, but doing a Turbulence Training programme, except that I’ll be lowering the rep range to 6-8 reps per set at heavy weights and cutting out interval training and any kind of cardio, except steady-state walking for an hour every day. I will be using this type of programme as I’m on the12-week TT Transformation contest and will be going off 6 weeks of eating above maintenance and carb cycling as in Martin Berkhan’s guidelines to gain lean mass. I’m wondering if my activity level would cause any catabolic effect. Other than these activities, I’ll only be lightly active as I’m studying for my exams and won’t really be going anywhere far from home.

    Thank you for your time. Your book is excellent.

  5. Lyle

    Great to see you posting again. Enjoyable and informative, as usual.

    In this post you mention an experience you had when you did bodyopus. It made me remember the posts you did when you were preparing for your inline races and the races themselves. Those posts, although you called them ‘ self indulgent ‘ were an excellent window on how your ideas work in real life. There is just something about seeing a concept manifest in the flesh that helps one to understand and apply it.

    As regards what you said in the last few paragraphs, i wonder if the benefits touted for wine drinking, and reasonable ( ha ha! ) alcohol consumption is all about helping people to be less of a tightass and to just chill. Ya think ?


  6. Martin,

    ” i wonder if the benefits touted for wine drinking, and reasonable ( ha ha! ) alcohol consumption is all about helping people to be less of a tightass and to just chill”

    One of the reasons people who drink in moderation live longer than those who abstain are due to them engaging more socially and having a larger social support network. The non-drinking population tend to include more loners, i.e. more introverted people. Generally speaking, an introvert tend to be more of a tightass than an extrovert.

  7. Lyle,

    I’m trying to untangle some of your comments. In terms of “excess cardio” exactly what makes it excessive: merely its contribution to the overall caloric deficit or is the excess resulting in an overtraining situation?

    In other words, can you tolerate increased cardio (assuming adequate recovery time) balanced with a caloric intake that results in some deficit with an upper limit of perhaps no more than 1000 calories per day?

    Is the upper limit of a deficit related to some physiologic limit on liberation of FFA from adipose tissue such that trying to go above that limit results in a chronic cortisol response?

    I recall an article looking at factors that contribute to metabolic rate and caloric intake and “vigorous” exercise were the only major contributors.

  8. Very interesting, Lyle!

    And Martin; That’s exactly what I thought when I read your alcohol article. And I’ve not been the most social guy myself the last few years, and I didn’t drink. But I’ve changed a lot the last year or two, less of a ‘thightass’ and I now enjoy alcohol in social situations. And as everyone else knew before me; it’s fun, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to be social when you are drinking.

    I see no reason to drink when I’m alone, though.

  9. I was in same situation ( I am 43 and specialized in ski-cross and weightlifting) and balancing calories and tranings scedule for performance and good form in terms of fat.

    The question is – if i add additonal cardio some day- do I need to compensate it by additional food intake?

  10. I see this ALL THE TIME, literally all the time, especially in many of my clients who are competitive bodybuilders. They come to me doing 2/day cardio, no breaks from weights, super high volume training, and are on a low calorie ketogenic diet and not losing any weight and way behind schedule…..I cut their cardio in half, put them on a moderate carb intake and make them train with less volume and rest days and magically, boom they start dropping like clockwork.
    I had some rudimentary speculations and thoughts on it, but it’s really refreshing to see it all laid out and find out that I’m not crazy. I have done this myself btw a few times….sigh.

  11. Lyle, great article.

    I found this a while ago:

    It’s basically saying that body fat can only release 30 kcals per day, per pound, so as you get leaner your defecit needs to be much lower. So a 170 lb male at 10% BF can only ‘diet’ by about 500 kcals daily before eating into LBM; but a 170lb male at 7% could only diet by about 300. It explains why it’s so hard to maintain very low BF levels.

    I would ball-park the average male sweet spot to be 10-12% BF where daily diet fluctuations dont make massive differences to composition.

    You are mentioned in the precis, but it seems to make perfect sense to me. Rapid fat loss at the outset, but to achieve the ‘movie star’ body you’d need to seriously micro manage your diet lower than 10% BF.

    What do you think?

  12. Fredrik,

    there is a very good reason to drink when you’re alone: it’s good! Beer = good (that is, good beer is good), wine = good. Primarily with food of course.

  13. Hallelulah! Seriously you are an answer to prayer. I have been “stuck for the last 6 months with only 2# fat loss, cardio 2x/d and heavy wt. training, plus I have an extremely physical job. My BMR is 2800kcals and I had a moronic trainer that insisted I cut to 1200kcals/day. (I fired him after 6 weeks), but I only raised my intake by 200 calories, (whose the moron now?) afraid that I was going to gain, gain. gain.

    My last show was 5 weeks ago, and I packed on 20# of water weight in 2 days, and havent been able to get rid of it.

    I have been “freakin'” to say the least. I am 41, female, and have been dieting hard and straight for 19 months. I lost 80#, so I was really afraid that I was going to gain it all back.

    What can I say; Thank you, I heard you loud and clear, think I will take the night off, go eat some food!

  14. Hey Lyle,

    Just wondering, was this your only post in September? Don’t see any others in your RSS feed. Just making sure I’m not missing out. =)

  15. Writer’s block is awful.

  16. Lars, I really don’t like the taste of neither beer or red wine.. When i drink, it’s mostly spirits mixed with soda or juice – or au naturel 😉

  17. Lyle, I’ve been reading your site for years and this article is basically a summary of what I’ve learned as it relates to my own physiology. After almost 4 years of trying to lose weight – stalling hard at 55 lbs. lost, then regaining 15 – I have read so many articles, forum posts, blogs, etc. that I basically put myself through an Endocrinology 101 course.I am a grad student and neuroscience researcher so I have been using my research skillz for years to try to figure out what was mitigating the calories in vs. calories out equation for me. For a while I was convinced it was eurothyroid sick syndrome. But this summer I happened upon the cortisol story and all of a sudden it made so much sense.

    Like many grad students, I have the OCD but I use it for good :). I don’t act tightly wound but I definitely am. I also tend to think “harder is better.” I KNOW from meticulous calorie counting that my BMR is closer to 1700-1800 rather than the 2300 my height/weight/age would predict. But I let two different nutritionists and one trainer convince me otherwise and put me on plans that didn’t get me the results I wanted.

    Now that I am 99% sure what is going on I feel like I can make much more informed decisions about my health. Thank you. Honestly without this site I might never have figured it out or it would have taken MUCH longer.

  18. look if you are in a calorie deficit, u r going to lose weight period. those people tell you that they can lose weight being in a calorie deficit is pure bs. either they are overestimating there food intake or got a rare disease. 1 of them 2. just do a cyclical diet with low carb and calorie deficit and yo are good to go . and like lyle said , take a week of every
    6 to 8 weeks. done

  19. A massive reduction in your caloric intake coupled with a substantial spike in your activity level is, as Tom Venuto puts it, “physique suicide.”

    With that said, I am still guilty of doing it. The reason is, as was stated above, impatience. I also tend to fall in love with the quick results I get from my program

    I will eat like crap and get no formal exercise for a significant period of time, which invariably leads to an increase in body fat. Then, all of the sudden, I will become extremely motivated and will start doing 1-2 hours of high intensity cardio a day, along with moderate amounts of strength training. All the while I will be consuming around 2,000 calories a day. The result after 1-2 weeks of doing this, is I will typically lose between 1.5-2″ from my waistline. Great results by anybody’s standards.

    However, my body aches beyond measure, recovery is hindered and there is a palpable reduction in my strength. Sure my abs look better, and I find my quick progress to be intoxicating. However, the problem is I can’t maintain this frenetic pace for very long. Which then leads to me binging on all the foods I have been depriving myself of, and I suddenly find myself back to square one. This pattern is as predictable as the day is long LOL.

    Even though intellectually I know this is the wrong way to go about, those quick results are hard to say “no” to LOL. This approach mirrors my personality in that I tend to be a capricious guy, which means there are lots of highs and lows in my life. I’ve never been an “even keel” kind of guy. It’s just not in my DNA.

    However, I realize that if I continue to elevate my cortisol levels as I have been doing, it will sound the death knell for my progress long term. Maybe this article will be the antidote I need to finally convince myself that “more is not necessarily better.”‘

    Thanks Lyle! As always your writing is very informative and heavily researched.

  20. I don’t know if this applies to me. My calorie intake is not that low and I don’t think my workouts are excessive. I workout about 6 days per week and my calorie intake is about 1400-1700 calorie per day. My HRM indicates that I burn about 600-1100 calories per workout. Many have told me that I am not eating enough, that I should eat my exercise calories. All I know is that after losing 11 pounds, the scale has not moved in almost a month, so I must be doing something terribly wrong. I have been doing P90X, plus some Kickboxing workouts. Am I working out too much???

  21. Lyle,

    Perhaps a cure for writers block would be a deeper look into psychology and then maybe transfering how it applies to your own principles of fat loss, gaining muscle, etc etc.?

    You mention in another article you never bothered to look into anerexia or its psychological aspects.

    Forgive me for being a devil’s advocate, but you could always go back to looking at those things. haha

    Nice article, i’ve been suggesting your site to a MANY a people, so hopefully you will soon have an even larger following than you do now!

  22. Perhaps a better idea for you would be to not tell me how to do my job. If you read carefully above I did not ask for input on my writer’s block or lack thereof. Therefore I care exactly zero about your input.

  23. Hahahah i suppose you did. No need to be so hasty! A simple caring suggestion to a publisher of interest, from me anyways, was not intended as an insult. Nor did I intend to come off as if I own you or your site, or whatever.

    However, i suppose genius has its own way of working itself out. Forgive the trespass.

  24. + unintended trespass, anyways.

  25. I was researching about low heart rates, over training, and finally compulsive exercising.

    I’m so desperate, I badly need help. So please hear me out…
    I am 5’2 and 103lbs.

    I feel like an addict and exercising is my drug! For the past 3 years, I have been managing my weight by writing down everything I eat in a journal. I go to the gym regularly and I’ve had a nutritionist-dietitian since then. Reviewing my journals for the first quarter this year, I was eating a whole lot. Like 1,300 calories to 1,700 calories on weekdays and 2,000-2,500 on weekends. This is normal for me since Asians don’t eat as much. But during these days, I would still manage to lose weight with only a few days of working out at the gym. I was at 93 lbs January 2010.. Then come late July, that’s when I started gaining. I reached 100lbs and that’s when I panicked (because I was never 100lbs since 2007) So what I did was, I started cutting my food intake to only 900-1000 calories a day and doubled my gym workouts in a day. For example, I used to run the treadmill for a hour and do some free weights for 30 mins and still eat 1,300 calories a day. But now, I run the treadmill for an hour, do the elliptical for an hour and walk the treadmill again for thirty minutes!! And yet I wasn’t losing any weight. Being this addict, I use my Polar heart rate monitor almost 24/7. I attach it right when I wake up and remove it only when I need to take a bath or when I’m off to bed. So this gives my a rough estimate of how much I’m burning in an entire day. Back then, when I felt “normal,” I could burn 1700calories-2000 calories even without workout. With workout, I could burn 2400-3000 calories in a day. But now, I am burning 800 calories without workout. and 1700 doing an hour in the treadmill and an hour in the elliptical, plus 30 mins of walking!

    My question is, am I overtrained? I mean, I guess I am, because I seem to have all the symptoms like amennorhea (for 4 mos already), insomnia, muscle stiffness etc EXCEPT, my heart rate is very low. like 40bpm when am lying down of 50 when sitting. Most of what ive read about overtraining is that, the heart rate goes up.

    Another question is, if an overtrained person tries to recover by resting for a few days or weeks, does this mean that he/she will gain weight in the process?

  26. Hi Lyle

    This is def me and I have been doing it for about 8 years so how long do you think it would take eating more for me to start losing weight? I know this is a very general question but I just want to have an idea so I can tell if I should be progressing or being impatient! I have already cut my cardio in more than half and eating about twice as much as I used to and I have been doing this for one month.

    You’re the best 🙂

  27. Someone on a forum for CC linked this article and I am so glad I read it! Very informative, thank you so much! I suspected something like this was out there, as I noticed that I lost weight after eating MORE and doing less cardio! Glad to know it wasnt a fluke and good to have some direction to avoid wasting my time in the gym! Thanks again!

  28. I have seen in others, and my own experiment of one, that cutting calories and upping activity (especially long duration, steady state cardio) is a short-term solution that does far more harm than good. I now believe in building a bigger engine through resistance training, and training smarter. I spend less time in the gym and am in the absolute best shape of my life!

  29. Great post! I have read Sapolsky’s book and it is amazing!

    This reminds me of when I went on my first diet at the age of 14 and drastically cut my calories which inevitably backfired and resulted in a binge. That binge caused a weight loss of a few pounds. I agree with your idea of cyclical dieting. We always seem to lose some weight initially so if we ate enough to maintain our weight in between trying to lose we might activate some weight loss at the beginning of each cycle and then allow our body to get used to the new lower weight and give it some time to heal from the stress of losing. Thanks for the great information!

  30. Good stuff Lyle, love reading your website.

  31. Great article, but it puts me into a catch 22 situation.

    I am a cyclist, short 80 watts cycling power and about 15lbs over weight for racing performance. In my young days I could eat anything and cycle the calories away, but those days are gone.

    So, to gain 80 watts, my program asks for burning on average 2,000 calories in intensive exercise a day and without exercise intake should be around 1,700 calories.

    How far below 3,700 calories intake to loose 15 pounds?

  32. Lyle in your opinion does this seem like an illogical approach to fat loss if one were to carb cycle alternating med low and high days where the high days(1-2x) are purely for training purposes and and not enough to boost leptin then perhaps 1-2 bigger refeeds for physiological purposes as described in GTFD or s this simply more high days then needed? do u think this could work and be kept up for quite a while instead of continue cutting calories to see how much I can continue to increase and offset hormonal adaptations until of course my body weight changes and this will call for lower cals. thanks for any advice Lyle

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘411571586 which is not a hashcash value.

  33. The response by Martin Berkhan in reply to Martin mentioning Lyle’s last couple of paragraphs definitely appears to make good sense.

    My assumption is that even though alcohol has been shown generally in the literature to raise cortisol levels, the amount secreted by psychogenic factors outweighs that of the few drinks and being able to chill out a little.

  34. Small cortisol pulses are irrelevant and often adaptive.

  35. Half an agg:

    Boil, cut in half.

    Scramble, weigh out, use half the weight.

    Yes, it can be done.

    I’m more of a 2-3 egg omlette gal.

  36. I guess it can be done if someone is nuts. Which this woman was.

  37. Hey Lyle, So, I’ve been reading your books and started your rapid fat loss program 2 days ago. I’m 22 percent body fat and have loss 4 pounds (water) already. I have been following the diet and ECA stack exactly as written BUT…. doing 1 hour cross fit, followed by another hour of cardio fasted in the AM. I am so glad I read this because I am a dedicated “non crazy” person who will listen to reason. I had a friend who lost a ton of fat on extended cardio but, I’m sure they were not dropping their calories to 500 a day with zero carb and zero fat. I do love to workout but will be changing my workouts to how you prescribe in the handbook. I need to download the updated version. Is there a way to tell if you are throwing your adrenals out of whack??

  38. Hey Lyle!
    Awesome article I just stopped myself from doing a cardio double tonight thanks to it. Since I am now eating ready for my first competition and I decided to run 10 days of rfl in between my ud2 cycles.
    I am wondering though, in my work I walk for about 3-4 hours a day depending on the day and on average a step counter spits out 6000-8000 steps. Do you think this extra calorie burn is sabotaging my potential weightloss?
    Should I skip cardio all together and just leave the calorie deficit up to the walking?

    Thank you.

  39. Hi Lyle. Fascinating as always. I love your blog. I’m in this condition I think and I’m about to get a physical and blood test to see if there is a way to measure some of this. I was 340 in January 2012 and lost it through extreme calorie reduction and eventual cardio (which continues). I spent the first few months of 2015 in the 190s, but I’m hovering between 210-220 these days. There was only one month since June 2012 where I experienced a calorie surplus. All the other months have shown overall deficits of 500 to 1300 per day (including vacation binges followed by severe calorie restriction to get back on average). I’m 57 and six feel tall. BIA says 15.4 body fat (about 33.5 pounds). I do HIIT walks/runs five days a week (walking at 4mph outside or on a treadmill with minute-long all out sprints). Right now, I’m maintaining about a 3300 per day calorie burn (per Fitbit) and I’m taking in about 2400 on average. But, body fat loss has stalled for months now and I am hyper sensitive to carbs and sodium. As in, eating carbs/large meals three of four days in a row can literally put 15-20 pounds on me (all water, of course). I’m thinking I’m a classic example of this cortisol thing. Next up: true HIIT exercises instead of all the walking. Looking forward to the physical results to see what’s up. Thanks again for the entertaining and informative science. bp

  40. 2400 @ 210-220 is in the 10.5-11 cal/lb range. Eventually this may be too much and have to go lower as the body adapts. So 9-10 cal/lb might be a worthwhile place. It’s life.

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