Today’s post is a bit unorthodox. I am sure you got mind boggled when you read the title of this post. Some might even consider this an oxymoron: eat more to lose weight faster. What?! Let me clear up a bit of this confusion by reinforcing one crucial concept; the number one factor of losing weight successfully is a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit happens when you eat less calories than your body needs to maintain its weight. Thus, your body will be forced to tap into stored body fat and use some of that to compensate for the lack of energy. But, things are not always white and black like this. Many dieters often run into plateaus after dieting for some time. I have already covered weight loss plateaus and how to go about avoiding them or busting through them if you did experience them already. Today’s topic is different in a way that it addresses hidden physiological and psychological aspects that can stall your progress altogether. If you are still confused, that’s fine, you will be fine after reading the entirety of this article. In fact, this article will have a sequel explaining another important related topic.
Decrease in metabolic rate
The truth is your body doesn’t care what you want to look like. It only cares about one thing; survival. It wants to keep you alive for as long as possible. Thus, your body doesn’t like being in a caloric deficit and it “fights” back. Many physiological and psychological processes take place in response to eating less calories than your body needs. Obviously, your metabolism is highly involved in dieting. When an individual goes on an EXTREME diet for a long time, he will often notice that his weight loss progress is slowing down gradually. Moreover, at some point, he stops losing weight altogether! He attributes that to normal weight fluctuations and hopes things go back to normal after a week or two, but they don’t! What happened? I’ve already covered what happens to metabolic rate as you diet in this article, but this will serve as a more detailed extrapolation.
Allow me to demonstrate with an example:
Mark has a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) of 3000 calories at the beginning of his diet. He decides to go on a crash diet and creates a large caloric deficit of 1500 calories to lose 3 lbs. per week. Things go great for the first few weeks then all of a sudden, Mark only loses 2 lbs. per week. He decides to continue dieting for a few more weeks then his progress slows down to 1 lb. per week. Mark is stubborn, so he decides to continue dieting and eventually stops losing weight.
Explanation: Since Mark adapted a large caloric deficit for a prolonged period of time, his metabolism responded by gradually slowing down to conserve some energy. The human body doesn’t like to waste precious energy just like that. So, Mark’s metabolic rate slowed down gradually from 3000 calories per day to 1500 calories per day! This puts Mark in a state of energy balance. Meaning, Mark’s calories in equal his calories out and thus he isn’t burning any stored energy (fat).
So, how do we avoid this problem?
Simple, do NOT eat at a very large caloric deficit. Unless you are morbidly obese, you should adapt a moderate caloric deficit that allows you to lose weight at a rate of 1-2 lbs. per week at most. Leaner individuals should aim to lose 0.75-1 lb. per week to retain as much muscle as possible while maximizing fat loss. For more details on rate of weight loss for different individuals with different goals, read these two articles:
How many calories should I eat to lose weight?
How many calories should I eat to lose fat?
Avoiding this problem by adapting a reasonably moderate caloric deficit will allow you eat more food, lose MORE fat, retain more muscle, and not damage your health in the process.
Another dieting strategy you can incorporate to avoid severe metabolic down regulation is what’s called “refeed days”.
Refeed days are days where you intentionally consume more calories than you usually do to help your body restore balance and hormonal balance. On refeed days, you would eat at maintenance or a slight caloric surplus.
How do we recover from “metabolic damage”?
First of all, I am using the term metabolic damage loosely here. In reality, there is no such thing as permanent metabolic damage from dieting. The effects are only temporary and it’s just a matter of time till your metabolism auto-regulates itself within a few weeks depending on the severity of the “damage”. But, how we reverse this impact as fast and safe as possible?
- Increase your calories! If you have been dieting for some time to the point where your progress stalls, you need to gradually add more calories to start accelerating your metabolism once again. Don’t be scared of the “weight gain”.
- Add calories slowly but not too slow. Gradual increases in calories will wake your metabolism up, but don’t increase your calories too slowly to avoid wasting time. So, 1-2 weeks of those gradual increases should do the trick. This is also known as reverse dieting.
- Wait. Your metabolic rate will go back to normal faster than you think. You just need to give it time.
Severe caloric restriction may result in more weight loss in the beginning, but be certain that this trend will slow down gradually and could even stop if you keep eating too little. Thus, eating more in this case would cause you to lose weight faster. You would also avoid temporary stalls and slow progress because you won’t be killing your metabolic rate. While this is one major aspect of why you should eat more to lose weight faster, this isn’t the complete story. In part two of this series I will go over another major adjustment you should make to your diet to accelerate your weight loss rate and avoid setbacks.