“Eat for the body you want, not for the body you have”- Unknown
You are keeping an eye on your consumption/intake and tracking your exercise painstakingly, but still seeing no positive results. Why? Many nightmares run through your mind while been stuck in this particular situation. Like, are my hormones off? Is my metabolism slowed to a snail’s pace? Etc. In addition to it, it is likely to have a question in your mind that ‘is it really possible to gain weight from eating too little?’ In the discussion down below, I have tried to explain what exactly is going on and what steps you need to adapt to encounter it. So, without further delay, let’s get started.
Ever since I became the coach, this is the same question that comes time to time from both my clients and colleagues. They get significantly angry and frustrated at this situation. And yeah, it’s quite understandable why. Gaining weight and stubborn fat around your body while limiting yourself to very less amount of food could be quite annoying. In some cases, despite doing everything they can, including starvation and exercise, some people still fail to put a limit on gaining weight. Instead, faces the situation contrary to it; they gain extra weight!
If you do a little research regarding this particular situation, I am sure you will find a lot of blog posts, articles and related explanations. And in the bunch of garden variety, you will find few fitness gurus saying “the laws of conservation of energy apply, and people are not tracking their calorie intake.” Other people may seek it as “starvation problem/mode” or some strange metabolic or hormonal problem.
So, what’s the deal? Is there really a problem with people who gain weight while not eating too much? Or it’s just doubtful hearsay. So, let’s find out! And get rid of the myth.
You should know that thermodynamics exists and don’t lie. Back in high school, you might have heard about “the laws of thermodynamics,” I am talking about the same thing, but relatively, in a little different concept. So, according to this law, energy balance is a consideration of the energy input, output, and consumption. Where energy in is equal to energy out. Food is our basic form of energy containing calories. So, we can take it has “calories in, calories out.”
So, in a more definite way, it means that we generate energy in our body through the food we eat, and we expend this energy through;
- Natural Metabolic activities (Circulating blood, breathing, etc.)
- Basic body movements (Daily activities, exercise, etc.)
- Heat Production (Thermogenesis)
- Excretion and Digestion
It must be kept in the mind that our energy balance determines our bodyweight. The concept is quite simple. If we are absorbing more energy than we expend, we gain weight. Likely wise, if we are; this more energy than we absorb, we lose weight. This conception, in many settings, has been tested again and again by scientists and researchers. It is just as near as we can get to systematic and scientific facts.
Admittedly, there are a lot of things that significantly influence either side of this particular equation, which can a right confuse an individual. So, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t be disregarding the laws of thermodynamics.
But, the questions arises, ‘what about the unusual and unexplained weight changes?’ Like, the time you had a big dinner and woke up lighter? Similarly, when you think you are doing everything you can but still not losing weight. Why?
Well, even if we think we are catching up with the conception of energy in, energy out, actually, we are not. You might be thinking, how about that low carb doctor who implies that insulin-resistance (or some other hormone) mucks up the equation? Well, hormones may control lean mass or fat mass proportion you gain or lose, but they still don’t disregard or invalidate the energy balance equation.
Here’s One Reason Why! Tracking Metabolism or recording metabolism is a little tricky task due to the fact that your precise metabolic demand and responses are not that much easy to measure. However, we usually approximate our metabolic rate. The detailed measurement of proper and accurate metabolic rate depends upon the tools we use.
One of the best ways to precisely measure the metabolism rate is through “hermetically sealed metabolic chambers.” But, not many of us hang-out with this in our daily life. This means we are actually estimating our metabolism by our fitness trackers. These estimates can be off by 20-30 percent (even more) in normal, young or healthy people because they are only based upon calorie intake.
It would be easy for us to decide or program our diet if we could measure how much energy we are spending and absorbing/taking from our foods. Also, we could also determine whether we are actually eating too little to reduce the bodyweight or not. But, the problem is that, even if we could know this, it would be useless for us because energy output is dynamic and varies dramatically with time. We can’t actually know what our metabolism is up to and how it is related to the food we eat.
So, most of the time we are making guesses and these guesses aren’t that much beneficial because most of the time, we’re either under or overestimating the solution. So, this makes the idea of “eating too little” a little more subjective. Recall it. By “eating too less” do you mean…
- Eating less than usual?
- Eating less than you’ve been told to consume?
- Eating less than feels right?
- Eating less than you need to be fit?
- Eating less than your predictable metabolic rate?
- Eating less than your actual metabolic rate?
- And how often does that apply?
Are you significant
- Eating too little at one meal only?
- Eating too little on one day only?
- Eating too little every day?
Now, without having a clear idea behind these questions, you can see how easy it is to identify whether or not you are ‘eating too little’ as compared to your energy intake and expenditure. So, if you aren’t losing weight, most probably you are underestimating your energy intake which means your metabolism rate is slow. Yes! You are eating too little, but still, it’s not less than your actual energy expenditure.
You see, most of the time, the problem is with our sagacity.
We, the human beings, are quite bad at correctly judging things, like how much we are eating and how much we are expanding. We have the common misconception of eating less and burning more. It’s not that we are untruthful (sometimes we do inveigle ourselves), but, it’s that we actually strive to measure portion sizes and calorie counts.
In today’s world, this is quite difficult when plates and portions are huger than ever, where energy-dense, deliciously tasting and highly-brain manipulating foods are omnipresent, inexpensive and socially encouraged.
When people actually start to track their portion sizes using some scales or Software-applications, they get tremendously shocked to discover that they are consuming way more food than they imagined.
“You are what you eat” Eat crap, look crap, feel crap; Eat Good, Look Good, Feel Good.”
Sometimes, we do quite right with our meals, but energy can sneaks when we don’t even realize it. Here’s a story to explain this.
You are going to dinner with friends to a popular and well-known restaurant. Ordered healthier meals comprising of emphasized proteins and veggies and clean carbs, plus have some alcohol and Cheesecake as a dessert. Curious to know how much energy you consumed, you measured it up. Discover TWO THOUSAND CALORIES OR MORE!
Think about a situation in which you are very careful about all your meals and under-eating almost every meal during a week and estimate your write calories. Then, during one single meal, you took a little dessert and an excellent or accumulated +500 calories. This could be extremely annoying and frustrating when is happening by daily and weekly, leading to gain weight and stubborn fat. You’ll probably feel like your metabolism is broken. And possibly, you would think that losing weight by eating too little is just impossible!
But, again, the laws of thermodynamics are not divulged and make the nature of metabolism dynamic and hard to understand. So, if you are gaining weight while eating too little, that’s because your metabolism isn’t working like a computer. The human body comprises of complex mechanism and dynamic system that reacts swiftly to changes in its environment.
So, when you under-eat or over-eat over the long period, your body gets used to it and your complex system adapts it. For instance, when you eat less, you expend less energy for digestion. Similarly, when you weigh less, your resting metabolic rate decreases. In the same way, your calorie-burning-process through physical activity decreases. Ultimately, your digestive system becomes weak and starts to absorb more energy from your food.
Your body also adjusts your hormonal feedback and signaling loops. For instance, your appetite and hunger hormones trigger when you want to eat more, and are stimulated by more foods. Similarly, one another hormone Satiety goes down as well, making harder for us to feel full or satisfied. Similarly, your thyroid and sex hormones lessen. Your daily planned 500 calories can deficit and become 400, 300, or 200, even if you intentionally work-out as much as you had before.
Speaking of exercise, the human body has a comparable mechanism when we try to out-exercise an excessive intake.
According to research when you increase your physical activity above a certain limit, it accelerates;
- More appetite and more calorie consumption
- Facilitates the energy absorption
- Lowered resting or basal metabolism
- Less wriggling and involuntary movements
The bottom line of this conversation is that metabolism is quite a subjective and complicated subject to talk about it. You may lose weight while eating less, depending upon how much less you eat and for how long you do it. Contrary to that, you may even re-gain weight in the long run due to these physiological and behavioral consequences.
Our metabolisms consist of significantly diverse activities and vary dramatically from person to person. Consider two people having the same age, sex, body-to-mass ratio, height, weight, etc. Now, according to scientific principles and rules of laws, they should possess same energy expenditure and energy needs.
But, in reality, we all know this isn’t the case, because we all know the two persons we are considering could never have the same daily activities. Even your sleep deprivation can cause 5-20 percent variation in metabolic rate. From day to day, even in the alike individuals, the metabolism rate could fluctuate from 100 calories from day to day.
I hope now you monitor how these equations used to predict calorie needs for the average person might not be as accurate as you think. This is why; you couldn’t lose weight, even if you think you are eating less. The estimates you made just weren’t excellent.
WATER RETENTION IS A THING
We have one hormone called, Cortisol that regulates our fluid level in our bodies. This Cortisol significantly depends upon our stress levels. These are one of our stress hormones. When we feel stressed out due to the food and nutrient restriction, the Cortisol typically goes up which makes our bodies to retain more water. Ultimately, this makes us feel softer and chubbier than we actually are. This water retention conceals the fat loss that is happening, making it look like we aren’t losing fat and weight. This is what we expect from water, one of the essential ingredients of life.
So, could thoroughly track your daily intake work? Well, that takes us back to what we’ve discussed so far. Up till now, you might be scratching your head after knowing the complex mechanism of metabolism. The answer to this is quite clear, that is, even if you trying to tracking your intake, logging your meals, counting your steps meticulously, you will still not be able to generate accurate results because of the complex mechanism of metabolism and errors in your own measurement.
You might be over-estimating or under-estimating your energy expenditure and needs. So, based on these results, you might be absorbing more energy in digestion than you realize. You’ll always miss some data, for example, you have to incorporate the effect of that small chicken nugget bite, which you might’ve taken from your kids’ plate, or that extra scoop of peanut butter, etc. Keeping an eye on all these things will make your life quite inconvenient.
Another scenario could be, maybe you are counting your exercises as high-intensity, even though you spent a large amount of it resting on a bench between low-rep sets. Perhaps you over-exercised and tear off that day, or maybe you were so hungry after an intense workout, you ate more than you intended. Your power vs. endurance training is not designed to your own DNA.
Well, it happens. We are all human beings, not robots.
However, measuring and tracking energy consumption could make a difference. When we measure and track it for a while, we gain the necessary experience and we become more aware of what we’re eating and how much we’re eating. After that, we can get a real data which we can use to make ourselves consistent and accountable.
However, keeping a track-record of anything daily or even hourly could be a tiring and time-consuming job. Most people would never do it throughout their lives. The chances of getting doubtful results are more. We may misrepresent the actual amount of calories we take and burn, which can ultimately, leads us to believe that we are eating less than we’re burning.
But, the good news is that we can still lose weight.
If you truly feel that you are precisely tracking your intake, exercising consistently at least 5-7 hours a week, managing your stress and sleep, getting expert nutritional advice, and covering an excellent the fundamentals, then you are in a good position to consult further testing with your doctor.
Here is what you can do, if you feel your intake is less than your needs.
MEASURE YOUR INTAKE
The essential step is to measure how much you are eating. You can take whatever tools you prefer, your hands, scales, photographs, etc., doesn’t matter. You can track your daily intake for a few days or a week to see if it contributes to what you thought you were eating. Sometimes, we are often astonished. Just the act of tracking amplifies our awareness of our intake, which could assist us in making better decisions.
BE SYMPATHETIC WITH YOURSELF
You might think to be strict to yourself could be a good approach, but, it’s not. As a matter of fact, it will make you more stress-out. Love yourself and be gentle, few researchers explain that being kind to yourself helps a lot in building a healthier body. You will achieve your fitness goals swiftly and feel less anxious and stressed. Don’t get angry at yourself, you will make some mistakes, it happens to everyone. Recognize them, accept them, forgive yourself and then get back in the race.
CHOOSE LESS-PROCESSED FOODS
Foods that aren’t fluttery-rewarding or hyper-palatable are quite challenging to overeat. And the reason behind this is that such type of foods doesn’t cause leptin resistance and hypothalamic inflammation. Such kind of food contains a large number of vitamins, minerals, water, fibers, bacteria-fighting components, phytonutrients, etc. Less-processed foods are lower in calories as well. They are also quite better at keeping you satisfied and full.
You should also choose such foods that you enjoy a lot, this will help you out in developing the consistency. You can also experiment with your macronutrient levels. Some individuals respond better to more carbs and lesser fats, while, some respond quite exceptional to higher fats and fewer carbs. It must be kept in the mind that, there is no single best diet for all. Because, we all have different choices and similarly, there is great variation in response to the foods we eat as well. So, play around this a little, and make better decisions by finding what works best for you.
OWN YOUR DECISIONS AND CHOICES
When you sit down to eat, let your adulthood and moral and deeper principles guide you. Make better food choices by acknowledging the results you would look ahead to.
I would recommend you avoid playing mind games like ‘if I’m good then I get to be inferior’ or ‘if I act like I didn’t take the cookies, then it didn’t happen. Let your wisdom, and maturity face your behavior. Convince yourself and accept that all choices have different consequences. And, most importantly, welcome to indulge sometimes.
In the end, I would urge you to get coaching – Contact me, if you are still facing trouble. Remember that behavior change and sustained weight loss is hard and takes time, especially, when we are alone in the race.
Reach out a qualified and compassionate coach or a professional who can navigate these tricky scenarios and guides you right. Always remember that your willpower is the key, it will hurt, it will take time, proper dedication, sacrifices to make a difference.