Under eating is a pretty popular diet when a man or woman is trying to lose weight, regardless of whether they hit the gym and diet or are dieting without exercise. It is logical to say that you must have more calories being spent than calories that you are eating to lose weight. As a woman that was average body fat but looking to tighten up a bit, trying to perpetually burn more calories than I am eating had left me utterly exhausted, with a completely horrendous attitude (hangry was a good day), prone to getting sick frequently, decreased muscle mass and dropping to an unhealthy body fat percentage.
I was walking around at about ten percent body fat with my body in survival mode. Meaning my body was shutting down what it deemed unnecessary functions for survival – I got my period maybe three times that year instead of twelve. Dropping to that low of body fat and continued dieting in that manner was a short-term solution. Calories in versus calories out does not provide the means to have a long-term plan to maintain a leaner body mass and physique. Proper nutrition and food are fuel for the metabolism to speed up and burn more calories rather than starving yourself to the point of weight loss.
Start Increasing Calories
When deciding that I wanted to use food as fuel, it was necessary to reverse off of my starvation and slowly increase my daily caloric intake. Eating very little and low caloric intakes on a daily basis actually slows the metabolism. When the body does not have carbohydrates or glucose to use as fuel, the body starts to burn adipose fat and sometimes muscle mass as fuel. If you drastically increase calories suddenly one day, the body will store the food as fat. The body does this because it will use the stored fat as fuel later when it is starved again. Slowly increasing caloric intakes will help the body return to a healthy lean body mass and fat percentage. Yes, I did gain weight when I started reverse dieting, but it was essential lean body mass that my body needed to survive and return to normal functioning.
Each week I added one hundred calories to my daily caloric intake. I stopped adding calories when I was eating about thirteen-hundred calories per day. Standing at a whopping five feet three inches tall, I thought this was plenty for me to be eating. However, my activity level was very high with six days a week of forty-five minutes of intense cardio and about an hour of weight training. Activity levels definitely warrant eating more to give your body what it needs! I accounted the intense activity level by adding two hundred more calories per day.
Balance What You Eat
Eating more brought me to a healthy weight, but I still wasn’t achieving the look I wanted in my physique. Balance in macros counts, what kind of food I was eating and eating enough for my activity level turned my life around – literally. It’s not enough to just be eating enough, what you are eating directly impacts how the body responds. Eating a fifteen hundred calorie diet consisting of tacos and beer isn’t the same as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, rice and sweet potatoes. Not only did my body start tightening up to the look I wanted, but I stopped getting sick and my energy was through the roof!
I started breaking down my daily fifteen hundred calorie days into the ratio of forty percent protein, forty percent complex carbohydrates and twenty percent fats. Convert calories into macro nutrient grams and I was eating 150g of protein, 150g of complex carbohydrates and 33g of healthy fats. I chose healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and peanut butter. I avoided pork, full fat beef and ate bison, extra lean ground turkey, white fish and boneless skinless chicken breast. Because of the way I was dieting before, I was nervous to eat carbs. But, what I soon found out, was eating certain kinds of carbs gave me better workouts, more energy and promoted weight loss. I avoided sugar and carbohydrates such as white breads and pasta, and ate brown rice, couscous, quinoa and sweet potato. My muscle mass began to return with a fuller and rounder look, and my body fat began to drop again.
Keeping Track and Adjusting
Tracking macros can be daunting and tedious. I used to read and record every nutrition label for the food I was eating, look up macro counts online for fruits and veggies, hand write all of my macros for every meal and add up all of my meals. This was for the birds and took forever. There are tools that make counting a lot easier, quicker and painless. One of the best apps on my phone that I have used is My Fitness Pal. There hasn’t been a food I have searched for that isn’t already accurately recorded in the app, it allows you to scan the food barcode to input food you are eating, and becomes a food diary that adds up all of your macros for you with a pie chart of percentages. This helps plan food the day before and never miss your counts.
Just because one macro count works for you today, does not mean it will work in six months or even a year from now. Learning to adjust what I’m eating to my body weight along with my activity levels are a learning curve as well. The more you weigh, the more you eat and the harder you work out, the more calories you should be eating. If you know you are going on vacation, do your best to make good food choices, eat appropriate portions and keep up some physical activity. Make food fit into living your life rather than making eating your life. Find ways to make healthy foods palatable as to not resent what you are eating or how you are eating. Make food fuel and have fun living the rest of your life.
Written by: Samantha Meinrod