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Composed: Sep 19, 2023

Author: Autumn

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I Can't Eat Enough - spoiler alert: yes you can!

Before I understood the impact that under eating could have on metabolism, and before I understood what under eating even really was, I got really good at eat less, move more. A little too good, in fact.

"I'm only eating 1000 calories per day and I'm still gaining weight."

"I watch what I eat and I exercise consistently and I still can't lose weight".

If you've ever said or felt anything like what's being expressed in those two phrases, you were probably under eating.

An analysis of data from 65 dieting white and Black women, ages 21 to 41, revealed that their bodies could adapt to burn, on average, 50 fewer calories a day. Some of the women, who were initially overweight or obese, adapted to the weight loss to use hundreds of fewer calories per day, according to the report published Thursday in Obesity.

This “metabolic adaptation” is a response to weight loss by decreasing the resting metabolic rate — that is, the number of calories a person needs to keep critical systems functioning, such as the heart and the lungs.

“Metabolic adaptation during weight loss can make it harder for people to achieve their goals,” said the study's first author, Catia Martins, an associate professor of nutrition science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “In this study we found people with more metabolic adaptation took longer to achieve their weight-loss goals.”

- Linda Carroll, NBC News

What is under eating?

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimum amount of calories your body needs to function optimally at rest. It's what your body needs in order to keep your metabolic rate healthy, to support healthy thyroid functioning, to grow hair, skin, and nails, to power your internal organs, to properly heat your body, etc. At rest.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is the total amount of energy that your body expends. That includes all the basic bodily functions I mentioned in the above paragraph and all your activity. Activity includes things like getting out of bed in the morning, your daily shower routine, preparing and cleaning up meals, going to work, gym activities, etc. All your activity is included in the TDEE calculation.

Eating below your TDEE is usually what is referred to as eating at a "caloric deficit". Eating below your TDEE is under eating. By not consuming enough calories to support your activity and your normal bodily functions, you are depriving your body of the energy it needs to function.

By under eating you risk:

Sometimes people mistake the recommended "caloric deficit" to mean they should eat under their BMR. That is a starvation diet. Eating below your BMR starves your body of the minimum amount of calories your body needs to function optimally at rest. Depriving your body of the minimum amount of calories your body needs to function optimally at rest means it will no longer function optimally. It will begin slowing down these functions:

So, what can I do?

If you've tried eating more and you get full quickly, what can you do?

The answer is something called a reverse diet. A reverse diet is not a new concept. It's been used in the body building community, where body builders cycle through periods of caloric deficit and caloric surplus, for a very long time. A reverse diet is the reverse of what you normally think of as a diet.

A reverse diet isn't a crash diet though. It's more incremental.

We're going to incrementally bring our total caloric intake up.

Usually starting with adding 100 calories per day and increasing that weekly is a reasonable goal. If you find that is too much, you can start with 50 calories per day.

It goes like this:

To help visualize, here is a list of how each day would look, assuming that your beginning daily caloric intake is 1000 calories:

Then how do I lose weight?

If, like most of us, you're still under the thought process that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and move more, you might be wondering how you're going to lose weight if you eat more.

Caloric reduction is a really effective SHORT TERM weight loss strategy that can be employed a few times, with serious consequences. The consequences are what I outlined above. To review, those consequences may be:

That's why caloric reduction is only an effective SHORT-TERM weight loss strategy. That's why caloric reduction is really only effective A FEW TIMES. Because it comes with some serious consequences.

A better strategy

A better strategy than reducing your overall caloric intake is to change what you eat and ensure you are eating enough of it.

In this interview, Dr. Ben Bikman does a great job of explaining why caloric deficits often lead to over eating AND that the issue of weight loss is more complex than just eating less.

Popular Science gives a less sciency explanation, although more verbose, in more simple terms.

Here is another source, from Harvard University, that supports the idea of prioritizing what we eat rather than focusing on how much.

Dr. Ken Berry explains the futility of counting calories from a different perspective:

If you got advice from your doctor, a trainer, or a weight loss specialist to eat at a caloric deficit, you got bad advice. Please don't let that bad advice hinder you any longer.

Remember the show "The Biggest Loser"?

Of the 16 “Biggest Loser” competitors originally investigated, 14 participated in this follow-up study.

Weight loss at the end of the competition was 58.3±24.9 kg and RMR (resting metabolic rate) decreased by 610±483 kcal per day.

After 6 years, 41.0±31.3 kg of the lost weight was regained, while RMR was 704±427 kcal/day below baseline and metabolic adaptation was 499±207 kcal per day.

Weight regain was not significantly correlated with metabolic adaptation at the competition's end, but those subjects maintaining greater weight loss at 6 years also experienced greater concurrent metabolic slowing.

- Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition

Another study, published by the NIH, concluded that under-eating can also lead to significant muscle loss.

So, how do I eat more?

Begin with the instructions above for adding 100 calories to your normal daily intake and proceed with adding another 100 calories after 1 week. Continue in that fashion until you're eating a normal amount of food.

Below is a list of foods that you can add to your food intake that are roughly 100 calories:
*items in bold are carnivore diet compliant*