Human Performance & Athletic Development
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Nutrition

The Case for More: Why Drastically Cutting Calories is a Zero-Sum Game

Weight loss 101 knowledge explicitly states that cutting calories and exercising is the way to lose weight. We must be in a negative caloric balance, and consume less calories than we expend. Subtracting fuel is subtracting fuel, but what if I told you that the fuel tank can be expanded?

Background

As a fitness professional I have had to learn from trial and error how to correct my  approach to training people efficiently. This practice never ends. Though I have had success, I will absolutely admit that I made mistakes training people even with the best intentions. Cutting calories at the beginning allows for weight loss to occur without a problem, but this ends up being a zero-sum game since there will not be enough resources to eventually cut from. More calories have to be expended than taken in, this has and always will be the case but there is a more sustainable way to create this deficit rather than drastically cutting calories, starving people, and creating bad relationships with food.

Metabolism 101

Our metabolism is a very intricate system that has the ability to adapt to the conditions exposed to by the environment. Our metabolism's main focus is to keep the body alive and function properly. Our basal metabolic rate (BMR) is made to keep the vital processes functioning; breathing, cell regeneration, organ function, and muscle contraction to name a few. BMR constitutes to roughly 65% of our caloric expenditure.  BMR is not be confused with Resting Metabolic Rate since measuring true BMR takes some very restrictive protocols to measure correctly. There is not much to worry, many of the calculators online measure metabolism relatively efficiently but should not be entirely depended on. Therefore it is more efficient to measure your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and plugging it into one of the numerous equations for calculating TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation is an accurate measure for TDEE. 

Problem

Cutting drastic amounts of calories in a short period of time causes a plethora of problems that make weight loss even more difficult to maintain and continue. As I stated earlier, our metabolisms adapt to environmental exposures. If we drastically cut our calories to a low rate, our bodies will learn to operate on the small amount of calories taken in. This in turn causes tremendous amount of damage that can be  tough to recover from. For example, if you consume 3,000 calories daily and then decide to drop to 1,500 calories you will be in a very large energy deficit and will lose weight but your results will stall since your body will adapt to the new caloric load. The 1,500 calories becomes your new maintenance and if you eat above that, your weight will rebound and rebound very dramatically. 

Simply put, your metabolism is your metabolism and can be changed with the proper approach. The foods that you are consuming on a normal basis plus the activity you're getting is where your the current state of your metabolic maintenance rests. Two individuals can weigh exactly the same with similar body compositions and have completely different rates of metabolism. Speeding up your metabolism is usually explained by "cutting major calories and exercise more" I will explain why this can be a complete progress killer in the upcoming scenario and ultimately becomes a lose-lose situation.

The Typical Approach

An individual comes into the gym and requests a personal trainer with the following stats:

  • Female (Laura will be the name used, Laura is better than female)
  • 5'5
  • Age 27
  • 180 lbs
  • Wants to lose 40 lbs
  • Inactive
  • Works desk job
  • Caloric Intake 2,300

The trainer then decides to place Laura on a caloric restriction of 500 calories (textbook) and advise Laura to do 1-hour of aerobic exercise daily. Mind you, at this current time Laura is new to working out and is overweight therefore an hour of aerobic activity will burn roughly 500 calories. Overall, Laura's daily energy deficit is now 1,000 calories. She loses 8 pounds in two weeks but results have stalled. Therefore, the trainer cuts another 500 calories  plus more activity which in 3 weeks Laura loses 6 more pounds. Laura now has the following stats

  • She is still Laura
  • 166lbs
  • Moderately active
  • Caloric Intake 1,300
  • Hungry..All the time

This is where the breaking point occurs for a motivated individual who has made the initial commitment and behavior change. There is literally no room for the removal of more calories without starvation type diets. Cutting calories lowers the amount of food eaten which decreases the amount of total nutrition being consumed. Laura is hungry, tired, and losing motivation due to lack of energy and loss of overall nutrition. She decides to eat more, and regains the weight. The vicious cycle of losing weight to gain more begins.

The Alternative Approach

Remember, we want to create an energy deficit which can come by adding more activity. I'll repeat Laura's stats from the beginning:

  • Female (Laura will be the name used, Laura is better than female)
  • 5'5
  • Age 27
  • 180 lbs
  • Wants to lose 40 lbs
  • Inactive
  • Works desk job
  • Caloric Intake 2,300

The trainer decides to make minor food adjustments that Laura agrees to without emphasizing cutting a ton of calories. The trainer actually advises Laura to maintain her caloric intake with the agreement to supplement two or three negative foods with choices that are more beneficial to to her health and realistically able to manage. Laura does the aerobic exercise that puts her at a 500 calorie energy deficit  that allows her to lose 6 lbs in the first month. Laura's stats are now

  • 174 lbs
  • Moderately active
  • Energized
  • Caloric Intake 2,300

To continue results, the trainer introduces resistance training while adding in another healthy food alternative choice (50-100 calories) to the diet. Since there is more exercise being added with a small caloric bump, there is still an energy deficit of 500 calories. Therefore Laura continues her weight loss and is down another 5 lbs in a month. In 8-weeks Laura has now lost 11 lbs while maintaining her caloric load and adding more exercise. She is making better food choices, has a positive relationship with food and adheres to exercise since it is not deemed as punishment. This pace of weight loss may not seem sexy and appealing, but is the overall best approach. Slow and steady wins the overall race.

Disclaimer

*I have witnessed and coached individuals who are obese that lose an enormous amount of weight in the first month of initiating activity (15-30 lbs). While this is great, I do not want to rest on the token that this is a normal scenario and give people the idea they too should lose weight at a tremendous rate. When the trainers (yes I am talking about us fitness professionals) only advertise our anomalies of weight loss, we give the wrong impression to the overwhelming majority who are struggling to get their weight in check. My personal best clients have achieved better success in long term weight loss interventions than the quick fixes.*

The occurrence here is the individual is expending more energy than they are consuming. Even though the person is adding in healthy foods, they are still using more energy than they consume. This raises their metabolic maintenance and creates more room for weight loss in the future. Mind you, the overall goal is to have the ability to lose weight long term. This approach creates more room which is great to build at the inception of introducing exercise. Quick fixes are not the key, changing behavior and increasing healthier lifestyle is the only way.  I am not conveying an astronomical new approach. It is the conventional approach that are being practiced (without including the gimmicks and pure rip-offs) that are not as efficient and sustainable. Obesity is still on the rise and better tactics must be taken in order to realistically serve people. Yes, the eat more sounds catchy but still follows the same principles of weight loss, you have to be in an energy deficit. 

Takeaways

  • Your metabolism can be increased by frequent, small additions to your diet while increasing workload
  • This process only works with small caloric additions and more exercise (Especially adding resistance training)
  • Rapidly cutting calories and high intensity exercising from the onset is a recipe to failure
  • Losing weight by eating slightly more food and exercising more is not a trick, it still follows the basic law of weight loss: less calories in more calories out.

The newest bio-hack to lose weight and a permanent healthy lifestyle has not been created. As an individual who is losing weight, the best method is to commit to a healthier lifestyle and stick to it. This will literally add years to your life. Commitment, moving more, and eating better (less than you expend) will carry you to your goals. It may happen slow, you may be fortunate and experience rapid loss, either way the goal is lifestyle change that improves quality of life. The method I have provided will not work for everyone, simply because there is not a one-sized fits all approach. While the case for more speaks on the basis of adding calories and exercise, this approach is really convincing you of more commitment to yourself. Ultimately, the best approach is the one that you can do, will do, that works, and is not taking you down the road of starvation and self-punishment. 

Comments and questions are welcomed!

 

 

 

Charles SamsComment