Q: I’m increasing my cals like you said, but I gained weight this week! I thought the point of finding my TDEE is so that I can get back on the losing track? I feel like I’m going backwards. I feel stuffed and miserable. I haven’t even hit my TDEE yet, because there’s just no way I can fit all this food into my day. Am I doing something wrong? Do you have any suggestions on how I go about increasing calorie intake?
A: Just a few pointers on increasing calorie intake, while minimizing fluctuations. You probably know most of these things, and this is not a completely exhaustive list/explanation. I’m just mentioning as many as I can think of, glean what/if you can, toss the rest, lol.
Always think of your metabolism as a fire. A calorie is a unit of heat (literally, that’s the definition). In order to increase the metabolism, you want to keep that fire constant. This means everything about it should be as consistent as possible, so that the fire does not die. There has been some controversy over whether or not the “thermogenic effect” of food is real or not, but that is not the main concern here. More than anything, it is helpful in the beginning, when consistency is most important, to follow some of these tips until your body gets used to higher cals again. Once your body is used to the proper cal levels, you will not need to follow these guidelines, as your body will want to be fed, and you will no longer feel stuffed eating such small amounts of food. When you get to this point, you can set up your eating habits in a way that is pertinent to your personal lifestyle.
- Eat as soon as possible when you wake up. Start the fire, whatever you need to do, I’ve found that for me, and most people I know, this is what gets it revved.. Plus, if you are having a hard time fitting your cals in by the end of the day, then getting that first meal in nice and early really helps.
- As soon as you finish that meal, set a timer for 2-3 hours. This is when you will add another log to the fire. Do this after every meal, for as long as you are awake (even if you stay up late!). For most people, it only takes a week or less of doing this, before you will notice that your body will BEG you for food by the “appointed time”, and you will no longer need the timer. This is GOOD. This means that it is working. Your body now knows/is confident in the fact that it can let go of that meal quickly, because the next one is just around the corner. The opposite is also true. When you miss meals (especially when first upping cals!), no matter how healthy you’re eating, you’re body doesn’t know when it will eat again, so it doesn’t want to let go of any of it.
- Add the extra cals slowly, and spread out over those meals. Like an extra 25-50 cals per meal, instead of one huge extra meal. Stay at that level for a while, and if all is well, add more…
- Take advantage of macro-nutrient timing. If you enjoy carbs, eat them early on in the day while your body needs them. It’s ok to have a (complex) carb heavy breakfast and a (simple) carb heavy after workout snack.
- Immediately following your workout is the *best* time to add extra calories (really helpful if you haven’t figured out a way to spread them out). This is especially true if you’ve been setting your timer and eating at regular intervals. The last meal before your workout, be sure to have had some complex carbs and protein. IMMEDIATELY After your workout have some protein and carbs (this is your time to take advantage of a simple carb if you wanted to), this can be your post workout shake w/some fruit, or chocolate milk, or fruity yogurt, or whatever. Pick something that’s easily digested, and scarf it (before you even shower). If timed properly, by the time you get out of the shower, blow dry your hair, fix your make-up, what have you, (approx 30-60 min) you should be STARVING. Even if you’re not, eat again (yes, this is breaking the 2-3 hour rule, but this is the perfect time to do so, and you shouldn’t have eaten anything that made you too full to eat again). The meal after shower should be a real meal (back to the healthy stuff) good protein, good fats, good carbs (preferably veggies) if it’s later in the day. Then set your timer, and resume the regular 2-3 hour eating schedule.
If none of these things work, after staying consistent for 4-6 weeks, then it’s time to start investigating other aspects of your diet. Maybe your body prefers a certain macronutrient ratio, or you could even be allergic to something that you’re eating regularly. With the rise of gluten/wheat/soy/dairy/etc intolerance these days, it may be a good idea to hook up w/a good Dr and have your thyroid checked, or nutritionist to analyze your diet further…
ETA: This list is not an exclusive/exhausted list, or a be-all-end-all approach. This was not written to address any one person’s specific macro-nutrient ratio, so it is very general in that aspect. As stated in the last italicized line, everyone has their own macro-nutrient specific ideals, depending on various sensitivities, activity levels. If you are insulin sensitive, then your “log” that you’re adding to the fire will obviously not be something that spikes your insulin level to an extreme, etc. As stated in the beginning of the post, you may not use every single tip: take what you can, leave the rest. The point is to not starve ourselves, and then wonder why we don’t see results, and to provide a starting point for those trying to break free of unintentional under-eating. Stay consistent, trust the process, and regain your bodies trust in the meantime.