This week, we are talking...
If you’re a frequent visitor here, you know how important eating ENOUGH is to Clar-e-ty Nutrition coaches.
YES, quality is good.
YES, whole foods are important.
YES, composition of foods, portions & macros all have a seat at the table.
BUT... in MANY—almost all—cases, calories come first. Don’t believe me, check out the nutrition hierarchy below!
It doesn’t matter the perfect macro split if you’re only eating 1000 calories. It doesn’t matter how many meals you are or are not eating in a day to lose weight...if you’re not in a calorie deficit. Plain and simple.
Unfortunately, with many clients, women specifically, there’s one big area of focus when it comes to calories & that is simply that they’re not eating enough. Often times, women come to me eating under 1300-1500 calories. NOW I’m not going to spend much time today talking about WHY this is dangerous, unhealthy, & ultimately the reason you’re not seeing results. I’ve done that plenty of times. IF you’re new or just haven’t paid attention for a while, here are a few prior resources our team has worked on for you.
Today, I’m not going to be doing much educating. Again, been there, already done that.
There are many ways I try to teach individuals to improve their nutrition. Education is often the first step in the process & what I’m NOT going to do today.
Another is through example.
By showing you what it is I’m trying to prove.
Living by example is an amazing way to get people to seek change on their own. Raise your hand if you have kids...or even if you were a kid (everyone now should raise their hands).
HOW many times, as a parent, have you told your kid to clean their room or brush their teeth? And, kids, how many times do you remember your parents telling you to do those chores?? And how many times did they listen from you simply telling them? Probably rarely. It wasn’t until THEY saw the benefit of doing that chore or experienced the pain of not doing it. Maybe they got a cavity or tripped & hurt themselves over the clutter in their room. OR maybe they simply saw YOU living by example.
As a coach, it’s kind of the same thing. I can tell you a million times to eat enough. You will hear me...but likely you won’t listen until you either SEE what it looks like from my end & see how much better you will feel and then try it for yourself.
SO today’s blog is all about leading by example. Again, I’m not going to sit here & just show you how much I eat in a day. I’m actually going to lead by example by eating like you are currently.
I ran an experiment 4 weeks ago where I ate 1600 calories & tracked everything: my weight, my biofeedback, my calories, etc. so I could report it here for you.
AND the results were amazing...so I’m sharing with you today. HOPEFULLY by the end of this article, you will be able to relate & see why this stuff is so important & why calories are a first priority in many cases.
....and I guess if you don’t, I just suffered for nothing 😉...
WHY I ATE 1600 CALORIES
I would say that 7 out of 10 clients that we have come to us under-fed but also wanting to lose weight. Sadly, some of them come to us eating less than 1200 calories. The lowest I’ve seen is probably 800-900 calories.
If you are a frequent Clar-e-ty visitor or you checked out those articles above, you know for any under-eater, the only option to see results is to first eat more food. Usually, we do this with a reverse diet, by gradually increasing a client’s intake until they’re properly fueling their bodies, biofeedback is fantastic, & they’re feelin’ good.
Why did I decide on 1600 calories? For two reasons.
This is where MOST clients are starting out—male & female—signing on for coaching with one of our coaches.
This is where many reverse dieters stall out.
For some reason, 1600-1700 calories is a very mental number. MANY go through perfect reverse diets up to that intake. They’re even losing weight in the process & finding so much freedom around food then BAM I give them 1750 calories & we hit a huge mental block. Clients are convinced that more than 1700 is too much, a start to ultimate failure, will lead to bloating & lethargy, etc. You find MANY influencers, Pinterest articles, fad diets sticking around this 1600-1700 intake number...so that it’s ultimately ENGRAINED in your identity that it’s going to be the end of you if you eat more.
BUT here’s the kicker.
At 1600-1700 calories, no one (this is as close to a blanket statement I will make) is seeing desired results. Biofeedback still isn’t great. Hunger & cravings are not managed. A relationship with food is still pretty poor. Weight loss hasn’t happened.
SO knowing that, IS 1600-1700 calories a good intake? Likely not for most people.
I decided to stick with 1600 calories to SHOW all of what you’re feeling is simply because you’re STILL under-fed.
I’m not special and neither are you. I’m not a magic person who can just genetically manage 2000+ calories. I have increased my intake to fuel my Ironman training but my maintenance is still 2500 calories roughly. You, on the other hand, aren’t genetically special to where 1600-1700 calories is the most you can take in. AGAIN, let’s go back to three paragraphs ago, if you’re eating 1600 calories & still feel like shit & aren’t seeing results, then it’s not the intake for you.
So without further ado, let’s see what happened.
HOW I DID IT
First, let me be the first to say it was hard. Granted, some of that difficulty comes from the fact I had to slash my intake from 3000 calories to 1600 calories...almost a 50% deficit.
But again, this is a really common mistake I see many do. FUN FACT, you can achieve a sustainable calorie deficit with as little as a 5-10% reduction in calories. SO you’ll see in a bit that having to slash 50% of my calories was f***ing miserable & could have been avoided.
Because I was used to 3000 calories, I had to make some serious adjustments
Tracking: I had to track & pre-log out my food for the day. Intuitively, I can get 2300 calories in naturally from my usual routine & typical day of eating. To adhere, I needed to hold myself accountable & plan out my days a bit better.
Calorie-dense foods: Because I was cutting 50% of my calories, I needed to manage my hunger response somehow & that was through low-calorie foods...aka lean proteins, veggies, and fruits. I actually went a little too hard on this!! I prepped a cabbage meal (beef & cabbage essentially) & served with either protein pasta or cauliflower rice. It was actually SO much volume, I struggled eating all of it. BUT it helped me manage cravings by utilizing veggies especially at every.single.meal. Non-negotiables. My intake was a lot “cleaner” simply because I didn’t have as many calories to be flexible with.
Sacrifice: I had to make a few more sacrifices to ensure I could adhere to 1600 calories by avoiding social gatherings or at least planning it a bit more diligently.
Training: I couldn’t train as hard because I wasn’t fueling myself. Fortunately, this was in a period where my Ironman was likely being put on hold due to Covid & I was in need of a little mini break from the volume. I also couldn’t push as hard in metcons or lifts—both from choice & also simply from fatigue.
YES this was just a week, but these were all considerations & adaptations that had to be made. IF I had continued with this intake, these would have had to continue UNTIL I brought myself out of this deficit. Does it seem tiring & exhausting? IT WAS.
I’ll be totally honest with you...I barely—if even at all—truly adhered to 1600 calories. One thing you won’t get from me is sugar-coating. I’m not going to sit here & say I did a great job. In fact, I pretty much failed.
Because it was miserably tough!!
Let me explain.
I committed myself to eating 1600 calories for a week.
Days 1-7 went smooth. Yes, it took a bit of tracking & planning & sacrifice. I had those days in me & crushed those. In fact, I enjoyed the little increase in veggies & variety.
BUT...all I could think about was day 8.
AFTER the 7 days, my plan was to just return to my 2700-2900 Ironman range & spoiler alert... that did not happen.
In fact, in just one week, I had burnt out a lot of my oomph & motivation. BECAUSE it took so much energy talking myself out of eating more, not fueling myself, thinking about food, etc. that when it came time for a break I had nothing left.
Because I felt so blah, I scheduled a pizza night. I’m not a huge pizza eater, not something I crave often but here I was...wanting to inhale a whole 2000-3000 calories worth of pizza.
Because day 8 didn’t go well, my drive to make days 9-12 go well went downhill.
Then I wasn’t fueling myself still...so my gym performance sucked. Lightheaded, unmotivated, gross, yuck!!!
Which made sleep suck. Which made adherence worse.
So when I was ON, I was okay...but when I was off...man was I off. I adhered great to 7 days...but that was followed by many other blah days that took some time getting out of.
Despite good adherence...
Hunger was high.
Cravings were rough
Food was always on my mind...even 15 minutes after a meal.
Sleep was okay for a few days, but then I found it harder to go to sleep & tough to shut my brain off...likely because I had fewer carbs turning off cortisol so I could get into parasympathetic mode to get to sleep.
Gym performance as I’ve already mentioned was terrible. I was dizzy standing out of squats, I was lagging on my runs, I was failing lifts in my 75% range. Lower weights felt like my maxes...because I wasn’t fueled.
I had my period during this experiment & was probably the most miserable I have been in years. USUALLY because I spend 25 other days in the month NOT restricting, when I get to my period, I am in a better & more sound headspace to handle the cravings & PMS symptoms that often arise. I can rationalize through heightened emotions & through the normal bloating brought on by estrogen & cramping. None of it bothers me because my other days in the month are filled with joy & good food.
I did see weight loss. I say weight loss because most of that weight was simply loss of water retention from dropping carbs from 300g to 175g. Yes, it was exciting to see 3-5lbs in one week go away...but that’s all it was: water.
Because my mental energy was spent on focusing on food & not giving into hunger or cravings, I had less headspace for handling stressful events, in life & in work. My mood was worse & I was a lot grumpier....hangry if you will! Hanger isn’t something that happens when I eat enough.
I also had MUCH more mental fogginess and lack of mental clarity. I was met with frequent headaches & found myself wanting Advil or coffee most days.
Now for some real-world takeaways for you to leave with.
Not only did those 7 days turned into a goooooood 2-3 weeks of “BLAH”, they also led to some uncomfortable binge behaviors I haven’t dealt with since prioritizing calories.
My 7 days of “clean eating” led to a whole slew of blah-ness & lack of motivation. I didn’t have any energy. I had headaches & fuzziness. I struggled with focusing & staying on top of things. I handled stress worse.
Was it worth it?? Absolutely not.
Now for one positive takeaway!
Veggies = volume = satiety
If you’re going to create calorie deficits, you need veggies to help increase the volume. In fact if you ARE struggling with hunger at all, one immediate adjustment you can make is by increasing the volume of your meals with veggies. IF that doesn’t work, chances are you now need more food overall.
Now for the big takeaway I want you to leave with.
When you do the math, I overate SO much after my 7-day experiment that I basically net-calorie wise, it’s like those 1600-calorie days didn’t even exist...
I could have avoided all this suffering & bouts of blaaaaaaah-ness that MANY clients come to me with by simply not resisting & eating what my body was asking for.
If you’re going to fail & over the course of a month end up eating MORE than that 1500-1600 calorie range, why wouldn’t you just eat more to begin with. THEN when you eat more, you get to do all the things you’re likely missing out on: focusing, getting to the gym, staying motivated, freedom around food, good sleep, and more.
Many clients come to us under-eating MAJORITY of the time. If you look at the science, under-eating SHOULD lead to weight loss. Why isn’t it?
They’re actually not in a deficit because of the degree to which they binge for weeks at a time. IF every month around your period, you eat 3000 calories per day, that’s an extra 10,000 calories consumed over the week that negates any deficit you did create. If you eat 1600 calories during the week but 3000 calories each on the weekend, that’s an extra 400 calories distributed towards your weekdays...putting you at a net 2000/day when you do the math.
Your metabolism has adapted. When you under-eat, your body adapts & slows down non-essential processes. This makes your daily calorie expenditure lower to match your intake...so to lose weight you need to make an even larger deficit. UNLESS you spend some time actually eating at maintenance.
The driving point here is that my one week of under-eating led to weeks of binge behavior and a lack of motivation. You’ll hear me preach all the time about how discipline trumps motivation...but there’s another side of it. Motivation requires energy. It also requires a good headspace. If you’re constantly expending energy avoiding food, talking yourself away from food that nourishes you & something you enjoy, you have less energy to spend on motivation.
When you eat enough to not have miserable bouts of hunger & cravings, to have control around food you enjoy, to not think about food 24/7, other parts of your life will fall naturally into place. You’ll have more headspace for work, for relationships, for socializing, for your fur-babies *or real babies*, etc.
SO DON’T BE AFRAID OF CALORIES.
They’re good for you.
Here at Clar-e-ty, we won't slash your calories right off the bat. You've spent too long doing it...and it doesn't feel good.
If this sounds like something you're all "hell yeah" about, then apply for coaching or one of our amazing services!!
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.