Q: Fix my metabolism, and lose fat by increasing calories?! I don't get it. Why in the world would I do that?! I don't want to risk gaining weight. I want this weight off NOW!!
A: Increasing calories for fat loss can be scary. When approaching fat loss, we have to look at the big picture. We should not simply focus on losing the weight by fill-in-the-blank-occasion/date. Think of where you want to be when the journey is over. The body has an amazing ability to adapt to whatever stresses you put it through:
- When we consistently challenge ourselves in the weight room, our muscles adapt — getting bigger and stronger.
- When we consistently challenge ourselves with cardio, our bodies catabolize some muscle tissue to become faster and more efficient at the endurance activity.
- When we consistently eat at a caloric deficit, our bodies naturally assume that the deficit is the new maintenance, and lowers your metabolism to meet the demand.
So we must take all the above into consideration when beginning our journey. We must decide where we want to be when it's over; then set our goals, calories, and workouts in alignment with that plan. Someone who has under-eaten (read: dieted) for extended periods of time, must accept that their body may have adapted to a much lower-than-necessary calorie level. If this calorie level is well below what their body needs to survive, then fat loss may have stalled while the body tends to more important processes. Increasing calories and doing what we refer to a “metabolism reset” allows your body to take a break from the stress of dieting. It allows your body to become accustomed to eating proper amounts of food again, reminding your body of what maintenance level eating really is. When Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) returns to a normal state, a deficit can be reintroduced to resume fat loss goals.
Q: So I think maybe I will take it slowly – increasing calories to see what happens. How long do you suggest I do this for? I'm not scared to do it and really want to figure this out. I'm super dedicated to getting in shape and I will do whatever I have to do to make it work!
A: We suggest that you take your time increasing calories, to minimize shock to the body and give proper time for the mentality shift. There are some who feel that they will chicken out if they take to long — so they prefer to “rip-the-bandaid” and just get started. The choice is personal, as only you know yourself well enough to decide.
Personally, I did it very gradually.
Take the time to set up your true maintenance level and work from there. It really will feel like a guessing game until you do. Trust that it will feel so good to finally be in control. You won't be starving yourself, only to have your weight shoot back up as soon as you eat normal again. It may seem (upfront) that this means you will take longer to lose the weight than the usual fast track (eat nothing, cardio madness) route, but consider the truth. If you're at a plateau (now) anyway, how will you ever know if it really took longer? Perhaps (and most likely) you will just stay at or keep hitting the same plateau. You really have nothing to lose, and you don't want to spend the rest of your life lowering calories.
As women, our metabolism starts decreasing every decade after 30, requiring us to eat lower calories. So you want to make sure that you start out at the highest end of that spectrum NOW. With no plan of action, sure — you may eventually come to the point where you have to eat 1300 calories and workout three hours/day to maintain your physique. Alternatively, you can put it off for a few more decades, or prevent it altogether by adding enough muscle mass and eating enough now.