Let’s talk cutting. Cutting calories that is. When the goal is to lose weight we have to create a calorie deficit, i.e. cutting calories. Where it gets tricky is most people try to cut too much. They try to get by with as few calories as humanly possible. What they don’t realize is that this method is actually counterproductive.
Our bodies still think if we aren’t taking in a lot of food, it means there is a shortage of resources and it needs to conserve the resources (i.e fat) it has. It doesn’t realize that the supermarket or corner fast food restaurant makes it easy to eat anytime we want. It still thinks nothing coming in means an environmental shortage, so we need to hold on to fat to survive. So eating too little can sometimes be as bad as eating too much.
When I start working with a new client, one of the first things I do is ask them to keep a food log, if they are not already doing so. I do this to better understand what they are eating and provide them guidance on getting rid of the processed junk and adding more whole, real food to their diet. What I find is, for those who are already trying to lose weight, that they aren’t eating enough. 99% of the time, the person not eating enough is also female.
Usually what I find is that they are trying to subsist on 1000-1200 calories to support their workouts (usually all cardio by the way). The first thing I do is let them know it is okay to eat. Not only is it okay to eat, you must eat to avoid the body thinking it is in a famine environment and to fuel your workouts. By the way, this is not always an easy task. We have been so programmed to decrease as much as possible by any means necessary that eating more somehow seems inherently wrong. Most of that programming comes from fad weight loss gimmicks that put people on starvation diets to give them big results fast.
The goal is to find the right amount of food that, when combined with the right exercise program, will allow them to lose fat and potentially build some muscle in a safe and sustainable way. Starving yourself is not the way to achieve this.
Don’t get me wrong, you still need to create a calorie deficit. You can do this by increasing activity and marginally decreasing your calorie intake (the percentage can vary depending on how much weight you need to lose). For most people this will allow you to eat quality foods 5-6 times per day.
Let me show you an example. If I had a client who was a 170 lb, 35 year old female with about 32% body fat, she would need approximately 2200 calories a week to maintain her weight. This number also assumes she is moderately active, already working out 3-5 days per week. My recommendation for her would be to make sure she is working out hard each and every time, probably increasing her workouts to 6 days per week. This will help increase her calorie burn. I would also recommend cutting calories to about 1600-1700 per day. This is going to create the calorie deficit she would need to lose weight. By the way, if you are eating quality foods you can eat quite a bit at 1600 calories. No need to starve yourself to achieve your goal.
Time for homework. Do you know how many calories you should be eating? Jump over to the Tools page to find out what your maintenance level is by using the female or male calorie calculator. Surprised or not? Let me know by posting a comment below.