Are you eating enough to lose weight?

Recently a lady wanting to lose some body fat told me that she was getting a little dizzy, had very little energy, and just didn’t have any motivation to work out. As always, my standard question is what do you typically eat in a day? I took down all of the information from her for a typical day of eating and found the same result I (nearly) always find: She was not eating enough.

Of course, when I told her this, her answer was “WHAT? I’m trying to LOSE weight – doesn’t that mean eating less?” No, not necessarily. People come to me and talk about losing weight and getting rid of body fat and are always surprised by the first few weeks, when their preconceived notions of what to expect, are shattered. Each day, your body requires a level of calories in order to function. You must not go below that number otherwise your body will never release fat.

This is a mistake that many people make – it’s very common, and most diets and weight loss programs live by it. Starving is a terrible way to lose weight, and here’s why: when you eat too little, your body (thanks to it’s ancient design) thinks that there is a famine and the body shifts into ‘economy’ mode. When your body is not receiving enough calories, it adjusts its priorities. Since you are not getting enough fuel, then muscles must be reduced because muscles use up food for energy. According to your body, step one on a low calorie diet is get rid of muscle to make the body more efficient. It would be like driving a big fancy car with a big engine, but refusing to put gas in it. If your body were a car, it would shrink the engine so your car would use less gas.

According to your body, step two on a low calorie diet is: reduce metabolism and slow down everything. Conserve energy! Since you do not have enough fuel, you must go slowly at everything you do, in order to preserve energy. Back to the car – that would mean you would have a smaller engine, and not be able to drive faster than 40km/hr for maximum fuel efficiency.

Here’s the other challenge with eating too little: you will eventually crack. I have yet to meet anyone who can live on rice cakes and pills for long. Eventually you will eat a normal meal, or two or three… once. The pounds pack on fast because the body sees storing fuel as fat, as the best way to survive a famine, and muscle takes months to rebuild. So it took you weeks and weeks to lose five pounds, and in one meal, you gain four. Ouch!

The key to permanent weight loss is a good, healthy, nutritious meal plan that has you eating every three to four hours plus exercising consistently.

Here’s the other thing: the number one complaint I get from clients after a few days on their new meal plan is this “I cannot possibly eat all this food!” If you look at what some people eat for a normal meal versus a clean healthy meal – the answer becomes clear.

Picture a hamburger and a drink. Think about how large that is, and how much room it takes up on a plate. Now picture a chicken breast or piece of fish or lean beef, plus some rice and some veggies each the size of your fist all on another plate, with a glass of water beside it. The first meal is small in size, but huge in calories. A standard hamburger is nearly 700 calories, and the soft drink is over 200 calories. So that’s a small looking meal, for 900 calories (most people need 1,600 to 2,400 a day max).

The healthy meal by contrast, fills a large plate in size, and is only 450 calories. Half the calories, but over twice the physical size. The healthy meal will leave you full, with less calories.

By knowing exactly how many calories they need to eat to serve their body, and by getting in the minimums in, then adding 500 calories of exercise averaged per day – we can achieve permanent fat loss, preserve or increase muscle and preserve or increase energy.

Further, what if your car got a stronger, more powerful engine and ran way better if all you had to do was put enough good gas in it and once a day drive up and down a hill twice? Would you do it? Your body is the same. Fill it with good fuel and move once a day for 30 minutes. You will get stronger, leaner, and drop body fat, while you increase energy.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake. He can be reached at 403-887-7667 or check out for more information.

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