One thing is for certain – blanket statements can rarely be applied to weight loss. Telling everyone who wants to lose weight that they need to eat less and move more could be causing more harm than good.
Yet that’s the oversimplified advice given to most people who want to lose weight. People automatically assume that if you aren’t losing weight that you must be eating too much.
But what if you’re already eating very little food, are hungry, and have no energy to work out? Should you still eat less and move more?
Men & Women Tend to Need Opposite Advice
For most things health and fitness I think men and women should use similar advice – strength train, eat in a moderate deficit, don’t over-restrict your food choices, etc. But this is one piece of advice I think men and women should heed differently.
I’ve found that men can usually stand to benefit from the advice – “eat less, move more”. That’s because most men are coming from a lifestyle where they typically have a desk job and they either eat out a lot, eat a lot of packaged foods, or generally overeat.
Women, on the other hand, are almost polar opposites. Most women who come to me are undereating and exercising too much relative to their food intake.
Most are eating 1200 calories/day and exercising (mostly cardio) 5-7 days/week and aren’t losing weight. Are we really going to tell them to eat less and move more? Are they supposed to eat 1000 calories/day and work out twice per day?
Believe it or not, that’s what many people end up doing because they follow that faulty blanket advice to eat less and move more. And they end up burnt out, injured, and well short of their weight loss goal.
So many women are surprised (scared) when I put them on higher calories and actually have them back off on their exercise frequency.
Most are now eating 500 calories more than they used to be and doing less (but more effective) exercise, and all end up losing weight. This is after they had been stuck for months/years at xxx pounds eating 1200 calories and doing cardio 5-7 days/week.
Which Advice Should You Be Following?
If you aren’t losing weight eating 1200 calories/day, then one of 2 things are the problem:
- You don’t have any weight to lose – for example, you’re 5’5 130lbs, or
- Your calories are too low relative to your body stats and activity levels.
Either way, your calories should not be going lower. You should not be eating “less”. And you likely shouldn’t be moving more. Instead of cutting your calories more you should – “eat more, maybe move less“.
This advice goes out to every female eating 1200 calories or less or any male eating 1600 calories or less. If you’re eating this amount of food and you aren’t 5ft tall or under, then you should be eating more food.
Whether or not you should be exercising less just depends. Most people only need 3-4 good strength workouts each week. If you’re staying active on the other days then you’re doing all that is necessary if your goal is to get leaner.
More is not always better.
How Much Exercise?
In a caloric deficit recovery becomes an issue. You have fewer calories that can be used for recovery purposes.
This is yet another reason why more exercise isn’t better for weight loss. For weight loss you primarily want to use exercise as a means to build muscle. And you want to do that in the most efficient way possible.
If you have specific fitness goals in mind you might need more exercise volume and/or more specificity in your training (more running if you want to run a marathon, etc).
But for weight loss you want to do just enough exercise to build muscle and be healthy, and leave the rest of the time for recovery – more sleep, less stress, more muscle recovery, more “me” time, etc.
So take a good look at your current situation. If you feel like you’re eating well and moving your body a lot but aren’t getting results, there’s a good chance you need to “eat more, maybe move less”.