When I am first meeting with a new client, asking about their exercise and dietary habits, I often find a troubling trend. That theme is the fact that people simply aren’t eating enough to maintain their daily bodily needs. When I ask them what they typically eat in a day it may only add up to 800 calories or less. Eating in this manner not only keeps you from losing weight, it will actually tell your body to store fat. The mechanism at work is the body trying to save itself from starvation and dying, thus storing every calorie eaten as fat to be used as future energy. It is true that eating too much will cause you to gain weight, but not eating enough will cause you to lose weight you do not want to lose: muscle. The very minimumrecommended daily allowance for women is 1200 calories, and 1800 calories for men. Eating below this RDA will not allow you function at an optimal level. In reality, most people will need to consume between 2000-3000 and more calories a day, dependant on amount of lean body mass and activity level. When I tell my clients this, the usual response is the same: shock. We have been trained as a society that all calories are equal, and too many calories are a bad thing. It is true you must burn more then you consume to lose weight, but eating healthy, nutriently dense calories will aid in your weight loss efforts. The daily caloric break down is as such:
1. 60-70% of all calories eaten per day are allocated to keeping your body functioning properly (heart, lungs, brain, etc.). This is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR is, which is why weight training is such an important part of weight loss.
2. 20-25% of all daily calories are burned through your physical activity level (PAL). That is why getting more exercise and daily activity is an integral part of losing weight. PAL is the easiest thing to increase; walk the dog, take the stairs, do more yard work, go for a bike ride–your PAL has increased.
3. 10% of all daily calories consumed go to digestion. By eating, you turn your metabolism on and start burning calories. This fact is why it is so important to eat small meals every 2-3 hours. Eating frequently causes your metabolism to constantly have to work, thus burning more calories throughout the day. Again, these meals must be healthy and nutriently dense (I will talk more about what to eat in a future blog).
From the information above, this example will show how eating 2000-3000 calories is not as scary as it may originally seem.
Ex. If I eat 2500 calories/day, then btw 1500 and 1750 calories are used just for my BMR. 500-625 calories are burned from my PAL. And 250 calories are burned just by eating. In reality, I only have to account for burning the 500-625 calories through exercise, and the body will do the rest.
If you want to lose weight, and gain muscle you must eat more. Start slow, focus on eating a meal or healthy snack every two to three hours and try to increase your activity level.
In my next blog I will show you how to find your appropriate caloric range to maintain your weight, lose weight, and even gain weight. Eat healthy, move more, and don’t be scared of food; calories are only energy.