It is commonly accepted if you eat too much you will gain weight. But what many people don’t realize, is that if you eat too little it can also have negative consequences on your health.
Of course we know diseases like Anorexia and Bulimia pose major health risks, but even strict dieting can wreak havoc on your body.
In the bodybuilding world, it is commonly called “metabolic damage.”
When I did two fitness competitions in less than six weeks, I experienced this firsthand.
To get my body fat as low as possible, I cut my daily intake to between 1100-1200 calories (most of that was veggies and protein) and trained twice a day, cardio in the morning and lifting in the afternoon.
I can remember during that time I was always cold. And not my normal “genetic tendency cold.” This was extreme, and almost physically intolerable. It affected my ability to think and focus. After a day at work my lower legs felt as if they’d been sitting in buckets of cold water for hours.
I also slept terribly. I felt like I was waking up throughout the night, and was plagued with terrible night sweats so bad I would wake up to soaked sheets every morning.
My workouts were affected too. Little by little my energy became depleted. I couldn’t lift heavy and had to really push myself to keep up the intensity of my training.
At this time, I was the leanest I’ve ever been. My weight dropped to the lowest it had been since I was in college. I remember thinking I looked great, but I felt terrible. I can’t know for sure it was true metabolic damage, but I know without a doubt something was not right with my body.
After those two shows I went back to a more healthy way of eating, with more calories and stopped doing two-a-day workouts. The night sweats, extreme cold and fatigue slowly faded.
Fast forward to present time. In mid-March I started a new training program to lean out and drop some body fat for a June photo shoot. The plan involved cutting my calories and increasing my workouts to two-a-days 6 days a week. I also have a physical job and teach up to 5 fitness classes a week.
I started my calories in a low range, 1300-1400 daily and cut carbs to about 120 grams a day. I wanted to see how my body would respond.
It took about a month to start seeing results, but what seemed like all of a sudden, I felt leaner and tighter and I knew I was losing body fat. My weight dropped four pounds in two weeks. I thought “this is great!”
And then it happened.
Night sweats. Poor sleep. Feeling cold to the point I could not focus. Cravings like I didn’t have before. My workouts were more of a struggle. I lacked energy.
About four days of this and I knew exactly what was happening. I immediately took a look at my eating plan and adjusted it to allow for more calories (between 1500-1600) and upped my carb intake.
I know my body, and when I start to lose body fat too quickly, my system fights back to try to stop it. The danger of this is that in order to protect itself, my body will slow my metabolism. This is so it can reserve as much energy as possible for critical functions, because it does not feel like it is going to get enough energy in the form of food.
It might sound a little funny, but your body is like a little machine. It seeks to find a balance, known as homeostasis. When you start to lose weight whether by increasing exercise, decreasing food, or both, this disrupts the balance. The body struggles to regain it, and that’s how you achieve weight loss.
The tough thing is, if it happens too quickly or in an unhealthy way, it can throw your system into a type of panic mode. The body responds to this rapid, sudden fat loss as if it is under attack.
That’s why slow, progressive fat loss is so important. Losing weight quickly is not worth throwing your hormones and glands all out of whack. The short-term effects are unpleasant, and the long-term effects can be devastating. If your metabolism is forced to slow and can’t function properly, it can be extremely hard to return it to a high-functioning state, which means you may have a very difficult time losing or even maintaining weight even with very low calorie intake.
What’s the right balance of activity and intake? The answer to that question is going to be different for everyone. Your body will tell you, but you have to listen and become intuitive to its signals.
These are some possible indications your metabolism may be slowing and you should probably increase your food intake or decrease your exercise level:
- You are suddenly having trouble sleeping and don’t know why.
- Your cravings become increasingly strong and can’t seem to be satisfied.
- Your energy levels drop and your workouts suffer.
- Your strength decreases.
- You feel cold much of the time and find it affects your ability to focus or function.
- You find yourself feeling “cranky” or edgy, you’re short-tempered and emotional.
- Your heart races or you start having palpitations when you didn’t before.
These are just some of the symptoms I have experienced firsthand or know to be associated with metabolic damage. It will be different for everyone.
If you’re trying to lose weight by dieting and working out and you start to feel “off,” it may be time to take a look at what you’re taking in and whether it is enough.
Rapid weight loss is not worth suffering extreme metabolic effects, trust me. Take it slow, listen to your body and always put your long-term health over quick results on the scale.
“Enjoy your youth. You’ll never be younger than you are at this very moment.”
– Chad Sugg
These days I often find my mind wandering to my past, and contemplating my future. I am acutely aware of the fact I am not getting younger, but each day slipping further and further away from my youth.
The younger me is someone who, in many ways, I am not proud of. I am a very different person at 31 than I was exactly ten years ago when I graduated college.
But the beauty of aging is the ability to recognize our mistakes, learn from them, and grow. If I could go back and speak to a less-experienced, scared and in many ways insecure me, there are so many things I would want to tell her. Here is my advice to my younger self.
1. Stop being so self-centered. It’s not always about you.
2. Be nice. It feels good.
3. Listen more, judge less.
4. Invest in the relationships that matter. Leave the others behind.
5. If a guy isn’t interested in you it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. He’s just not the right guy.
6. You don’t have decide your entire future right now.
7. Spend more time with the people who love you. There will come a day when you can’t.
8. Do more for others.
9. Learn, explore, grow. Try new things.
10. The best investment you can make is in yourself.
11. Be ok with being alone.
12. Learn to manage money.
13. Save more, spend less.
14. Meet new people and try new things. It’s a big world.
15. Don’t complain. It’s useless and annoying.
16. Appreciate your family. Not everyone has one.
17. Take care of your body. It will pay off in the long run.
18. Cigarettes and alcohol always end badly. Avoid them.
19. Use your time wisely. It’s a luxury you are going to have less and less of.
20. Love yourself first and let that love guide your choices.
21. There is so much life ahead, and it keeps getting better.
If you could speak to your younger self, what would you say?
Admit it, you didn’t know how the heck to pronounce it either (I can’t be the only one!)
It’s actually pronounced “keen-WAH” and it has become a lot more mainstream in the past few years.
First of all, quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain as commonly thought. This means it is generally considered safe for those with gluten sensitivities, although cross-contamination should always be considered.
Quinoa is a complete protein, and also high in fiber and many essential nutrients. Its consistency is similar to brown rice or couscous. It can be used in a variety of ways including as a base for a salad or casserole, a side dish, or even in baking.
What quinoa isn’t is easy (IMHO). You prepare it pretty much the same as you would rice, by adding uncooked quinoa to boiling water then letting it simmer until all the water is absorbed.
The problem I’ve run into is that it tends to be somewhat sticky and can be tedious to cook with. (I’ve read soaking the seeds before cooking will fix this issue but I’ve yet to try it myself.)
The seeds are also completely round and very small, so cooked or uncooked it can easily make a mess if you aren’t careful. Inevitably when I try to pour out a cup to cook, some of it spills and it is a pain in the butt to pick up those tiny seeds.
I have only tried baking with quinoa once (usually I cook it like rice and mix it with veggies and chicken or fish) and the results were not great. Using a recipe I found online I made a few changes, including making bread instead of muffins. The end result tasted good, but the consistency was a little off. The bread came out kind of sticky. I’m not sure if this was an issue of the dough being too dry to start with or if it was under or maybe even over cooked. I think I will try again adding a little more unsweetened almond milk and make muffins instead, because I thick the consistency is more suited to that.
Have you tried quinoa? What is your favorite way to use it?
In the weight loss world, counting calories alone is pretty much flushing money down the toilet.
If you’re counting calories and hoping to lose weight without paying attention to the macronutrient amounts of the foods you are eating, you are wasting your time. Period.
Wait- you’re not supposed to count calories? But isn’t losing weight all about calories in versus calories out? Isn’t the key to burn more than you take in?
Energy balance/deficit is important, but in reality there is much more to it. Think of it this way: 100 calories of broccoli is not equal to 100 calories of potato chips. We all know this, right? Broccoli has a lot more benefits nutritionally than potato chips. What the body does with them is very different. The two are not equal, even at the same caloric value.
This tells us there must be more at play than calories.
There is. They are called macronutrients.
“Macros” are the three dietary elements that make up our food: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. All foods contain one, two or all of these macronutrients, and they each have a significant and unique effect on our bodies and metabolism.
The body’s “building blocks.” Used to build and maintain muscle and lean tissue, facilitate other important bodily functions.
- How much do you need: varies. A low range would be about .5 grams per day per pound of bodyweight (so for a 100 pound person, 50 grams a day minimum.) I usually recommend anywhere from .75 grams to 1.5 grams per pound depending on age, bodyweight, physical activity and goals.
- When to eat: I recommend a protein source with every meal. It breaks down more slowly than carbs or fats and keeps you fuller longer. Also protein is the one macro many people don’t get enough of so having some at each meal helps ensure you are not eating too little.
- Sources: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, protein powders, soy products, some seeds such as hemp
The body’s most readily available energy source. Also can be stored for energy in adipose tissue as body fat. Provide much of the all-important fiber in our diet.
- How much do you need: again, this varies greatly by individual. Carbohydrate metabolism is affected by genetics, activity level, overall health and more. Some people can eat a lot of carbs and never seem to gain a pound while others will easily add body fat when eating a high carb diet. It is generally recommended not to go too low with carbs as they are essential, but what that means varies greatly person to person. Adults should aim for 25-35 grams of dietary fiber per day (many people don’t get enough.)
- When to eat: carbohydrates are best utilized first thing in the morning to replenish any glycogen that may have been depleted from the liver during sleep, and around times of activity such as a workout. Because carbs are the body’s preferred energy source, they provide fuel during periods of high activity and are used to replenish depleted glycogen stores after training. Generally speaking, the less active a person is the less carbs they need.
- Important to know: there are two kinds of carbs, complex and simple. Vegetables are complex carbohydrates and do not break down in the same way as starchier carb sources. Of course veggies are rich in nutrients and should make up the bulk of any healthy diet. For this reason I separate them out when referring to “carbs” with clients. You don’t want to put limits on veggies, they are hard to overeat. Simple carbs are broken down more quickly and spike blood sugar more than veggies. These are the ones you want to pay attention to.
- Sources of “simple” carbs: fruit, rice, potatoes (all kinds), grains, oats, sugar, packaged and processed foods, candy, cake etc.
The most energy-dense source of fuel for the body. Fats can be stored for energy, leading to the accumulation of adipose tissue (body fat.) Essential for many functions within the body.
- How much do you need: fat can be tricky, because while vitally important to health, there are good and bad sources. A healthy diet should be rich in “good” fat sources like polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and some saturated fat, while trans fats should be avoided or limited as much as possible. You want to be sure to include healthy fat sources in your diet (30-50g per day), but just like carbs, some people can eat more while others should stay in the low range to avoid gaining excess body fat. A very general rule is the higher your carbs, the lower your fats and vice versa. The one mistake many people make is following a diet high in “low-fat” foods which ends up leaving them with hardly any healthy fats in their diet at all, and too much trans fat.
- When to eat: fat, like protein can help keep you fuller longer since it takes a little longer to digest. Typically I recommend avoiding fat pre and post workout, and keeping it on the lower end when the meal is higher in “simple” carbs.
- Sources of “good” fats: nuts, seeds, nut butters, chia, flax, olive oil, salmon, beans (also a carb), coconut oil, butter
- Sources of “bad” fats: fast-food, restaurant foods, packaged and processed foods, vegetable oil
Understanding the different macronutrients can be confusing but the bottom line is this: optimal health and weight loss can only be achieved with a proper balance of each, and a calorie to a calorie is not necessarily equal.
Once you can easily identify which macro group a food falls into, you can use that information to build healthy, balanced meals that will fuel your body for optimal health and performance. Just remember, your body’s needs are very unique and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.