Okay, so we basically all know that a reduction in calories is what can get us results on the scales. Typically the route that most people take is "I want to get this over with therefore I'm going to just not eat anything for like a week or month and feel better." Sometimes however, there is the chronic dieter who never really has goals in terms of dialing their nutrition back out of the diet and therefore remains kind of stuck in the perpetual low calorie state. I see this most frequently with ladies that are around the ages of 40-60. I think maybe with the advent of the internet, more women are becoming more aware that they need to eat more but it's not uncommon at all to see women eating 1000 calories or less per day and they've been doing that for years and years. I just wanted to share some of the reasons why this is not a good idea.
1. It lowers your basal metabolic rate after a long time.
"Metabolic damage" has been the coined term but it's not damage and is simply an adaptation. I don't use this example lightly because it's a very serious issue but girls that have not been eating enough calories for a few months think that they are experiencing a form of metabolic damage when there are children in Africa eating NOTHING for years and if they were to come back and stabilized on a normal healthy diet, their metabolisms would be fine. (There is of course the risk of Refeeding Syndrome-I'm not getting into that because it really doesn't pertain here to what I'm talking about). My point is that just some lowering of calories in a minimal way is not going to give you damage so I think there's a lot of fear built in girls on that that's not necessary. You can increase your calories and your metabolism will adapt.
However, if you are staying in the chronic dieter phase, then your body never has that chance to adapt therefore the number one thing that our body's want to do is survive. Part of survival is lowering our needs so your body will adapt and then you will start maintaining on calories that you may have once lost on. That is the dreadful "plateau". Typically, you can just lower calories a bit and your body will continue to lose. But, if you are already eating so little that you have nothing to really cut from, you are stuck at that point. You need to spend time eating more so that your metabolism can adapt. Does that mean that eating more will help you lose weight? Not instantly. No. You most likely will maintain during this phase but it's ESSENTIAL for your lifetime health and metabolism so it's 10000% worth it.
2. You never have time to build quality muscle tissue.
The best example I have for this kind of situation is someone who is prepping for a bikini competition. When they come out of the show, they are really afraid to eat so they keep calories low, with a few cheat meals here and there. They might gain some fat tissue and therefore when it's time for the next show, they need to dial down again. You will lose muscle during a cut typically and if you don't take time to build that back after you've cut calories then you could go into the next show with less muscle (even though in reality you should have had time to build more).
If you are someone that just wants to have lean muscle mass but is just chronically staying low calories, then you are never giving your body a chance to even build muscle. There has to be calories to build.
3. You have a lower NEAT.
What is NEAT? "Non exercise activity thermogenesis"
What the what? It's real simple. It just simply means the amount of calories that you are burning just doing daily activities. If you are eating less and less, then again, your body is going towards survival and it's going to lower the amount of calories it requires of you to just walk around the house. This might mean that you start feeling sluggish and lethargic and weak during a diet. If so, if you don't have something in the looming near future then honestly you shouldn't be dieting so low.
4. You are never experiencing what your body is capable of and how much you can actually eat.
The body does a really good job of maintaining weight but as women, we typically have to work REAL hard to lose weight. It's SO MUCH MORE FUN at higher calories, but you will never even know what that is like if you are not allowing your body to adapt to that. I think it all comes down to an element of fear. Women are afraid that if they increase calories, they will gain weight. If done in a systematic approach and with guardrails, it doesn't have to be like that. Let me give some numbers for example:
Susy weighs 150 and wants to lose 20 pounds. She is eating 2000 calories per day maintaining at 150. She cuts her calories to 1200 because she wants it quick and over with. She loses her 20lbs. If she continues for an extended period of time at 1200 calories then her body may actually adapt to this and this becomes her maintainence point. However, if she gets to her goal weight, slowly dials calories back up, then her metabolism will be restored at her new weight eating the old amount of calories so then she's maintaining 130 pounds at 2000 calories per day. It's a BEAUTIFUL process and one that everyone should do.
If there is a large amount of weight to be lost, then it is absolutely worth your time to go through different phases of cutting and reversing out of it so that you are keeping your metabolism strong. Yes, you can drive yourself into the ground with continuation of low calories, but lord have mercy that's awful.
5. If ever off track, it becomes increasingly harder to get off any weight.
Let's say that Susy had maintained that 1200 calories because she thought she had to do so to maintain that 130lbs. Remember, 1200 is what GOT her to 130 so that means 1200 put her in a calorie deficit. However, if she stays there, her metabolism might adapt and this becomes her maintainence. Then Susy has a rough patch in her life and can't keep up this low calorie stuff but she's just back and forth. During the week, she keeps it then during the weekend the wheels come off and she overeats. This leads to an average of MUCH higher than her maintainence and she gains weight. Let's say she gains back up to 150 BUT NOWWWWW, she is maintaining at 1200 calories and 150lbs instead of her previous 2000 calories just because she thought she needed to keep calories lower. EEK!!! You don't want that. Susy would then have to cut calories further in order to lose.
DON'T BE SUSY.
So, what if you are Susy already? Are you doomed for life? See previous points in #1. No. It's an adaptation. If you are remain consistent while slowly dialing up your calories then you will be fine. I've realized more and more with time that if you don't want to spend 6 months building your metabolism and you are okay mentally with some water retention, you can just jump your calories. In Susy's case, she would say "AH I've got to get some stability" so she jumps her calories back up to 2000. She might have some water retention but if she stays at this amount of a few weeks then her body WILL adapt and catch up. That is not to say that there won't be a little bit of excess fat tissue from jumping calories but it's MUCH better than the constant instability with food so that you can get back to square one and start fresh.
I know you might hear the phrase that you need to eat more to lose, and when this happens is when you have lowered calories so significantly for so long that you've lowered your basal metabolic rate. When you start eating more in a controlled manner, your metabolism speeds up and allows you to be able to lose and have a higher NEAT. This is not always the case though and many times women will increase their calories when they should in fact decrease them to see results. There's always that tricky fine line (and honestly why I recommend coaching and I'm not plugging my coaching here but just coaching from anyone that has worked with many people that can objectively look at you and know which one you might be).
I know this might sound a little confusing for those that may be new to the macro counting game, and even those that are familiar, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
I'm also going to link up some articles about reverse dieting and macros that are my top ones (they will all open in a new window just so you know you won't lose your page), and be sure to check out the MACRO RESOURCES page where you could probably spend a few hours reading them all. haha!
If you'd like help with what your calories/macros should be, then click HERE.