The Calorie Hack Dr. Ian Smith Swears By For Healthy Weight Loss

Weight loss ranks up there as one of the most frustrating efforts. You start with strong motivation, using visualization to see yourself a few pounds lighter. On the days your diet becomes challenging, you remember the reasons why you want to lose weight. Yet if your diet fails or you gain the weight back, you're part of the 95% of dieters who don't succeed with permanent weight loss, according to The Ohio State University

One problem you can face is that your body gets used to restricting calories, so it slows down your metabolism. Dr. Ian Smith, author of the New York Times Bestseller "Shred," told Essence Magazine that it's important to vary your calorie intake from day to day to keep your body surprised. "Eating the same level of calories all the time leads to weight loss plateaus that can become frustrating and an impediment to your weight loss goals," he said. Researchers call this "calorie cycling" or "calorie shifting," and it might help maintain your weight loss by keeping your metabolism intact.

Shift your calorie intake

A 2014 study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine tested the idea of calorie shifting against typical calorie restriction. For six weeks, the calorie-restriction group reduced their daily calorie intake by 55% of what they typically ate (at least 1,100 calories) and followed a healthy ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. On average, the calorie-restriction group ate 1,186 calories a day with 55% of the calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 20% from fat.

The calorie-shifting group reduced their daily intake by 45% of the calories they previously consumed but were told to divide those calories into four separate meals throughout the day, spaced apart by 4 hours. The carbohydrate-protein-fat ratio was the same as the calorie-restriction group. They did this for 11 days, then ate about 45% more calories — about 20% fewer calories than before they started the diet — for three days. This group repeated this 11-day, 3-day cycle three times. Neither group exercised.

Although the calorie-shifting and calorie-restriction groups didn't differ in terms of weight loss, the calorie-shifting group kept more of the weight off four weeks after the diet. Their resting metabolic rate, or how many calories they could burn at rest, remained significantly higher as the diet ended and at the four-week follow-up. The calorie-shifting group also lowered their cholesterol, felt less hungry, and felt more satisfied.

Other weight-loss tips from Smith

As the study advised for its calorie-shifting group, Smith also suggests spacing out your meals every few hours. That allows enough time for your meal to be digested but not so much that your blood sugar dips or you reach for unhealthy snacks. It also stabilizes your hormones and prevents what Smith calls "fat hibernation," where your fat could stick around rather than burn. 

Keeping a food diary is also a good idea while you're dieting. A food journal will not only track what you are eating and how much but also the context in which you are eating — dining with friends, snarfing down a quick meal in your car, or relaxing alone with a healthy meal — which can help you identify any patterns you might encounter while trying to lose weight. You might also track your emotions when you're eating to see which foods you crave when you're stressed or depressed.

Smith also suggests drinking plenty of water, especially before a meal, to help you eat less. Water also gives your metabolism a slight boost while helping your digestive system do its work. Staying hydrated is also necessary if you want to burn fat. 

Smith says fiber is another important nutrient for losing weight. Look for whole-food fiber sources such as beans, vegetables, and whole grains.