Wednesday 21 May 2014

Are you eating enough?

It is rare that I will get a client who is eating too much food. Often, it’s the other way around. Which makes sense, given what we have been taught about weight loss. It’s simple, really: 

“Eat less. Exercise more”.

Hmm. OK. My job (in terms of weight loss clients) really should be obsolete then, right? If it really were as simple as eating less and exercising more, most of my clients would be Kate-Moss-thin. But they aren’t. Some have just a little bit of stubborn fat that they would like to lose (for aesthetic reasons), others have more that they need to lose (for health reasons). All are exercising their butts off. Too much, in my opinion. All are not eating enough.

So simple, yet so easily forgotten. 
I was taught at university that if an overweight person comes to me and their food record shows they are consuming fewer calories than they are burning, then they must have been lying, because they should be losing weight. How f-ing arrogant of us to assume this. It truly breaks my heart to see people who are literally broken from trying so hard to lose weight using the traditional “eat less, exercise more” dogma”.

I agree. Ridiculous indeed.
So why is fat loss so hard?

Well, it is complicated, and I am the first person to admit that I do not have all the answers. As I mentioned, if weight loss were easy, we would not have an obesity epidemic that is running out of control.

What I do know is that when you consume too few calories, shit is going to hit the fan. Let’s back up a little for some weekly science….

Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is an estimate for how many calories you would burn if you lay in bed all day (sans hanky panky). Your RMR represents the minimum amount of energy required to keep your body functioning – your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your reproductive system functioning, your thyroid gland humming along nicely, controlling your metabolism and body temperature. Let’s put this into practice and see what some numbers look like:

To calculate your RMR, you can use something called the “Schofield Equation”. While this equation does have some flaws, it provides a pretty decent estimate.

For me (and any other female in the 18-30 age group), the following equation would be used to get my RMR:

{(0.062 x weight (kgs)) + 2.036} x 1000 = 5,942kJ per day (divide by 4.28 to convert to calories)

So my minimum calories that I should consume, based on me staying in bed all day is 1388. MINIMUM! This is not taking into account any sort of exercise, folks.

Let’s say I decide that I am going to walk a little each day. My estimated energy requirements then go up to 2,082kcals per day! Just to do a little wandering here and there.

What is really concerning to me is that I have clients consuming around 1300-1500 kcals per day who are training at high intensity, for long durations, every day of the week. A rest day for them would involve a slow run, rather than a fast one. And this is not just females, it’s the fellas too.

What’s the problem with eating too few calories?

Image by Sara Thurley via Pinterest
When you have insufficient calories on board to fuel basic bodily functions, those functions will slow down. Your brain will recognise this lack of fuel and signal to the thyroid gland (in your neck) that energy needs to be conserved and to slow everything down.

Your thyroid gland controls all of your metabolic processes and your body temperature. If it slows down production of thyroid hormones, your metabolism will slow down, your heart rate will drop and you may struggle to keep warm. What happens when your metabolism slows down, people? You guessed it! Weight loss resistance!  If you are, essentially, starving, do you really think your body is going to give up its fat stores easily? Or do you think it is going to hold on to every last morsel to feed your vital organs (and to keep you warm). (PS have you checked out the Thyroid Sessions yet? They are awesome!)

If this wasn’t bad enough, your adrenals are probably going to kick into gear to help you survive (especially if you are doing high intensity exercise and don’t have enough carbs in your diet). This means cortisol is going to ramp up and give you a nice little pooch around your tummy that you can’t shift, no matter how many crunches you do (as a side note, crunches are not the best exercise for a lean mid-section, so just stop it).

In my opinion, troubles with weight loss are the least of your worries if you are chronically under-eating and over-exercising. I have spoken (at length) about how this can lead to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (click the labels below this post to read more about this topic), but what about the other consequences, not just impacting the ladies:
  • Compromised bone density
  • Brain fog and inability to focus
  • Decreased performance (in all forms of exercise, including the bedroom)
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiency
  • Low energy
  • Increased risk of heart problems
  • Poor memory
  • Skin breakouts
  • Hair loss
  • Cracked and brittle nails 

Not pretty, right? Moral to the story – eat more and eat well! Or, exercise less. You choose. But don’t do nothing, or you could end up in some ugly (literally and figuratively) places. It might be useful to track your daily food and exercise, using something like “My Fitness Pal” to get a better picture of whether you need a slap in the face with a juicy steak.

Thanks, Ryan. Much appreciated. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post Kate. I think it is really important that people realise how important eating enough is!

    I was wondering if you were thinking of doing a post on eating meat vs plant based? I respect your views on these things and I always wonder which is 'best', along with the whole grain argument!