Recently, a colleague approached me with some questions about body composition. She had been training and following the Precision Nutrition serving guide, but couldn’t shake the last ten pounds of weight. She asked me to take a look at her history and give her some insight about her plateau problem.
I went through her report. She outlined her healthy meals, the details of her clean eating, and her 1,200 calories per day limit. The woman is totally dedicated but at a standstill. She asked what I thought could be causing her to plateau.
To her shock, I told her she needed to eat more to weigh less. She’s one of three people I have given this advice to in the last few months.
Calories In, Calories Out
Most people are aware that to lose weight they must expend more calories than they take in. Hence the focus on diet and exercise in weight loss goals. This is known as your energy balance. Of course, if it were really that simple, people like my colleague wouldn’t struggle, and my job wouldn’t exist.
Thermogenesis, Metabolic Rate, and Other Big Words
There’s more to weight loss than just your energy balance. There are variables, like your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), your rate of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), and the Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE).
Each of these could be thesis fodder, but let’s keep it simple, so you aren’t bored to tears:
Resting Metabolic Rate
Your RMR is the base level of calories required just to keep your body alive. Think of your body as a factory. The RMR is the overhead cost that you pay just to keep the doors open each day. The more you weigh, the higher your RMR will be. So when calculating your required caloric intake, it will look very different at 250lbs versus 190lbs. The caloric intake that allowed you to lose weight at the beginning of your journey will not work later on.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
NEAT refers to the calories burned through fidgeting, moving around at your desk, getting up to get three cups of coffee, getting up to go to the bathroom because you drank three cups of coffee and so on. Essentially, it’s your movement other than intentional exercise, and your NEAT rate will be different than other peoples’.
Thermic Effect of Eating
Your TEE refers to how many calories burned through the act of eating and digesting food. Chewing, swallowing, stomach function, all of it requires energy. You may have heard that eating celery burns calories. This is related to TEE.
Get to the Part Where I Eat More
Ok, let’s tie it together. What do TEE, NEAT, and RMR have in common? They all slow down as you provide less fuel. If you are continuously providing less energy than you’re burning, your body will adjust to using less energy.
This process does take time. When you start a new diet, the pounds may seem to fly off. Your body is a smart machine. It sees a scenario in which less fuel is available and adapts. What it sees is a perceived threat of starvation, versus a desire to fit in your high school skinny jeans. Remember, the body has a very different idea of survival than our minds.
Eat More to Weigh Less
My colleague was eating 1,200 calories a day, including the days on which she did intense exercise. 1,200 calories is a reasonable diet for a sedentary woman around 120lbs looking to lose weight, but this particular lady was burning 300 extra calories on her exercise days. Essentially, her body perceived the threat of starvation and started to slow her metabolic and thermodynamic processes.
So I told her to eat more to fuel her workouts. A few weeks later, she’s seen the scale drop for the first time in months. And that my friends, is why sometimes you have to eat more to lose weight.
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