A lot of people strive for quick weight loss. It’s no surprise when you consider the modern world we live in, where we expect fast results and instant gratification in many areas of our lives. Have a question? Do a quick Google search. Hungry? Order food and have it delivered in a matter of minutes with a smartphone app. Wondering what your friends and family are up to right now? Just check their social media accounts.
When it comes to weight loss, instant gratification is possible, but it is neither sustainable nor healthy. Drastically cutting calories may get you quick results, but it does more harm than good, especially when it comes to our metabolisms.
Your metabolism converts calories found in food into energy needed to power everything we do from moving to thinking and growing. At any given moment, thousands of metabolic reactions occur within the body keeping our cells healthy and functioning optimally.
Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the total number of calories needed by your body to perform essential, life-sustaining functions; these include circulation, breathing, cell production, nutrient processing and digesting. When you add movement to your day, you then require more calories for energy.
Why counting calories doesn’t make sense
We believe that meticulously counting calories is a waste of time and leads to unnecessary stress. Of course, calorie restriction is often necessary for weight loss, but having this as your primary focus can be counterproductive. Here are a few good reasons to nix counting calories:
- Food labels and calorie counters are slightly inaccurate. For example, some calorie counters list bananas as 90 calories, while others list them as 120 calories. In packaged foods like trail mix, cereals or mixed fruit cups, calories vary from serving to serving.
- It’s worth keeping in mind that how you prepare your food matters. Some calories are better absorbed when you cook your food versus when eaten raw. When we blend or puree foods, our bodies don’t need to work as hard to digest and therefore we burn fewer calories.
- Additionally, gut bacteria plays a vital role in how well we break down food and absorb calories, with each person’s gut bacteria or microbiome differing.
How about trying a new approach and shifting your focus to consuming quality, nutrient-dense foods as well as adding variety to your weekly meal plan.
We all burn calories differently
We all absorb calories and burn calories differently. Someone with more muscle mass has a higher RMR and as such needs more calories for essential functions; while someone who is heavier requires more calories than someone who weighs less. To avoid triggering the body to go into survival mode, we recommend a gradual reduction in calories when losing weight.
It’s also important to consider work rhythm. A person who is physically active at work or who has a stressful job, needs more energy than someone who sits all day.
“The Biggest Loser” and metabolism
It’s possible to lose weight dramatically, but when we do, we often gain it back just as quick. Don’t believe us? Let’s look at the participants of The 2009 Biggest Loser tv series. Everyone who took part regained almost all of the lost weight. When the weight returned, unfortunately, their old RMR didn’t. They were burning about 700 calories less per day than the day they started the challenge even though their weight is almost the same.
Why? It’s hard to say because as we mentioned above, so many factors play into people’s unique metabolisms. Our hunch is that the participants didn’t learn sustainable skills, nor did they have enough time to internalize healthy habits. It’s also important to note that someone who has dieted down to a specific weight will require 5-15% less calories per day to maintain that weight than someone who has always been that weight.
Stress and metabolism
The process of losing weight puts stress on our bodies, which is why our bodies like to hold onto weight for dear life. Hundreds of years ago, humans needed to store fat to survive for extended periods without food. When we deprive ourselves of calories, our body reacts by naturally going into this starvation mode.
Our metabolisms are complex. Even when we know our RMR, the number of calories we burn during a workout, how many steps we take, and the calories in the food we consume; it’s still hard to predict how our metabolism will evolve as we strive to reach our health and fitness goals.
Low-calorie diets are also known to increase the stress hormone, cortisol. The elevation of cortisol for prolonged periods hinders fat metabolism from working properly. Overtraining also produces stress hormones, which again makes it harder for our bodies to burn fat. The takeaway here is that overtraining combined with under eating can be a recipe for disaster that will actually slow down your metabolism.
Funny enough, I have worked with clients who didn’t start to lose weight until they began to exercise less. It seems counter-intuitive and frustrating, but you’d be surprised how common it is.
Let’s wrap up
Healthy weight loss is sustainable weight loss. Sustainable weight loss happens when lifestyle shifts are gradual, comfortable, enjoyable and easily maintained over the long-term. The same goes for gaining muscle mass; it takes time.
As a general guideline, it’s considered healthy to lose around 1 lb (0.5 kg) per week. Remember, change takes time, but it will happen if you are patient and do it the right way.