Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people I speak to tell me the same story, and I’ll give you some insight to what’s going on and why you may not be seeing the results you’re looking for.
Firstly, to shape up, most people follow the idea of eating less and exercising more, and this does make logical sense. If you consume less calories, than you burn, you ‘should’ see results. This theory is based on creating what’s called a ‘calorie deficit’, where you burn more energy than you consume.
The opposite of this would be to consume more calories than you burn to gain weight and if you consume the exact amount of calories as you burn, then your weight will stay the same, this is called an energy balance.
The problem though is this.
Your body has what’s called an RMR (resting metabolic rate). This is the amount of energy your body burns at rest. This includes functions such as resting heart rate, brain function, organ function, temperature control, hormone regulation etc. So, at rest, your body does burn and require energy.
You then increase this energy consumption by doing daily activities such as walking, driving, brushing your teeth, exercising, sending a text, talking to a friend, etc. All of these activities burn more energy than you would at complete rest and for most people, their RMR + their energy burn from daily activities is much higher than they think. So, as you can see, there is a basic need for energy, and for your body to perform optimally, these energy needs need to be met.
So, you decide to start your fitness transformation and you want results. You increase the amount of energy your body burns by exercising, and you decide to decrease your energy consumption by dieting/eating less. Here’s the problem, if you increase your energy output, and you decrease your energy in, then you create quite a large calorie deficit. Unfortunately for us, this doesn’t mean that our body will just shed body fat, instead, your body recognises that there is a shortage of food, and it holds on to fat and energy stores to basically, stay alive. This is part of our evolution and has helped to keep humans alive throughout our history.
If you’re now exercising regularly and eating fewer calories, you may now be in a place where you’re not quite eating enough to meet the demands of your RMR, let alone your total daily energy needs.
The problem you now have is your body recognises that you aren’t eating enough and so goes in to a heightened state of stress where it holds on to energy stores to survive on the lower number of calories you’re now consuming. This means that your resting metabolic functions are now being in effect ‘turned down’ and as such you aren’t performing as well as you used to. This leads to low energy levels, poor clarity of mind, low mood, increased risk of injury, frustration and many other problems.
You can’t eat less than you already are because you’re hungry all the time and you can’t exercise more because you’ve adapted to your current training sessions, plus you don’t have enough time to keep exercising for longer and longer. Perhaps you’ve even picked up an injury?
This scenario is very common and one I come across almost daily.
So what’s the key to seeing results?
While it is true, to shape up, you do need to be in a calorie deficit, it doesn’t need to be a huge one. It should be enough of a deficit to be in a fat burning state, but not so much of a deficit where your body feels stressed and doesn’t function properly.
Now be warned, if you’re in this position of having under-eaten for a while and of the mindset that eating less is better, it can be very difficult mentally to understand that eating more food will help you to start seeing results, however I prefer to think of it as ‘fuelling the change’. Giving the body what it needs in order to run smoothly and efficiently. Think the same for adding fuel to the car, what happens when you run out of fuel? The car breaks down. In many ways, the body is the same.
Choosing good quality natural foods, protein, fruits, veggies, Low GI carbs such as brown rice, and healthy fats are a great place to start.
I would always recommend minimising junk/processed food where you can as these tend to hide hidden nasties when it comes to weight loss and can get in your way, plus with whole foods you know exactly what is going in to your mouth. Processed foods are generally easier for the body to digest also, meaning that you extract more calories from a process meal than you do a meal made from scratch with natural ingredients. This does depend on cooking methods etc, however it’s still very relevant and worth considering.
Try to make sure your meals all have at least 1 serving of Protein, 1 serving of Low GI carbs, 1 serving of Veg and a small amount of Fat (thumb size).
In my next blog, I’ll talk you through the process of calculating the number of calories you need to consume to and you might be surprised at just how much you can eat!
Thanks for reading. Look out for Part 2 of this blog post where I’ll go in to more detail around energy balance and help you to calculate your own calorie needs.