Understanding Why Undereating will NEVER work!
Somehow, somewhere, at some point, someone created the statement: "Calories in, calories out." I'm not sure where it came from, but to be honest, it's annoying. Weight loss is not as simple as "calories in, calories out." If it was, by that logic, if we all ate next to nothing, we would lose weight. And for some people, that's what happens...for a short time. The thing is, our bodies are much smarter than we are. Our bodies are the result of thousands of years of evolution, body adaptation, and genetics. Therefore, our body knows how to regulate itself better than we do ourselves. It's no wonder then that many people find themselves struggling to lose weight.
I would say a solid 99% of the time when I ask someone to show me their food journals, I find a food journal full of empty-calorie foods, with no consideration for meal timing, nutrient density, or nutritional value. What most people focus on is the day's end caloric number. And that number needs to be as small as possible.
Why is that? Well, likely the same person that created the whole "calories in, calories out" speel created the one where every woman thinks that she needs to be eating around 1200-1300 calories a day. I don't know where this nonsense came from, to be honest. It's also incredibly frustrating to me because people (and unfortunately, it's many women) believe that this is the appropriate number of calories that they need to be eating each day. But, these are also the same women that come to me saying that they can't lose weight.
THE SCIENCE OF WEIGHT LOSS
Without getting too Bill Nye on you, there are two very important numbers that you need to keep in mind when you are focusing on dieting. The first is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and the second is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Both of these numbers are crucial in calculating your daily caloric needs. It's from there that we can expand all of our dietary needs and start talking about the macros required for dieting. (See my post on macro counting "What it Means to Count Macros.") If you don't understand these two numbers, it's foolish to go any further.
BASAL METABOLIC RATE (BMR) - KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE
The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is basically a very fancy way of saying the calories required to keep you alive each day. This is how many calories you burn each day by doing nothing. I mean it, this is the number of calories you burn if you did nothing but lay in bed and watch Netflix. This is the daily required amount of calories that you need for: heart rate, breathing, daily bodily functions, & cognitive function. This is the bare minimum. Anything under this number is essentially starving. This is the caloric equivalent of the line in the sand. Cross this line and your body is immediately into a forced fight-or-flight, save-or-starve mode that is highly conducive to weight retention vs. weight loss. It's also the key number when it comes to metabolism issues. Consistently under eating and depriving yourself of important vitamins and minerals wrecks havoc on a healthy metabolism. Therefore, it is crucial, in any healthy diet plan, that your daily calories always exceed this number.
TOTAL DAILY ENERGY EXPENDITURE (TDEE) - YOUR DAILY ACTIVITY LEVEL
The second most important number that we come to when calculating our macros is the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is calculated by factoring in three things: your BMR, the thermogenic effect of food, and your daily physical activity. This is where most food trackers will steer you off. Your TDEE is calculated by an activity level modifier, but this is not just your exercise at the gym, but also includes all the daily activity that you do that is usually forgotten. This could include: having a physical/demanding job, walking/jogging as a form of commuting, cleaning, or childcare.
When I compute this number for people (or you can compute your own BMR & TDEE here), they are usually incredibly surprised to hear that the number is so high!
But why are you surprised? Because it’s a combination of mainstream media drilling into our heads that we should be eating low-calories, sugar-free, low-fat, non-fat, CRAP. I’m here to tell you that none of this makes even the least bit of sense. Not only are these foods of zero nutritional value, but they provide an artificial response within our body to food. So, we’re stuck in a never-ending nutritional vortex that is sucking the energy and life from our otherwise strong metabolisms.
So, what can we do about it?
Under eating is never the answer
If you've gotten this far, then you realize the importance of eating an adequate daily amount of calories. It's important to know that this number is going to be different for each individual person. It's also never a good idea to try to outsmart your body. While you may lose weight at the beginning, eating below your BMR wrecks havoc on your metabolism. A slow or poor metabolism is the reason that many people struggle to lose weight in a healthy fashion.
This leads back to my original point. If weight loss was as easy as "calories in, calories out," then everyone would be able to take these numbers and lose weight. While that is still the case, focusing on eating high quality protein (See my post on "My Love Affair with Vital Proteins" for my protein supplement recommendation), sleep hygiene ("Why Sleep is So Important" & “What I Use For A Great Night’s Sleep”), and daily exercise ("Making Your Personal Fitness a Priority") is just as important as your daily caloric intake.
If you're looking for a good place your nutritional journey, I would encourage you to take your two numbers - BMR & TDEE - and find a neutral caloric ground in between the two for a few weeks. I suggest subtracting between 200-300 calories from your TDEE as a starting point. See how your body performs. Do you feel better fueled? Do you sleep better? How is your digestion? From there, you can begin to play around with the numbers to find a recipe that works for you! But remember, under eating is never the answer!
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