Our culture is obsessed with diet and exercise. We take pride and gratification in eating less and moving more. How many times do we see magazine covers with "Get your beach body in 8 weeks!" and "4 week summer slim down" and "Lose weight without starving!" And then, because we’re captivated by the cover, we peak inside and discover a 1,500 calorie meal plan and workout regime that’s suppose to be the golden ticket.
And somewhere in the article it claims, "you’ll never go hungry" and "eat more and still lose!."
But that is a lie.
Far too often, people come to me looking for answers, and after a quick recall of what they’re eating, it becomes very clear. They are eating 1,000 or 1,200 or 1,600 calories a day in an effort to lose weight and they’re frustrated because the scale isn’t budging. Often too, they’re exercising more than enough and they’re hungry, and therefore irritable, and just plain unhappy.
Then there’s the other type. Those, mostly women, who swear if they eat more than such and such amount of food, which is usually 1,200-1,600 calories, they will surely gain weight. And on top of calorie restriction, they are exercising too. And this is so they can maintain their weight.
Eating that amount of food and exercising just to maintain their weight is probably very true. This is because the body is in, what I call, metabolic hibernation. Meaning the body’s cells have turned into warehouses instead of batteries. The body is storing instead of burning anything and everything that is eaten because it thinks there is a shortage of food since it’s not getting fed the calories it needs.
Think of it like this. If you’re broke or living paycheck to paycheck, you’re sure as heck not going to spend your money carelessly because you’re worried you might not have enough money to pay the bills.
And this breaks my heart. To see people, particularly women, who think they need to eat a minimal amount of food and exercise everyday to maintain their weight. And if they’re trying to lose weight, they’re killing themselves and seeing zero progress.
And it’s because we have been brainwashed by the media and diet industry to believe the less we eat and the more we move the healthier we will be.
The majority of women [I’m generalizing here] need 1,300 to 1,500 calories per day to just maintain LIFE. That means your body needs that many calories just to breathe, keep your heart beating, your kidneys functioning, and allow your cells to do their job. That doesn’t even include your day-to-day life activities like brushing your teeth, showering, driving your car, grocery shopping, cooking etc. And that doesn’t include the energy you need to digest food. AND that surely doesn’t include calories burned exercising.
Our metabolisms, if we feed them right, are meant to burn everything we eat as fuel. It’s why the girl who "eats anything she wants" maintains a healthy weight. It’s because she hasn’t damaged her metabolism. Our diet plays a huge role in balancing hormones too. And when hormones are out of whack that leads to cravings, irritability, fat storage, and unnecessary stress on the body.
Other signs of a damaged metabolism and inadequate calorie intake include:
1. You don’t get hunger signals
Most times, you’re eating just because you’re "suppose to." You rarely ever feel hungry. This is a good sign that your appetite stimulant, ghrelin, and your appetite suppressant, leptin, are out of balance. And one of the ways those can get out of balance is by insufficient calorie intake.
2. You don’t get your menstrual cycle or it’s irregular.
You can certainly lose your period for reasons other than under eating, but one of the biggest reasons women lose their menstrual cycles is because they aren’t eating enough. When the body isn’t getting the adequate energy it needs to function the first place it will compensate and shut down is the reproductive system because we don’t actually need it to sustain life. We also need enough body fat, which is different for everyone, to have a period each month. This is because estrogen is made of fat, specifically cholesterol, therefore we need fat to make estrogen.
3. You have increased cellulite and/or cellulite in atypical places.
Now, hear me out…cellulite is NORMAL. I have lots of it, it’s what my momma gave me, and I embrace every dimple. But if you have increasing cellulite and you’re eating "healthy" and exercising, that is an indicator of hormonal imbalance. If you are getting cellulite in unlikely places, like the front of your thighs, your triceps or back, then that could be an indicator of hormonal imbalance and your body storing fat instead of burning it.
4. You have terrible sugar/carb cravings.
When your body isn’t fueled properly and your cells aren’t nourished your brain starts telling your body it needs energy fast. And sugar is quick energy. A fast metabolism can easily balance blood sugar levels when your body is nourished with the nutrients and energy it needs, and therefore sugar cravings are no more.
5. Your skin and nails are cracked and your hair is dry.
This is indicative of hormonal imbalance and can be related to an inefficient thyroid. And your thyroid is your metabolism’s best friend or worst enemy.
But there’s good news. You can restore your metabolism. And once it’s restored and repaired, your body can burn what you eat as fuel because it knows more food is always coming in. It never stores anything because there will always be more. It’s like the millionaire. They spend money like it’s no big deal because they’re never worried they’re going to run out.
The average woman [again, generalizing here] needs at least 1,800-2,000 calories per day to simply maintain her weight. Then if she’s exercising she’ll need even more. That’s not a lot, that’s NORMAL. I’m not a calorie counter and I certainly don’t think anyone should be, I believe in “counting” nutrients. But I do think it’s important to know what an adequate amount of food looks like to make sure you’re fueling properly.
When people come to me in hope of losing weight, they usually think I’m crazy because I tell them that they will be eating more than ever before. But this is simply human physiology. We are designed to be energy burning machines.
Because less is not more.
More is more. Our bodies are meant to be nourished. And thrive. And be well.
You don’t have to exercise everyday, eat healthy all the time, and deprive yourself of delicious food and spontaneity to maintain a healthy weight. You CAN restore your metabolism. It’s why I started Nutshell Nutrition, to help others find food freedom. Because food is to be enjoyed and celebrated, and everyone deserves joy, health, happiness!
Robyn Coale, RD is a Registered Dietitian, marathoner, coffee addict and lover of all things nut butter who is passionate about helping others find food freedom and nourish their body well. It’s why she started Nutshell Nutrition, an online nutrition consulting practice that de-bunks nutrition myths and helps people break free of calorie restriction and over exercising to restore metabolism and balance hormones. Instead, it’s about eating more and exercising less to live a joyful, intentional and happy life. You can find her blogging at The Real Life RD about good eats, plant strong nutrition, resting more, and living imperfectly.