When it comes to weight loss, it is generally true that a person needs to consume fewer calories then they burn to lose weight. This is called a calorie deficit and forms the basis for how most of us look at weight loss. Calories in versus calories out. Simple, right? But what if you’re eating less and exercising regularly but still not losing weight? Let’s look at how eating more might be your key to weight loss.
There are a couple of reasons when eating less would inhibit your weight loss. Regardless of the reason, it usually comes down to a survival instinct all of our bodies have. You see we all have a certain number of calories our bodies need in order to function each day. That number is different for everyone and is based on many factors, including age, activity level, and gender. Regardless of this, as a personal trainer, I generally advise no one to eat less than 1200 calories per day. Any less than that and you essentially starving yourself.
Why is starvation such a bad thing? Well, when your body thinks is starving, it holds on to as much energy in the form of fat as possible. Your metabolism also slows down as your body acts to conserve as much energy as possible. You can slow down your metabolism by not being very active, but this also happens when you go long periods of time without food. For example, if you have been trying to lose weight but only eating a couple of times a day, you probably fall into this category.
This may also be the problem with someone who skips breakfast in an effort to lose weight. When you skip breakfast your body has not broken out of the fasting mode from the evening and now thinks you are starving. Add to that your daily activity and your body does not have the fuel to keep up.
At this point you may wonder, “If your body is storing fat, shouldn’t I want to burn it off through exercise anyway?” Yes, you do want to burn excess body fat, but that’s not your body’s primary source of energy, so that is not what is going to get burned through first when you exercise. What happens is that your body will look to stores of glycogen first (fuel your body gets from carbohydrates).
When that is used up, then your body will look to protein and excess body fat. If you’ve ever tried to exercise and felt like you just had no energy or “hit a wall” then you have felt the beginning of that loss of glycogen and the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. Many runners have felt this (as I have) when training and running long distances. For relief we alternate water with carbohydrate-rich drinks or food. The point is that we have to give our bodies back what it needs in order to continue with physical activity.
Here are two situations that would cause you to hold on to or gain weight through starvation:
1. Not eating frequently.
This is the situation I covered above where meals are skipped or long periods of time exist between meals. Your metabolism slows down and your body is now trying to hold on to all that it can because it does not know when it will be refueled.
2. Not eating enough.
This is a similar situation, but usually happens when you are not consuming enough calories for your activity level. In this situation you may feel constantly tired and will not have the energy to perform your usual physical activities.
Regardless of which is going on in your life, here are some suggestions to keep your metabolism high to help you shed excess weight and excess body fat:
1. Eat every 2-4 hours.
By eating every 2-4 hours you get your body used to the idea that food is coming and it will use what you have given it. This is one major key to keeping your metabolism high and moving. If you are going out, make sure you take a snack with you to make sure you don’t get in a situation where you are starving and succumb to greasy fast food.
2. Drink plenty of water.
Not only will the water help flush out toxins from your system, but it will help you stay full longer. You don’t want to go through the day feeling like your starving.
3. Make sure you have your nutrients.
Every time you eat, try your best to include a source of lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, and a source of fiber. This does not have to be in 3 separate food items, but the point is to try and get them. All of these things help keep you full and digest more slowly in your body. By taking longer to digest and filling you up, you can go those 2-4 hours until eating again.
By making sure you eat regularly throughout the day and consuming enough calories to sustain your physical activity, you are setting your body up to keep a high metabolism and not to hold on to excess body fat and weight. Try the above suggestions to weigh less by eating more.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Coach Wendy, Independent Beachbody Coach