Do I Need A Metabolic Reset?
If you are new to this concept of “eating more” and fueling your body properly, you undoubtedly have a lot of questions. You know you should eat more, but how much? What is a metabolic reset? (And, do I need it?) How long will a reset take? Will this work for me, or am I that “special snowflake” that won’t have success with this? And then thoughts like “I got fat eating more. Why would I want to do that to lose weight?” start running through your mind. It’s enough to make you want to run for the hills!
Just the idea of increasing calories is a terrifying thought for most people, especially when you have had the “eat less/move more” mentality drilled into your head for your whole life. We get it! We were all there once. Brainwashed by commercials with promises to get you into that skimpy bikini (or Speedo) by summer… The truth of the matter is that these diets will work for a little while, but then the end result is that your weight loss will stall as your metabolism gradually slows down to match the intake. This is the point when most of us start doing some research and realize we have been under-feeding our bodies and need to reverse the tides…
After deciding to take the plunge into the world of Eat More 2 Weigh Less, one of the first questions many people have is: “Do I need to do a metabolic reset?” Well, the answer to this question is as individual as the person asking it.
○ Those with a recent history of eating consistently over their TDEE should be able to calculate their TDEE, jump right in at a 15% cut, set their macros at 40/30/30 (40% Carbs, 30% Protein, 30% Fat), and begin the process fairly quickly. These people have been over-eating and have most likely not compromised or slowed their metabolisms in any way, so their bodies should respond quite well to a small deficit. This is the easiest case scenario… No metabolic reset necessary, as they have essentially already done it by previously over-eating!
○ However… Those who come from long term low calorie dieting, binge/restrict cycles, eating disorders…etc. will have a very different process to go through as their bodies and brains adapt and finally accept the increased caloric intake. Often, years of severe caloric restriction will have resulted in a suppressed metabolism … one which has slowed down to match the decreased intake. When we consistently eat at a caloric deficit, the body will naturally assume that this deficit is now maintenance and downshift the metabolism to meet this demand. If this is your case, a reset is highly recommended.
Potentially, you could go right to that 15% cut in hopes that you would see results, but most likely, you will just be prolonging the process. You see, as you slowly increase your calories to that 15% cut, your body will simply adapt and reset at this 15% cut level, seeing that as the new “normal”. You will have, in fact, reset to your cut value, and therefore, the body will not see it as a cut. From that point, the only real option is to do a true reset, where you eat at TDEE or Maintenance calorie levels for a prolonged period of time (more about this later…) And THEN, once the body has accepted your intake at TDEE as normal, when you introduce that small 15% deficit, the body should react positively by shedding some fat.
SO, if you have been dieting for a prolonged period of time, suffered from an eating disorder or even cycles of binging followed by severe caloric restriction, do yourself a favor and work your intake slowly up to TDEE and take the time to do a metabolic reset. This process will give your body a break from the stress of dieting and allow it to become accustomed to eating proper amounts of food again. If you don’t do it at the onset, most likely you will be doubling back and doing it somewhere further down the road when you don’t see the results you were hoping to see. Skip this vital step, and you will most likely be prolonging the length of your journey rather than speeding it up.
How to Find Your “True” TDEE
So… you have decided that you need to do a metabolic reset in order to get your metabolism back up and running where it should be. Now what?
The first thing that you need to in order to start this process is to determine your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). Your TDEE is the amount of calories that your body requires to maintain your weight. That (TDEE) figure includes your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) as well as your normal day-to-day activities plus any formal exercise. In theory — based on this definition — if we eat at our TDEE, we will maintain our weight. The problem is that this theory does not always hold true. When we have been under-eating and over-exercising, our body will adapt to this stress. In an attempt to maintain homeostasis, it will down-regulate the metabolism to match the decreased intake. The result will often be a suppressed metabolism. This explains why suddenly you may find yourself gaining weight while doing hours of cardio and eating 1,200 calories or less a day … your body has adapted! You have decreased your intake and increased your exercise for a long enough period of time that the body has finally slowed down your metabolism to match the intake. Your body is doing what it is supposed to do = maintain homeostasis.
To get your metabolism back up and running where it should be, you’ll need to increase your caloric intake back up to TDEE, or do a Metabolic Reset. To begin this process, the first thing you will want to do is enter your stats into the EM2WL weight loss calculator to get your TDEE (maintenance) calories. This will give you an idea of what your ultimate goal will be. But remember that these calculators just give you estimates. They are subject to error based on how much exercise you input into the calculator and how active you truly are. Many newbies to EM2WL lead very active lives, and may actually burn a lot more through their day-to-day activities. If they simply enter in the 4 hours of formal exercise that they do each week, their final TDEE estimate may actually be too low.
Alternatively, you can use an on-body device such as a FitBit, or Apple Watch to get an idea of how much you burn each day. These are likely more accurate than the calculators, just because they’re monitoring how much activity you actually do each and every day. However, these devices are also not 100% accurate because they don’t accurately calculate calories burned from your strength training workouts.
So, where does this leave you? How do you figure out your “true” TDEE? You have your TDEE estimate and/or your “on-body device” average, but ideally you will also test out these numbers and make sure they are truly accurate for you.
The normal process for doing a Metabolic Reset involves increasing your caloric intake up to your calculated TDEE and staying at that level for a minimum of 8 – 12 weeks (much longer if you come from a history of severe dieting or caloric restriction). We generally recommend that you make this increase slowly, adding approximately 50-100 calories to your daily intake each week. Of course, you can certainly jump right up to TDEE quickly (“rip the band-aid”) or make those increases more substantial, but you may find the increases on the scale to be discouraging. By making the increases more gradually, you can often avoid some of the gains seen during the “rip the bandaid” approach. We leave this to the individual as a personal decision.
Now, back to the original question … “How Do I Find My True TDEE?” In order to do this, you will most likely need to go through a trial and error process. You have your calculated TDEE, but how do you figure out if that is “true” or not? As you are going through the process, gradually increasing your daily caloric intake 100 calories a week, keep an eye on the scale. Generally, as you make these increases, you may see the scale jump up a pound or two, and then during the course of the week, it will generally trend back downwards, often ending up right back where you started, pre-increase. As you get closer and closer to your calculated TDEE, you may find that it takes a bit longer for your weight to stabilize and drop back down. At this point, if you find that happening, you may want to take it a bit slower. Then if your weight has not stabilized and dropped back down by the end of the week, wait until it does before making any further increases.
Once you are at or near your calculated TDEE, watch for slow and steady increases on the scale which do not stabilize over time. If you do start seeing gains like this, you have most likely surpassed your TDEE, and which point you can back down on your intake by 100 calories or so and you should be right there — at your true TDEE.
What many people find is that their actual TDEE may be higher than what they get with the calculators. Often their day-to-day activities (chasing kids, doing laundry…etc.) makes them more active than the activity level that they chose when inputting their data into a calculator. We often tend to underestimate how active we are. Many people find that they are actually able to eat 100 or 200 calories more than the calculators give them, simply by “testing the waters” and not blindly accepting those numbers as accurate.
So, give it a try! Surely by now, you have resigned yourself to the fact that this is not a fast process, so take the time to make sure you know your “true TDEE.” Don’t blindly trust the calculators, test it out and see how much you can really eat before you start seeing true gains. Ignore those monthly fluctuations and the jumps that occur after increasing your intake. Keep pushing your intake higher and higher until you start to see slow, steady gains that do not stabilize over time. As hard as it may be, don’t worry about gaining. You can always just drop your intake down and those gains will stop. Remember: nothing that you are doing during this process is irreversible. Take the time to do it right … right from the beginning. You won’t regret it!
When Does My Reset Start?
You have finally gotten brave and decided to do a metabolic reset. You have diligently upped your intake slowly to your calculated TDEE level.
You added 100 calories on each week, and faithfully continued this process until you got your intake from rock bottom all the way up to your maintenance calories, maybe taking months to get to this point. Yay! Now you have reached TDEE, and you are ready to cut, right? NO. Now, this is the point where your metabolic reset actually begins. This is the point where the healing of body and mind starts to take place as your body begins to trust that this new, increased intake will be consistent, and not just another fluctuation, like so many times in the past. Yes, you have just spent what is possibly a few months getting your intake up to maintenance levels, but technically, your reset has not yet begun until now.
Now, you will need to stay eating consistently at TDEE levels for a minimum of 8 – 12 weeks, possibly longer if you come from a long history of severe caloric restriction. Some people have found it takes as long as a year to become fully healed and ready to move on. This part of the journey is as individual as the person taking it. Everybody is different and one size certainly does not fit all. Use this time to introduce strength training into your life, if you haven’t already done so, and enjoy the benefits of building some muscle (which really is possible now that you are finally eating at TDEE). Sit back and truly learn to love eating more.
When Is My Reset Over?
Okay, so you didn’t rush the metabolism reset. You have eaten diligently at maintenance levels for two, three, eight, maybe even twelve months. Congratulations! Now, how do you know when it is over? How do you know when it is the right time to cut?
There are a few key things to look at when making that decision:
○ One thing to consider is the mental aspect of the journey. For many, it is just as important as the physical part. Hopefully, during your reset you have changed the way you view your food. Food is no longer the enemy, and you have begun to see and appreciate it as a much-needed source of fuel. You have learned to no longer fear carbs or fats, and instead fit them in to your daily life (yes, even chocolate!). We feature a lot of Success Stories from EM2WL followers on our website, and hopefully when you read them you have noticed the mental transitions that had to take place both before and during the reset process. This is a vital part of the process. If you have not fully embraced eating more, then you are not ready for a cut.
○ Are you rushing to finish your reset? Are you in a hurry to start that cut? Are you counting down the days until you can introduce that 15% deficit and begin your weight loss journey? If this is you, then you are most likely not ready. At least not mentally…. When your reset is over, you will know it. You will have fully accepted that this is your new way of life. In fact, when you are ready, you will actually be dreading the day you have to give up any calories! Suddenly that 15% deficit will seem huge and you will be contemplating starting with just a 10% cut, or maybe even 8%, or 5… You get the idea :-)
○ As far as the physical aspect, if you have been eating at an extreme deficit prior to beginning your reset and had symptoms of metabolic damage such as fatigue, hair loss, brittle nails, low body temperature and/or loss of menstruation, you should begin to see all of these improving. Seeing improvements in these areas is a good sign that your body is recovering and now using those additional calories for normal maintenance functions, and not simply the vital ones.
○ Your weight will have stabilized. Often, the reset process comes with some associated weight gain. Some of that is water, as glycogen stores are refilled. Some of it may come from other sources. When we subject our bodies to severe caloric restriction and excessive cardio, the weight that is lost is not all necessarily fat. The weight that is lost can also be from muscles, tendons, ligaments and even brain tissue! As we begin to re-feed and nourish our bodies properly, the body will begin to rebuild that muscle, tendon, ligament and brain tissue and that will show up as a gain on the scale. Note: this is just another reason to not rely on the scale as your sole method for gauging success. Not all scale losses are good ones! … I mean, who wants to lose brain tissue?!
As you have worked your way through the reset process, chances are, your weight may have fluctuated. A lot. By the time your reset is complete, these fluctuations should have stabilized. Yes, you will still have those ups and downs caused by water retention following a high sodium day, or water retention due to DOMS following a heavy lifting day, or that normal 3 – 5 pound gain many see around TOM, but overall your weight should be holding fairly stable.
○ By the time you are ready to cut, all of those overly full, bloated feelings that you may have experienced as you increased your calories should have subsided. You should feel comfortable eating at your Maintenance calories (TDEE). You should not feel like an over-stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving, in fact you should feel hungry again! These are all signs that your metabolism has returned to a normal state.
No matter what your dieting history, EM2WL will work for you. It is all just a matter of doing your research, figuring out your “numbers” and determining what plan will be correct for you, and then putting that plan in place to get you to your caloric goal. Each person’s plans will be different. Some people will see results in as little as 4 – 6 weeks, while others may take as long as a year, depending on their dieting history (the more severe the dieting history, the longer the “metabolic healing” can be expected to take). Research and patience will be key, in either case. And, if you need help along the way, EM2WL is here to help with our online courses and coaching programs.