Have you ever started a “diet” just to end up disappointed that you don’t lose any weight?
Have you ever started a “diet” and GAINED weight?
Have you hit a plateau in your current weight loss, and you’re struggling to decide on your next move?
What if I told you the problem might be that you’re not eating enough?
What if I told you that in many cases, you need to eat more to lose more?
What if I told you food (CARBS) are your friend?
Well, that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you. So sit back, grab a snack, and read on.
What You Need To Know:
We hear it all of the time – you need to eat less calories than you burn in order to lose weight. Which is true! You do need to be in a deficit of some sort, whether that’s by cutting back calories or increasing exercise. However, what most people fail to take into consideration is their Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), their Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), and/or their Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
MEAGAN I DON’T KNOW WHAT THOSE MEAN! Don’t worry, I’ll explain:
Your RMR is the amount of calories your body naturally burns every day just to basically live. Breathing burns calories, eating/digesting burns calories; your body is constantly working to keep you alive – and it needs energy (a.k.a. calories) in order to do that efficiently.
For MOST people, this number can be found by multiplying your weight by 10 (so a 150 lb person burns approximately 1500 calories per day without any additional work). *To note: this number may be lower for someone who is overweight/obese – try multiplying your weight by 9 if you’re overweight and 8 if you’re obese, and start there*
Your NEAT refers to any additional movements you make that are exercise related, such as talking with your hands, fidgeting, tapping your feet, etc. If you’re a hyperactive person, you’re NEAT is likely VERY high (like me, I’m like a freaking chihuahua).
Your TDEE refers to the actual number of calories you burn each day with additional things like walking, lifting, running, swimming, biking, playing sports, etc., a.k.a. purposeful exercise. THIS is the most important measurement to be aware of (in my opinion), and can be approximately calculated for you using a free online calculator.
Let’s put this into perspective, shall we?
So say this 150 lb person used in the example above is a 30 year old female, 5 foot 5 inches tall. She does moderate exercise 3-4 days per week and eats fairly clean. She decides she would like to lose a few pounds, and cuts her calories to 1200 (because for some reason that seems to be the number women like to go to, study done by me based on my various clientele).
The problem? For her body to perform optimally, she should be eating at least ~1500 calories WITHOUT the additional exercise or NEAT factored in. That’s 300 calories more per day her body needs in order to run at it’s best just to be at rest.
TO NOTE: if this is meant to be a short-lived diet (4-8 weeks) without expectations to keep the weight off (i.e. for a competition, a photo shoot, vacation, wedding, etc.), eating under your RMR could help lose a few extra pounds – but it will be much less sustainable than taking a better, more effective (and less miserable) route.
The Side Effects:
What happens when your caloric intake gets below your RMR?
Some common symptoms (that I’ve personally experienced) are:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Tummy Troubles (cramping, bloating)
- Poor Athletic Performance
- Mood Changes/Irritability
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles
- Cold Sensitivity
- Low Sex Drive
- And more… (basically if you’re eating low calories and you feel like shit [beyond reason], it’s probably because your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs).
Aside from the symptoms you may experience, you’re likely doing more harm than good when it comes to achieving your “goal body” or weight. Once your body gets below your RMR, your body will naturally choose to burn muscle over fat for energy in an attempt to store as much fat as possible for future use. It’s basic human survival.
In other words, sure, you may eventually lose the fat! But it will come at the cost of losing lean muscle, and your metabolism will be shot creating a vicious cycle of weight loss and weight gain.
A Better Route to Take:
Now that I’ve made you question everything you’ve ever been told, I’m going to tell you how you can use this information to help you finally reach your goals.
First, you need to get an understanding of your current caloric intake. The best way to do this is to track your food through an app like MyFitnessPal, but you could also just write down what you eat along with the caloric density of each food or drink. Do this for a couple of days to get a good idea of what you average on a regular basis.
Once you know your caloric intake, calculate your RMR.
This is an estimation purely based off of your height, weight, age, and gender. If you’ve had a history of yo-yo dieting and/or under-eating, your number may be a bit lower assuming your metabolism has slowed down.
And if you’re on the other end of this where you find that you’re severely over-eating, check out my recent blog post: 5 Appetite Control Strategies That Helped Me Stop Over Eating.
If you’re under this number, your first step is to SLOWLY start to increase your caloric intake (an immediate significant jump could lead to fat-gain). Add in 100 calories at a time, and if your weight stays about the same for a week, add in another 50-100 calories per week until you’re at least at your RMR.
My suggestion would be to continue to increase calories/food intake as long as you can while keeping your weight stable to find your true maintenance calories. This will help you take into consideration your NEAT and TDEE by determining the actual amount of calories your body needs to MAINTAIN its current state.
Pay attention to how you feel, your energy levels, your stress level, your menstrual regulation, etc. You SHOULD start to feel more energetic within a few weeks to a couple of months. This tells you that more food is exactly what your body needed.
Once you find this number of calories or amount of food (if you don’t want to track calories), make a goal.
If your goal is weight loss, subtract 200-300 calories per day in the form of calories AND exercise.
And again, if you aren’t interested in tracking calories, that’s okay. Stay conscious of your food intake, and estimate your caloric expenditure by using online calculators like this one telling you how many calories you approximately burn per an hour of walking.
If and/or when you hit your RMR level of calories, plateau, or start feeling the symptoms listed above, repeat the steps above to increase your metabolism and turn your body into a calorie burning machine (a.k.a. reverse dieting – you may have heard of it).
I KNOW this is a lot of information in one single post, but I hope it’s helpful. Feel free to reach out with any questions via this website, Instagram (@meagan.kaye), or Facebook (Meagan Swanson Fit), and I’ll be happy to help get you set up on a mock plan.
Also, I’m not encouraging you to go out and eat like an asshole. You’ll obviously feel like shit if you’re eating pizza and donuts every day, even if it’s under your RMR.
Fill your body with whole, nutritious foods (“shop the outside of the grocery store), and have the treats you want in moderation.
Till’ Next Time,