This is probably one of the most perplexing situations people experience when trying to lose weight.
They are eating very few calories, less than 1200 in many cases, and yet they just can’t lose weight. In some instances they actually gain weight.
Skeptics will say that they aren’t counting their calories right and that they are eating more than they say. But while that does happen, more times than not they are eating what they say they are (plus or minus a few calories).
So how is it possible to eat so little and not lose any weight?
Your Metabolism Isn’t Static
Many people incorrectly assume that if they burn 2,000 calories per day that eating 1000 calories per day will equate to 2lbs per week lost.
1,000 calories daily deficit * 7 days = 7,000 calories / 3,500 calories per pound = 2lbs
That looks right on paper, but that’s not what happens in the real world. In the real world your metabolism adapts to lower calories. This is completely normal and a necessary part of your survival.
So when you cut calories to 1,000/day (calories in), the amount of calories you burn (calories out) also decreases. This narrows the deficit you’re in, and given enough time, will eliminate it all together.
Lowering Calories Affects Activity Levels
I’ve talked about NEAT before. NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is simply the energy you expend going about your day.
This activity has a huge impact on your daily energy expenditure, many times burning more calories than your dedicated exercise session.
And what happens when you lower your calories? You subconsciously end up moving your body less. And that too impacts your metabolism and results in fewer calories burned.
You Become Extremely Efficient With the Calories You Do Eat
When you eat fewer calories your body adapts. But how does it actually do that?
It down-regulates metabolic hormones, which is just a fancy way of saying that your body becomes very efficient using the few calories you are eating.
In the past you might have burned through 100 calories like it was nothing. But when you under eat, your body uses those 100 calories very efficiently. It knows it’s on a tight budget so it adjusts itself to make the most of the calories it’s getting.
So what happens when you eat 1,000 calories per day and then you all of a sudden overeat? Well it’s still using calories very efficiently, so the sudden burst of extra energy (food) gets stored more easily.
This happens more frequently than you might think. It’s not hard to blow through a 1,000 calorie daily budget. Go out to eat for lunch and many times you’ve racked up more than half your calorie budget in one meal.
Stop viewing calories as your enemy. Eat to support the active lifestyle you’re trying to create. And have a little patience.
Rarely do I have to bring clients down to 1200 calories. The ones who are eating there have very specific physique goals and started off eating much more.
Someone who’s currently eating 1200 calories per day is likely 120lbs and has gone from 1800 calories to start, all the way down to where they currently are. This slow transition in food reduction can take up to a year to complete.
So instead of setting your calories so you can get that mythical 1-2lbs per week, eat at sustainable levels that are supportive to your physical activity demands, and be patient while you monitor your body’s feedback.
If things are moving in the right direction, however slow that might be, leave things alone. Emphasize the trend over pace.
Get the repetitions in with these new healthy behaviors so they can become habits. Because once those habits are in place, the adjustment process is much easier to do.