Beware Of Under-Eating!
"Eat less, move more"
This oversimplified statement has been drilled into our heads for years as a sure-fire way to lose weight.
After all, it seems easy enough, and logical that you need to burn more calories than you're consuming in order to lose body fat.
You 'eat healthy' and train consistently 3-5 days per week, but what happens if the 'energy in' side of the equation is already too low?
Here are a few questions I ask new clients:
- Did you initially take drastic measures to change your diet?
- Did you initially see fast results in terms of body composition?
- Have you plateaued for no reason, despite doing "all the right" things?
- Has your appetite decreased?
- Has your sleep quality and/or sex-drive decreased?
If you answered 'yes' to more than a couple of those, there's likely chance that your daily energy balance is too far into the red.
Firstly let me say this; I see this all time - and YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Let's also back things up just a little bit so we're all on the same page.
We know that small, incremental decreases in daily energy balance results in weight loss - and outside of tests on rodents, this point has been established beyond dispute by years of countless studies.
Through diet and exercise, people who have successfully changed their body composition have a solid understanding of this concept, and I discuss it in great detail during my workshops.
Below is a very compressed 'how-to' version of some of that content, without getting into the nitty gritty.
How Do We Prevent This?
- Calculate your BMR: Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy (calories) that your body requires to essentially stay alive, and run all of your different systems - immune, endocrine and reproductive, to simply name a few (think thyroid and adrenals). BMR is the BARE MINIMUM amount of energy your require each day, and does not account for. anything more than laying in bed all day. No walking, working, running, gym - nothing. Just basic functions! There are many calculators out there to help you come up with a solid estimate, and it only takes a few seconds.
- Track your calories for a few days: Using an app like MyFitnessPal, create a food diary to track a few days of your regular eating habits - no need to change anything yet, because we need to see where you're currently at (which presumably isn't working, and why I have a job!).
- Compare your daily calorie total to your BMR: Disregarding all activity output, are you under your BMR or over your BMR? And by how much?
If your daily calorie intake is greater than your BMR, that's a good start! But remember, your BMR doesn't include any activities at all, let alone exercising.
Factoring in multiple days per week of exercise and other activities, your daily energy requirements will go up substantially - and you need to meet those new requirements, otherwise you'll be poorly fuelled. More importantly, your body will still just be scraping by to run your basic systems, and your body certainly won't be concerned with burning body fat let alone building muscle.
You'll need to slowly increase your food intake to match your activity - and this can also be done via MyFitnessPal. Although completely counter intuitive to weight loss, eating a little more will pull your body out of a metabolic slump and you'll begin to see positive changes again.
If your daily energy is less than your BMR, then your focus needs to shift away from doing more exercise and instead be on consuming enough food to close that gap. Until then, you're just spinning your tires in the mud and will continue to not see any changes.
Bottom line; Once you're consistently consuming enough energy to fuel your bodies basic functions, you can also begin to factor in your activities and increase accordingly.
It's a Strange Paradox!
Eating more to lose weight is an incredibly hard concept for many people to wrap their head around because we've been brainwashed into thinking the opposite (which is only true sometimes)
Mentally, it can initially be very challenging to grasp, especially for females.
I've worked with dozens and dozens of female clients who struggled with this in the past. The physical feeling of a having a very full stomach is challenging at first. More than that though, mentally coming to terms with eating more can be the biggest hurdle. Re-establishing a healthy emotional relationship with food takes time and patience, but the ultimate payoff lasts a lifetime, and is extremely liberating.
Wrapping it up
Under-eating is an extremely common problem I encounter with clients.
If you're chronically under-eating, your body 'doesn't care' about burning fat because it has more important things to deliver energy to.
Slowly adding more food into a diet can result in more progress, break plateaus and more importantly, improve your overall health and day-to-day performance.
For chronic under-eaters, consuming more food can present big physical and emotional hurdles, particularly for females.
Like anything in life, good things take time and atience, and are best accomplished through incremental (and sustainable) improvement.
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