Fitness Myths: Eat more to lose weight

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“The reason your not losing weight is because you’re not eating enough and your body is going into starvation mode!!” This is something that I have heard a lot of times during my career as a personal trainer and is something that I have never understood the thinking behind. Apparently, if you diet on too fewer calories your body goes into “starvation mode” and your metabolic rate decreases to the point where it is now impossible for you to lose weight. In order to get out of “starvation mode” you must increase your calorie intake and this will allow you to lose weight.

Out of all the myths, this is by far the easiest one to bust. It makes no sense. Yes our bodies adapt to the amount of food we consume. The less food we consume, the less we unconsciously move, the fewer calories we burn digesting food, the less body weight we now have to move around, etc. All these things and many others mean that our total calorie expenditure is going to decrease as we try to diet. However if this happened at a one to one ratio (meaning that our metabolic rate decreases at the same rate as we decrease calories) then weight loss would never be possible and we know that this is untrue. My simple response to the “starvation mode” hypothesis is that if our bodies really did go into “starvation mode” during periods of low calorie intake then world hunger would not be an issue. We would not have people literally starving to death because people would go into “starvation mode” and they would stop losing weight and live forever. Yes it is true that we burn fewer calories when we are in a calorie deficit but this is unlikely to be the cause of your weight loss issues.

Despite this myth being very wrong, there are some occasions where we might encourage people to eat more food in order to help with their weight loss. I will discuss a couple of situations where eating more may actually lead to greater weight loss.

The first situation is where someone eats a highly processed diet which lacks in fruits, veggies and whole grains. The idea is that you say to this person, you can have unlimited amount of fruits and veggies (and maybe some protein and carb sources) and only limit the amount of processed foods they will eat. The hope is that this person will fill themselves up of fruit and veggies without taking in too many calories and they will therefore no longer consume as many calories from unhealthy sources (such as ice cream and pizza). This method can be extremely successful and is used by dieting companies such as Weight Watchers and Slimming World. These companies have a list of “free foods” which can be consumed in unlimited quantities. The only issue with this type of diet is that at some point you may have to start tracking your fruit and veggie intake. For example, if someone is eating 6 bananas a day because they are a “free food” they could be consuming an extra 700 calories in their diet without even thinking about it.

The next example of where it might be appropriate to eat more food is where someone is tracking their calorie intake and is almost certain that they are in a calorie deficit but is not losing weight. There is a number of things that could be happening here and they potentially be fixed with an increase in calorie allowance. If someone is on very low calories then they will be more likely to say yes if they are offered a crisp/ sweet from a friend because they will probably be hungry and will probably not bother recording this in their food diary. They might also be more likely to round down when weighing food. For example, if they are supposed to have 50g of oats with their breakfast and the scale says 53g then they will round down to 50g but they might not do this if they were on higher calories. You are also more likely to go off your diet and have cheat meal if you are on fewer calories. People tend not to track these days or count them towards their diet but they could be the reason you aren’t losing weight. If you increase calorie allowance then you might see a decrease in long term calorie intake. Let me explain why. If you are on higher calories then you are less likely to cheat on your diet, take snacks off friends, round down when weighing and this means that long term calorie intake could be reduced. Some people call this a reverse diet and assume that the increase in metabolism is responsible for the weight loss. Although this can play a part, it is not the main reason that you may experience weight loss by increasing your calorie allowance.

So if there is anything to take away from this article it is that simply eating more food will not fix your weight loss plateau. However, if you feel hungry all the time then it might be worth consuming more fruit and veggies and if you are such low calories that you find yourself cheating then consider being a bit more lenient.

Speak to you guys again soon.


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