Or more precisely…how to eat more without getting frustrated and giving up.
I’ve been working for a long time on understanding metabolism. The reason? I screwed mine up a long time ago by eating too little (this is why diets don’t work long-term) and working out too much. And now, hundreds of women are coming to Strongfigure daily searching for the same answers. There are plenty of scientific factors that have an affect on your metabolism (levels of NAD+ is a major one), but today we’re looking into another reason.
Everyone wants to learn how to lose weight. These women are frustrated because they’ve been dieting and training hard in the gym for months…sometimes years. And instead of seeing progress, for many of them, things are just getting worse. They have screwed up their metabolisms by under-eating and as if this isn’t bad enough, they’re usually making matters worse by exercising too much.
And all of these readers have one thing in common: They all under-eat.
In fact, under-eating is such a common problem that even other bloggers are starting to post on the subject.
In the quest to have the “perfect body” ( ← that’s a whole other post I’ll save for another day), women are flat out killing themselves in the gym and not eating enough to fuel their lives. And what happens when you don’t eat enough? Especially when you workout hard every single day?
Your body starts storing food. You gain weight. Your metabolism slows down. It becomes harder and harder to lose weight.
And what’s the number one way we combat weight gain? By working out even more and eating even less. Eventually we get stuck eating so little that we’re starving, still storing the belly fat we’re doing a gazillion crunches a day trying to get rid of, and then I end up with emails that say “Please help me.”
Strongfigure has been featured with Elysium Health in the quest to further understand metabolism and the science of healthy living.
You’ve crushed your metabolism, and now you need help to fix it.
In my experience, the best way to work on bringing your metabolism back up to speed is to “Reverse Diet.” (And don’t mistake this for an actual “diet.” Here, “diet” means what it should mean–the foods you choose to eat each day. YOUR diet.)
So let’s reverse your diet.
1. Figure out you BMR.
Your BMR is the number of calories you need to eat each day to simply “exist.” This is what your body needs to function without any extra activity other than breathing. So this is going to be easy to figure out: go to this website and use the calculator.
2. Figure out how many calories you should be eating each day.
You can actually use the same website OR you can figure out calories for yourself. To figure out for yourself, take your weight and multiply it by one of the following numbers:
- 11 Sedentary
- 12 You work out 3-5 times a week
- 13 You work out 5+ times a week
- 14 You work out 5+ times a week for more than 90 minutes per day
- 15 You work out 10-15 hours per week
- 16 You’re a professional athlete
- Add .5 to any of the above numbers if your job or your life outside of exercising keeps you active (you don’t sit down much).
This is the number you need to maintain your current weight. And don’t automatically assume that you need to cut this number down because you want to lose weight. If you’ve been eating too little to support your lifestyle and exercise, especially for a while, you likely have some metabolic damage to correct. So we need to fix that first before we start slashing numbers.
3. Now, log all your food and drinks for 3-5 days to figure out what you actually eat.
Use an app like My Fitness Pal or log with your phone, tablet, or an old-fashioned notebook–it doesn’t matter–just log your food for 3-5 days. And no one is going to see this but you, so BE HONEST. Don’t suddenly change your diet because you have to write it down. If this log isn’t accurate, your reverse won’t be accurate, and your progress won’t be what you want it to be. So log everything, and at the end of the 3-5 days that you log, figure out what your average caloric intake is.
4. What does this number look like compared to what the number should look like? Is this eye-opening?
In order to fix some likely metabolic damage, you need to get these two numbers to start matching. But increasing calories from 1200 to 2200 is scary. Especially if you’re fearful of gaining weight. And if you make this leap in one week, one day, even in a month–you could actually gain weight.
Your body could be starving for food which is also why it may be storing up all that you’re feeding it. To get your body to start burning food and using it as fuel–boosting your metabolism–you need to start increasing your calories.
5. How do you increase to your new caloric goal without gaining weight? SLOWLY.
The first thing you’ll need to do is add about 100-150 calories to your already low caloric intake. Continue to log your food, but now that you have an average to go off of, add some calories to that number.
So if you were eating 1200 calories before, start eating 1300-1350 calories for at least one to two weeks. Only when you feel comfortable eating at this number (you’re not bloated or feeling stuffed), then you can increase again by 100-150 calories. So maybe after a couple weeks you’ll increase to 1500. And after a few more weeks, increase to 1650. Continue this pattern until you get to your proper caloric intake.
While you’re increasing, keep notes. How is your energy? How do your clothes fit? How do you feel emotionally? Changing your food intake can change a lot about your personality, your mood, even your sleep and digestion. Pay close attention to how your body is reacting to the food.
If you have a day or two where you just feel a little off…maybe you feel bloated or full or your pants are a little tight, it’s ok! Stop and assess the situation.
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Are your meals high in sodium?
- Are you choosing healthy, fibrous foods to eat each day or are you increasing your calories with pizza and ice cream?
- Are you eating enough protein?
If you need to back off by 50 or so calories for a few days, do so. Then when ready, add the 50 back in. Stay here for a while and only continue to add calories when you’re ready.
The slower you add, the better the process of reversing works.
What do you do when you reach your calorie goal?
Stay here. I know, I know, you’ve worked so hard to get here–possibly over the course of several weeks, but you’re going to have to be patient. Now is where the magic happens. Now is where you feed your body what it needs each and every day.
This may or may not surprise your body. Your body may start burning efficiently right away–you could even lose weight during this process! Or your body may be slow to respond and not do much of anything. The key is patience. Stay at this number for a minimum of two weeks. If your body handles this number well, stay here until it doesn’t!
What should happen is that your weight should stabilize. You should feel energized and kick ass in your workouts. Your mood should be better and you may even sleep better. Life should feel better overall.
Where do you go from here?
Check out Part 2 of “How to Eat More Without Gaining Weight” right here! In this post I discuss how to cut calories in a healthy way, as well as how to continue reversing your calories so that you can maximize on strength and muscle building while eating even more food! Make sure you sign up for a free subscription to Strongfiugre so that you don’t miss out on any of our future posts!