Remember how I told you I was snowed in on Friday? Well it’s been exceptionally warm today, so as a result I’m at home dealing with a flooded basement. Awesome.
Somewhere in-between ripping up carpet and tearing down drywall I managed to check my email this morning and received a very interesting question:
“Have you ever met someone who was eating too few calories for weight loss and then when they ate more, they lost weight?”
In my opinion fitness experts are making a huge mistake telling people that you can actually eat so little that you stop-losing weight.
Only in the diet industry could people get away with making a statement like this that lacks so much common sense.
I think this misconception is caused by the articles you read in bodybuilding and fitness magazines and is a prime example of obsessive compulsive eating (OCE).
If you dig down into the history of this theory you will find that it comes from the idea that all we have to do is slightly cut our calories to lose weight at a super accelerated rate.
Let’s analyze the classic example of a man attempting to get shredded by reducing is calorie intake from 2400 down to 2200.
Firstly, it’s important to realize that none of us really know exactly how much we eat.
Sure, we can get a rough idea by using tools like fitday.com, and we might be able to say we eat around 2400 every day, but we could be off by a hundred or so calories in either direction simply as the result of some bad rounding and incorrect estimating.
For instance, a food that is 100 Calories per serving could actually be 104, and the 2 servings you ate could actually have been closer to 2.5. These small little underestimations can all ad up pretty quickly.
Secondly, and here’s the kicker, we really have NO IDEA if 2400 was the right “maintenance” number to begin with!
Perhaps for the person in the example a true maintenance intake is actually 2332 Calories and the 2400 that he has been eating represents a very slow almost undetectable steady weight gain.
Now a reduction down to 2200 calories is barely a 4% reduction in calories. And, I guarantee that in this situation on any given day, 2200 could easily become 2300 and thus cause no weight change at all.
Hopefully by now you are seeing why over-analyzing your nutrition and focusing too much on numbers can cause “Paralysis by Analysis”. Things that should work on paper may not work in real life.
It may be true that over the long run even small changes like this can create big results, but it takes some serious amount of appraisal and adaptation to make weight loss happen at more drastic speeds.
So forget all of the numbers and equations and stick with what we know for sure-
If a certain amount of calories does not make you lose weight, then that amount of calories is the amount it takes to maintain your current weight at your current activity level.
To lose more weight you can either decrease the calories you eat, or increase the calories you burn. It does not matter who you are or what you do; this is the easiest most logical approach.
It also does NOT matter what person X eats or how much person Y exercises, it only matters how much YOU currently eat and if YOU are currently losing weight.
If you aren’t losing weight and you want to, then you must adjust your calorie deficit.
The idea that there is a dieting threshold and that dieting too much will actually stop weight loss is silly.
I think it is important to for us to look outside of health and fitness occasionally. A very harsh example of the effects of extreme caloric deprivation is people who suffer from anorexia.
These poor people reduce their calories to ridiculously low levels to the point where they waste away until they die.
They never hit a magic number where they stop losing weight. AND they see massive losses of muscle mass, so by the classic definition they would have 'slower' metabolisms, yet they still lose weight until they are a walking skeleton, and then unfortunately for many of them, until they are deceased.
I know this is a very harsh example, but it puts things into perspective, and corrects our myopic “health and fitness” view of how the body works.
People who advocate the idea of “eating so little that you stop losing weight” should Google image search anorexia just to remind themselves how ridiculous they sound. And, imagine how they must make families who have lost loved ones to anorexia feel when they say; “if you eat too little you won’t lose weight”.
Another, less tragic example are long distance runners.
These people eat a lot. And they eat a lot of Carbohydrates. But because of their training they still spend large periods of time in a caloric deficit.
This combination of intense exercise and not being able to make up for this level of training with the amount of foods they eat keeps their bodyweight and body fat at extremely low levels. It does not make sense that eating even less would slow their weight loss.
Lastly the idea that eating more will actually cause you to lose weight, is just typical of the OCE confusion that they use to fill the fitness magazines and that over the years has managed to dig its claws into the dieting paradigm.
If a long distance runner started to eat more food, they would start losing more weight? Similarly, would an anorexic lose more weight by eating more? I don’t think so.
Now I’m not condoning extremely harsh low calorie diets (I think a 10-20% reduction from a true maintenance is ideal).
What I am advocating is careful appraisal of the progression of a diet, and logical problem analysis for logical solutions. Follow this paradigm and nothing about weight loss ever has to be drastic.
If you lower your calories you will lose weight. If you continue to lose weight you will eventually hit a new weight that your lower calorie intake can maintain. This means you will stop losing weight.
If you lower your calories slightly again you will start losing weight again until your body reaches the weight that your new lower calorie intake can support. These changes may be very minor, but they still need to be made.
I will admit that drug use may skew everything I just said, as would people who are attempting to get to super freaky levels of near death body fat for a real bodybuilding show.
I’ve spoken with many trainers who have very unique stories about top level athletes who are getting down to incredibly low levels of body fat and who have stalled in their fat loss. If you are trying to go from 4.5% body fat down to 4% you are way outside of normal human physiology and I admit I’m not an expert in this area.
In this unique situation things like “refeeding” days may actually be warranted. Again, preparing people to be on a stage, near death, flexing for an audience is not my area of expertise.
For normal people trying to lose weight, maybe even get lean enough to have a visible "6-pack" of abs, everything I just said is my educated opinion of the way things work.
There is a lot of confusion out there, but none of it is really logical.
This is why I hate Obsessive Compulsive Eating. It just doesn’t make any logical sense.
Its time we started thinking like children again. If you asked a classroom full of 8 year olds what happens if they eat too much they’d all yell out “we’d get fat”. Ask them what happens when they eat to little, they yell, “we’d get skinny”.
This is why I follow the Eat Stop Eat program. I simply don't beleive that equations, calculations and estimations are effective tools for weight loss. I like finding an amount of food that I can eat and maintain my current weight, then reducing the amount I eat so I lose weight. I just makes the most sense to me.