If you’ve tried to lose weight in the past 20 years, you’ve probably heard the following phrase:
“Eat Less. Do More.”
This is 100% true. If you want to lose weight, you often need to (1) decrease your caloric consumption and (2) increase your activity.
This is because to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit, eating less than what you’re expending in a day. When you eat fewer calories than you’re burning, your body is forced to go into fat stores to account for the excess caloric burn. This, in turn, causes you to lose weight.
However, this phrase has been taken way too far and has become one of the biggest reason why people eventually STOP seeing results…or see a reversal in results.
The reason isn’t because the caloric deficit doesn’t work, it truly does and is needed for weight loss. In fact, the only time a deficit isn’t needed is in the case of very new and novice lifters who have never monitored their diets. The process of adding in training, in some cases even just walks, and cleaning up their diets by removing processed foods and improving their food quality is enough to warrant great results.
The reason is because it never ends.
You eat less and less and less….and do more and more and more. It comes to a point where your body can no longer sustain or support the degree of stress you’re putting it through and it shuts down.
Most of the times when I get an incoming client, they are doing everything under the sun to see results.
They are lifting weights, walking 10k steps/day, running 2-3x/week, maybe going to hot yoga, all while working a full-time job. They either have kids or a family or enjoying being young and single and going out and about with friends. They’re doing this most often while only eating 1500-1700 calories.
My first step is often removing some of that activity and adding food. Most of the times, though, this is met with massive resistance because it doesn’t make sense.
If you want to lose weight, you have to be doing more and increasing your caloric expenditure? Right? Not necessarily.
In a perfect, ideal case or with a client who has been with me for several months if not a year, yes, it is 100% correct.
But in the case of most people trying to lose weight who have never worked with a coach, it’s possible that alllllll of the activity you are doing is what is preventing you from seeing results.
Training is a stressor. Dieting is a stressor. Too much stress, even good stress in the case of exercise especially, will cause you a slew of problems.
When stress is left unmanaged, you’re at risk of…
HPA axis dysfunction
Inability to lose weight
The key is to manage that stress…and sometimes that means slowing down and doing less (and even eating more). And sometimes, this is the secret to finally seeing results.
Not convinced? Keep reading.
I recently had a client share the following in a check in.
"I do love running, but I'm worried about the stress response my body will have to it. My body comp REALLY started changing when I injured myself and I game up running and focused on weights and it was such a confidence booster."
Little background on this client.
She came to me wanting to lose weight. She was 147lbs, 1-2 years postpartum, and in need of a change. She was doing CrossFit 2x/week, doing the Couch to 5k program 3x/week, and doing a long run every Saturday. She was living off of coffee to function. Upon signing up with me, she had actually reduced her coffee consumption to 5-6 cups/day. She was sleeping 5-6 hours/day, experiencing headaches, and had very irregular periods. She was averaging 1350 calories/day.
Based on her age, weight, and height, her BMR (number of calories needed just to exist at rest) was 1420. Adding in 2 days of strength training and 4 days of running (6 active days total), she probably was burning, or should be burning close to 2100 calories.
My first task at hand was to remove some activity and add in food. Through her reverse diet, over the course of 4 months, we added almost 700 calories worth of food. Fortunately and unfortunately, she suffered an injury to her ankle forcing her to stop running and decrease her activity. Her biggest fear was that she’d gain weight and lose the progress she had made thus far. She was shocked when her body started responding FASTER than it had been when she’d been exercising 6 days/week, doing all the running and training as possible. The body comp changes you can see below all came about when she started eating more and doing less…NOT the other way around.
Let’s take another client.
Now, this client came to me already having lost 80 lbs. She'd done it all by the books: ate more balanced meals, removed junk food (pizza and fast food mainly) implemented weight training, started CrossFit, you name it.
However, by the time she and I started working together, she was down to 1200 calories/day. She was feeling fine but knew she probably couldn't go much lower and stay sane. She was feeling stuck and wanted to continue losing weight as healthily as possible. She had spent the past 8 months dieting and her body needed a break.
Let’s do the calculations again. Her calculated BMR was 1480 calories. Factoring in her activity (5-6 days of CrossFit), her expected daily expenditure was 2300 calories…yet she was eating 1200. So what did we do? We decreased her activity slightly, mainly introducing some alternative means of recovery and increased her food. We took 4 months actually INCREASING her food intake and NOT trying to lose weight. We reversed her intake all the way up to 2400 calories. During this process, she lost 8 lbs. and dropped 4 sizes in clothing and as seen in the photos below, had some freaking insane changes in her body composition. Let me repeat this. She added over 1000 calories to her daily intake, still lost weight, AND seen some incredible body comp changes…NOT by the classic motto of “do more, eat less”.
Eating less and doing more won't always give you the results you're hoping for. Sometimes, the answer is just the opposite: eating MORE and doing LESS.
These clients aren’t just extremes.
Overtraining creates a tremendous amount of strain and stress on your body. Now, I won’t go into too much detail on how too much stress affects your body because I JUST wrote an article explaining all about stress: the science behind it, why you might be stressed, and how to fix and repair your stress.
However, in the context of seeing results or more appropriately, why you’re NOT seeing results, I’ll go into a bit more detail.
When you’re overtrained, either from too much volume or frequency, or from a lack of recovery or stress management, your body experiences a significant amount of stress. This increases inflammation in your body, most notably in two specific areas: your gut and your muscles.
I’m sure the muscles part makes sense. When inflammation is high, your muscles experience some of that inflammation. This prevents the growth of new muscle. In fact, you need to be in a surplus in order to build new muscle. When you’re constantly dieting and eating in a deficit, your body doesn’t have the necessary “ingredients” if you will to build new muscle. It can only do its best to prevent degradation of the already existing muscle. Now if you’re also putting those muscles under considerate strain from overtraining and high impact sports, then you’re going to be degrading those muscles at a rate that it can’t compensate for. This is why when you’re overtrained, you’re unable to put on muscle and see significant body comp changes.
Now the gut part might surprise you. Your gut actually has the most cortisol receptors in your body, outside of your brain. It also houses the most serotonin receptors, as well. Both of these play a role in stress and in overall mood. When stress is high either from mood/life stress or from overtraining, your gut is going to be affected and will not perform at its optimal potential. Now how does this affect your weight loss goal? Your gut is responsible for absorption of nutrients…which is what fuels your body and nourishes your body. It’s how your body gets protein to build muscle. It’s how it gets carbs to store as glycogen to fuel workouts. If your gut is not functioning properly, then you’re not going to absorb those essential nutrients as effectively and this in turn will stall or worsen your progress.
When you do LESS and eat MORE, you’re actually removing that stress and inflammation. You’re creating an environment that is suitable for weight loss, muscle growth, and optimal performance. When I take clients who are overdoing it—either by being too far in a deficit or in a healthy deficit too long or by training too much or at too high of a volume or intensity—and remove some of that activity and add in food, their bodies are finally able to calm down and function optimally. We see an improvement across the board in all areas of their biofeedback: energy, sleep, recovery, stress, mood, hunger/cravings, etc. When biofeedback is in check, then the aesthetic progress usually immediately follows.
If you’re overtrained and doing too much at the gym and NOT seeing the results you’re dying to see, then apply today for one on one nutrition coaching. Working with an experienced coach will guide you through the process of slowing down, minimizing any weight gain, even potentially helping you LOSE weight in the process. It’s a very hard process, mentally, which is why working with a coach is 100% encouraged!
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.