Eat More to Lose Weight?

While in most cases, you need to cut calories to lose weight, if you’ve been yo-yo dieting, you might actually need to eat more to lose weight!  Why? Eating too little food can cause your metabolism to slow down – and sure enough, you will stop losing weight.  How frustrating is that?

Several sources substantiate that when you eat fewer calories than you need for basic biological function (estimated at something less than 1,200  calories/day for most people), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism.  Lynne Smiley, PhD at the University of Arizona wrote a terrific explanation of this in November 2009.  She says that humans have the physiological ability to adapt their metabolism to low-calorie diets, (a biological response that was very helpful in the old days when we were trying to survive famines). When calories are not available, the body reduces the calories it needs to function and conserves more fat to survive the famine. 

Each time the body experiences a famine (or a very low-calorie diet masquerading as a famine) the body improves its ability to conserve fat.  Therefore, after a prolonged very low-calorie diet, if you resume eating a little more, weight gain begins – and at the same time, your metabolism has slowed!  So each time you follow a very low-calorie diet, you will lose less weight but then gain more fat as your body continues to get better at adapting to fewer calories.  YIKES!

An article in Prevention Magazine featuring Dr. Dan Benardot, sports nutritionist and author, agrees. Benardot adds that extremely low-calorie diets break down calorie-burning muscle tissue to use as energy.  To remedy this, he suggests that you eat just enough so you’re not hungry–a 150-calorie snack midmorning and mid-afternoon between three meals (about 430 calories each) – to keep your metabolism humming.

Additionally, a 1950 study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment by Ancel Keys confirms that a reduction in metabolic rate results from undernourishment.  The study also shows that prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondria.  That means that extremely restricted diets may not just mess with your metabolism – but with your head as well; not a good thing!

Life Coach Martha Beck cites the Minnesota study in her weight loss book, The 4-Day Win and adds more bad news: that overeating and putting on fat is the normal psychological response just to the expectation of being hungry.  She calls this “famine brain.”

So what can you do if you’ve been yo-yo dieting with super low calories?  The answer for most people, according to Smiley and to Benardot, is to eat more appropriately. Smiley says it may take a couple of months of normal eating until your body recognizes that the “Feast or Famine Cycle” has stopped and will not start again.(Yes, you may gain some weight during that time – but you can lose it!) Then, you can start reducing your daily calorie intake SLOWLY, by only 200 or 300 calories.  At the same time, you should increase your daily activity to only burn 200 – 300 calories more.  Smiley suggests that this is a safe calorie reduction method that won’t trigger your body to adapt its metabolism downward, and can result in permanent weight loss of one half to one pound of fat per week.  

What if eating too few calories is NOT your weight loss issue?  Stay tuned….more to come in a future post.

Need more specifics from the Smiley article? Article by Lynne Smiley, Phd

To read more of the Prevention article:

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Date: Wednesday, 27. January 2010 3:34
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  1. 1

    I therefore say that eat more healthy foods and less fats. I am confused of reading so many diet tips and only a few is effective. All I can suggest to those who want to loose weight is that don't say no to foods but choose the healthy ones and don't forget to have an exercise atleast 1-2 hours everyday.

  2. 2

    Your suggestions are right on! Good eating and exercise are cornerstones of good health. I am learning that there are a few other helpful tools for weight loss and plan to share those soon. Most importantly, it seems that we each need to learn the wisdom of our own bodies. If that sounds like gobbley-gook, forgive me – I will write more posts soon!

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