Majority of clients coming to work with me are eating too few calories and/or doing too much.
It’s way more common for me to get an incoming client reporting an intake UNDER 1500 calories than it is for me to get an incoming client eating above 2000 calories. I’ve worked with over 100 clients and probably can count on my two hands the number of incoming intakes averaging above 2000 calories.
From my experience, MOST people—men AND women—should be eating a diet well above 2000 calories to support not only their body’s normal function but also exercise, work, and all the stress their bodies are put through on a daily basis.
YET in many cases, this isn’t the case and usually takes months to fix depending on 1. the severity of the deficit the client was in and 2. the mental state and mindset the client feels with adding food to his/her intake.
Because it’s SUCH a common thing and probably the most under-discussed topic in nutrition, my goal today is to teach you all about under-eating: why it’s likely not good for you, how it probably all started, signs YOU may be experiencing if you’re under-eating, and most importantly how to fix it.
EATING MORE AND DOING LESS
This world thrives on the phrase “eat less and do more.”
It’s a really common phrase and tagline weight loss “specialists”, companies, doctors, trainers, etc. use...because the science says “eat less = calorie deficit = weight loss”
But in more cases than not, the opposite is true...
Eat more and do less
It’s pretty much exactly as it sounds...you eat more calories and do less exercise...to get desired results.
So let’s go back to that classic client eating sub-1500 calories.
SO what does this really mean? Does it matter? Why am I such a stickler for eating enough food? If they’re fine eating less than 1500 calories, what does it matter? I actually see all the time on nutrition posts encouraging getting away from such low calorie diets people saying things like “it’s not your business what they’re eating” and “if they’re happy and alive, that’s what matters” and “who cares” and so on.
Eating too little and doing too much poses a couple of problems.
Your body needs to be fueled
You’re likely not actually feeling “fine” (you just think you are)
You likely don’t know how much better you could feel (have you ever eaten to support every function of your body??)
You need a foundation to cut from in order to see results (try cutting from 1200 calories)
Stress management (under eating = stress = cortisol = poor sleep, etc. = more stress)
AND YES, your body is your body. I can’t tell you what to do. That part is absolutely true...
But I can educate you on maybe some things you weren’t aware of so your decision can be better informed...and if you don’t see results you at least know WHY.
The reason I’m hired is more often than not to help a client achieve a specific body composition goal...most often weight loss.
If you’re undereating, you don’t have a place to cut from (you’ll see in the example below) nor do you have the health (metabolically, hormonally, etc.) to sustain and manage a calorie deficit.
I do get a good bit of resistance when it comes to adding food into your diet...mostly because I was initially hired to help a client lose weight...but in order to do so, you’ve got to be in a healthy place with a strong foundation...and MANY don’t have that and therefore have to take some time earning the right to diet.
HOW UNDER-EATING BEGINS
When it comes to weight loss there is ONE factor that is ALWAYS true.
Calories in must be less than calories out.
That’s how “eat less do more” came about.
When you were younger, you likely ate more intuitive...but at some point, popular diet culture infiltrated your brain and you started dieting. Let’s make numbers easy and say intuitive eating probably had you around 2000 calories. Well...to abide by “eat less do more” you created a 500 calorie deficit by either adding exercise or taking away food (or both). Now you’re down to 1500 calories. For a short period of time, especially while biofeedback is good, this is absolutely fine. I personally have successfully and healthily dieted on 1500 calories, along with several clients.
But there was no “after-diet” where you brought your intake back up to 2000 calories...so your metabolism adapted. NOW your new normal “maintenance” is 1500 calories.
Fast forward 2 years and you want to lose weight again. NOW to create that deficit, you can’t rely on your 1500 calorie intake to work...so you need to eat less. This time you go 1200 calories...and again you see weight loss but the same thing happens and you don’t have the diet after the diet to return your intake back to its maintenance. NOW in order to ever lose weight, you have to cut from 1200 calories.
Which plain out sucks and honestly is why I do what I do.
It mostly isn’t your fault...because you were never told the repercussions of eating too little. No one gave you a disclaimer: “If you follow this diet, you may experience the following: crappy sleep, terrible PMS symptoms, no sex drive, injuries, awful sleep, midday crashes, oh and wait you may not ever be able to diet again.” I can bet if you think back to your very first diet, you likely knew something was off...but no one was standing in front of you saying “there’s a better way!!”
SYMPTOMS OF EATING TOO LITTLE/DOING TOO MUCH
The first question really comes down to “are you eating too little OR doing too much?
Here are some signs your calories are too low:
Brain fog, inability to focus, lack of mental clarity
No appetite or desire to eat
Midday energy crashes
Wake up frequently (to pee, mind racing, inability to fall asleep, wired, etc.)
Carry weight around your midsection
Inability to lose weight
Absent or irregular cycle
Low/no sex drive
Worsened immune system
There could be other signs, but from my experience personally and working with clients, these are the classic ones. These are all signs that your metabolism has adapted. This creates stress on your entire body, specifically your adrenal glands (your stress factory essentially). Your hormonal, metabolic, and reproductive health all take a hit. You’re at risk for more injuries. Most notably...you just feel like crap.
Cravings are a classic sign that you’re undereating...especially if you’re binging. It’s not a matter of you being “weak” but actually your body begging for some support...via calories.
I’ve also included “doing more” in the category. This could be spending 2+ hours in the gym, taking very few rest days, living in the cardio world and including no resistance training, letting every gym session absolutely crush you, maxing out frequently, etc. In my experience, most of my “doing too much” people are either spending way too much time on cardio and not enough time lifting weights OR just not taking enough rest days.
Now to the most important part of the article.
You might be able to guess it...but there is ONE solution I’ve already alluded to...
Eat MORE and do LESS
If you’re undereating or potentially doing too much, you need to do the opposite by eating more and potentially doing less.
How do you do this?
Through what we call a reverse diet, where you slowly but surely add increments of food and bring down your activity level if you’re doing too much.
Reverse diets are tricky because they’re SO individual. I did write a full and detailed blog on reverse diets. IF this is the first you’re hearing about reverse diets, read this article first. Here, I’ll just share the basic steps to implement your own reverse diet.
Step 1. Figure out your current intake by tracking your intake for roughly a week and assess your current exercise routine.
Step 2. Calculate your estimated maintenance intake (bodyweight x 12-14) and compare. I recommend going a bit further by tracking your macros, specifically your protein. Your protein goal should be roughly bodyweight (or target bodyweight) in grams of protein. Your fats should be between 20-30% overall calories. Carbs should make up the rest. Remember carbs and protein have 4cals/gram and fats 9cals/gram.
Step 3. Compare. If your current intake is more than 500 calories under your calculated intake, you’re in need of a reverse diet. If it’s between 100-500, you can work a bit more quicker by either making one big addition OR just 2-3 larger jumps back to maintenance.
Step 4. Start with 5-10g or 50-100 calorie additions every week or other week. Listen to your body’s biofeedback: energy, hunger, cravings, sleep, etc. I personally would start first with increasing protein then finish with carbs/fats as this will promote body composition changes WHILE in your reverse diet.
Step 5. Exercise. First add rest days (1-3 are recommended). You can do this immediately. Next bring down cardio. IF you’re not including any weight training, sub out 1-3 of your cardio days for lifting and weight training. IF you’re not sure how, ASK! Next add in or sub out some cardio for lower-intensity walks and bikes to lower stress and inflammation and improve caloric expenditure. Include cardio on a sustainability standpoint (1-3 days usually) or use circuits and metcons to get in cardio in your lifting sessions.
Step 6. BE PATIENT. This takes time. You will likely want to rush the process and just get through it as fast as possible. Slow is fast, here. The slower you go, the less likely you’ll see weight gain AND the more sustainable and restorative it will be.
Step 7. HIRE A COACH. This is incredibly straightforward...but that doesn’t make it EASY. Not only is it dependent on your body and progress, you likely have a ton of mental barriers to work through behind adding food. A coach is going to keep you accountable, give you frequent breaks so you’re not miserable the entire time, know when to push and when to back off, and will help encourage you when you lose steam.
As you go through a reverse diet, notice wins beyond the scale. Notice improvements in energy. Feel how good it is to know you can make it through a workout without dying. Enjoy getting more restful sleep. Appreciate the healing that is going on in your body.
You’ve been led to believe that you’re always supposed to be hungry, that cravings are normal, that you’re supposed to have energy crashes, that you should need all the caffeine to function...this isn’t true.
“Most people don’t know how good they’re bodies are supposed to feel”
- Kevin Trudeau
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.