It seems counter intuitive I know however it is true – You Must Eat To Lose Weight (the right kinds of food though). It can take a big mental shift for some people to accept and understand why this is the case. However once you do you will see the best weight loss results ever.
When most people start trying to lose weight, they reduce their calories by lessening their food intake. That’s fine, but sometimes they can cut their calorie intake too low.
Not eating enough calories causes many metabolic changes. A large calorie deficit might work for a few days or even weeks, but eventually your body will start to sound alarms that it needs to conserve its energy. Your body is extremely clever. It contains countless contingency plans that kick in whenever something seems to threaten it, including a reaction called the starvation response. It is your body’s reaction to what it perceives as a critical food shortage. When your body finds its fuel supply is diminishing, it shuts down unnecessary activities and clings to every possible calorie in order to survive the “famine.”
Your body needs energy to survive so it will do whatever it can to conserve it including:
- Decrease in your muscle mass – It takes a lot of energy for your body to support your muscles. In a prolonged extreme calorie deficit, it is one of the first things that your body looks to get rid of. Your body needs fat, however your muscle can be spared therefore it breaks down the muscle tissue and uses it for energy.
- Lowers your testosterone levels – An important hormone for both men and women, testosterone is just one of many hormones that are affected with severe calorie restriction. Testosterone helps build muscle tissue. Without it, it becomes harder to maintain your muscle mass. Muscle mass is important to help with weight loss efforts as it helps you to burn fat.
- Decrease in your energy levels – Your brain’s neurotransmitter (brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body) production is limited, which can lead to a lack of motivation. It’s your body’s way of telling you to “slow down” – conserve your energy.
- Decrease in your leptin levels – Leptin is one of many energy regulating hormones. More importantly, it’s a “hunger” hormone that tells you whether to eat or not. High leptin levels signal that it’s OK to stop eating, while low leptin levels are a signal to eat more for energy. Because of this, leptin levels decrease in calorie restricted environments. This decrease also encourages your body to hold on to its fat stores and encourage more fat to enter those stores.
How Many Calories Should You Be Eating?
There is no exact perfect number. Each person’s metabolism is different. However a general rule of thumb is to reduce your daily calorie amount by 500 calories to lose between 1-2 lbs a week.
The problem is most people who want to lose weight just want it to happen quickly, and they want it gone now. Weight loss is a patience game. It takes time and consistency to make it work. Losing 2lbs per week is the best to aim for. At this pace, it will ensure that the majority of your weight loss is coming from stored body fat instead of muscle. You will also give yourself the best chance to build muscle while you lose fat, which is what you should be striving to do.
So if your progress has reached a plateau, but you think you’re eating the right foods and exercising intensely, more than likely your problem is that you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight. Increase your intake by adding more nutrient rich food to your diet (try adding a healthy snack in between your meals each day) and your weight loss should start moving forward again.
Note – If you are unsure of the amount of food you need to be consuming in order to remain healthy and keep weight loss occurring consult a fitness professional (Personal Trainer or Exercise Referral Specialist) or nutritional adviser who will be able to help you.