Fewer Calories Isn’t Always Best for Weight Loss
Conventional nutrition education has always taught us that if we want to lose weight, we need to eat less and exercise more. Calories in versus calories out, right? Well, sometimes this equation doesn’t always add up.
Like any other science, the data is always changing. We are learning more and more every day, there are other factors that affect the equation. Dieting is rarely effective, and making continuous cuts to your caloric intake can do more harm than good in the long run. Yes, eating fewer calories than you burn is one factor that may influence the rate at which you lose weight, but there are other influencers to consider.
Some things to consider when trying to lose weight.
- Your current weight and metabolic rate are number one. This is your starting point which will provide you with a guesstimate of how quickly you currently burn calories.
- Your weight-loss history can affect your current efforts. If you have a history of dieting, you have likely altered your metabolic rate. It is more likely to be less efficient than it once was. Meaning, it will likely be more difficult for you to lose weight now than it was in the past.
- Your body will mirror your lifestyle. Some people just have more time. Some people eat different foods in their culture. Some people always get 8 hours of sleep, some people work 12 hour shifts every other week. Our bodies are a reflection of our lifestyles. The more changes you make in your day to day life, the more changes you will see in your body.
- Your hormones have a large say in your health. Hormones are our body’s conductors. They are chemical messengers signaling our cells what to do and what not to do. Some of which also control our weight. Thyroid and cortisol are two major hormones in this area that cause weight gain and retention. Insulin resistance becomes a factor for some, and menopausal women experience drastic hormonal changes that control a lot of weight issues. If you believe hormonal issues may be having any negative effect on your weight-loss efforts or overall health, talk to your doctor.
- Your genes have one of the largest influences on where your carry weight and how effectively you can lose weight. Thanks, Mom! Haha jk! Nowadays, some doctors offer genetic testing and some for weight loss. But if you can’t afford such testing, just talk to your relatives. Ask some people in your family their challenges and successes and trends.
- It is major. Just think of your energy alone on a good night’s sleep versus a poor night’s sleep. You can’t function or think straight, right? So, you can expect that your body’s systems are probably going to work at the same rate. And sleep isn’t just about numbers, but the quality of your sleep is just as, if not more, important. You might be logging 8 hours a night, but if you’re tossing and turning the whole time, your metabolic rate is sure to take a toll. If you believe sleep issues may be having any negative effect on your weight-loss efforts or overall health, again, talk to your doctor.
- Aging is inevitable. And yes, it affects our efforts. Metabolic rate slows down, hormones are constantly changing, and there’s some loss of muscle mass that comes with the aging process, also known as sarcopenia. But, on the bright side, we don’t have to succumb to such aging. Muscle is a large contributor to our metabolic rate. We can offset the natural aging process of muscle decline by implementing a proper strength training routine and a diet rich in muscle-building protein to support these efforts.
Just remember, the weight didn’t come on overnight, so don’t expect it to leave that quickly either. What’s realistic? 0.5 to 2 pounds a week is doable. Anything more, is extreme. Plus, when we try to lose weight at a faster rate, we risk possibly losing more than just fat, and maybe some of our lean tissue as well. Remember the bullet point about the importance of muscle for metabolic rate.
Time and consistency are key.
Altering your body into a different physique takes time, patience, and consistency. You may have heard the term homeostasis when describing a body’s weight. Think of it as your body’s safe zone. It is the range in which your body feels comfortable at, in that moment. So, I’m sure a lot of us have a “number” that comes to mind after reading that statement. That’s likely your body’s homeostasis. Our bodies are wired for survival, so when you decide to go on a diet, it feels threatened, because as far as our bodies are concerned, dieting is a form of starvation. When you cut down the amount of calories your body needs to maintain homeostasis, your body goes into survival mode. It does this by slowing down your metabolism to conserve your body’s energy. So now you’re burning calories at a slower rate. Then let’s just skip to the part where you’ve been cutting for so long, you’re more and more hungry, you crave everything you told yourself ‘no’ to, you break the diet, you overeat, you feel guilty, and then you gain some weight back. Your body did its job. All along it has been trying to get you back to its homeostasis. Now, every time you decide to diet again, your metabolism will get slower and slower. Catch my drift?
This is why you need to take it gradually, so your body feels no threat, and will adjust its homeostasis pound by pound with you so you can maintain your new physique. And this is definitely speaking from experience too. And yes, I’m also telling you, when a health professional tells you to just eat less and exercise more, they’re setting you up for failure. It’s just not that simple because our bodies aren’t programmed for dieting. What should you do instead? Practice intuitive eating, the process of getting back in touch with your body’s signals, and start making a lifestyle adjustment gradually. Implement the lifestyle you wish to be reflected in your body.
To read more about intuitive eating, check out my article “8 Ways to Adopt An Intuitive Eating Mindset and Start Eating Freely”.
Article Courtesy Of Dani Capanna, MS, DTR, CDM