How too little food can result in a plateau…or worse, weight gain:
A lot of times people try to lose weight fast by starving themselves. I’ve fallen into this trap myself. I remember eating nothing but salads in high school without any results. I remember trying to eat cereal for breakfast and lunch, and nothing else until dinner…again, no results.
Heck, I think I even tried to live on nothing but tuna. And grapefruits.
So why is it that, unless you are genuinly starving for some time or have an eating disorder, cutting way, way, way back on what you eat doens’t result in weight loss?
Starvation Mode Syndrome
I like to explain this using a car. If you take a car and fill it with gas, that car can drive, say, 400 miles. But you’d never expect that same car to make it 400 miles on half a tank, would you?
What would happen? The car would putter out and eventually die at around 200 miles.
Your body is the same way. It needs fuel.
What’s worse is that your body, unlike a car, seems to have a mind of its own. If you have one day where you starve yourself (or just give your body half the fuel it needs to make it through the day), and then the next day eat a ton (or fill up the tank, so to speak), your body reacts. It will take any extra fuel it needs and store it. Your body is responding to the day it went into starvation mode…by putting junk in the trunk!
So how do you avoid going into starvation mode?
The general rule of thumb is to make sure you consume at least 1000 calories every day. Almost no one should go under that, ever.
But a lot of people need more than that. If you’re trying to lose weight in a healthy way, you don’t want a calorie deficit of more than 1000 calories.
Calories Burned – Calories Consumed = Calorie Deficit
So if you’re burning an average of 2500 calories every day, eating less than 1500 calories would put you into starvation mode.
How do you know how many calories you burn?
Your calorie burn depends on a ton of different factors. Metabolism age, height, weight, activities you do during the day, the amount of sleep you get, your exercise, etc.
There are free programs that can help you estimate this information, such as Livestrong.com and myfitnesspal.com.
But if you really want to know and cut the guessing game out, consider getting something like the BodyMedia armband.
I know, I know, I talk about it all the time. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people run into this problem, then get out using one of these things.
I had a client at Jenny who just couldn’t lose weight. She got the armband and found out she was burning almost 2700 calories a day (that’s a lot, by the way). I couldn’t believe it. For her height, weight, and age, I never would have guessed that. So instead of eating 1200 calories a day, we bumped her up to 1700 calories and she lost…let’s see…I believe it was 60 lbs, in about 5 to 6 months. It was incredible.
Up until that point, she was starving herself whenever she tried to diet. And we were helping her! Yikes!
So once you figure out or estimate your daily calorie burn, subtract 1000 and that’s the amount of calories you should consume if you want to lose 1 to 2 lbs a week. Think of it as the “sweet spot.” Eat less than that, and your body will hold onto your weight for dear life, putting junk in the trunk whenever it can.