A: Why can eating LESS and exercising MORE backfire? We've all been fed the eat less, workout more mantra since we first put on the freshman 15, and some of us, even earlier than that. We ease up on a few snacks here and there, throw in a couple of walks/jogs, and pounds melt off. It's like magic, right? Well, at EM2WL we prefer to say, it's like crack. Seriously. Once we see that the all elusive calories in vs. calories out ratio works, we turn to it over and over again, seeking those same magic results, or better yet, that same “high.” The problem? Just like crack (or any other drug/addiction) its never as good as the first time, and meanwhile while we're searching for that “high” and willing to do anything to get it (including upping our dosage, just to get the same result), we are doing our bodies a detrimental disservice.
This factor becomes extremely important as we age. As we approach 30, our metabolism and the way our bodies process food is already beginning it's decline. It continues this downward spiral, throughout the 40s, 50s,and beyond. Combined with the fact that our bodies are extremely adaptive, the longer we eat in caloric deficit, the more our bodies begin to adapt and think that the deficit is maintenance, and adapts in order to operate more efficiently at the new cal level. It has to now operate all processes with a much smaller “budget.” If you've ever been on a budget, you know that the first thing to go are the extras. In the case of your body, we might think that letting go of extra would be a good thing. And it is…at first. But ultimately, we'd be wrong, as extra does not mean fat (in the long term). Your body needs and wants fat, and will hold on to it for survival. One of the extras that will be sacrificed will be energy, including extra metabolic energy. Burning food requires energy, which your body has decided, it will just have to do without. This also means that other internal systems that require specific nutrients in order to survive/function at peak will be shortchanged.
When you put stress on the body, it's going to adapt. Eating less and exercising more are both a form of stress. If we eat less (while keeping activity level the same) the body adapts by first, shedding some weight, but eventually tapers off in order to become more efficient (thus, the infamous plateau). If you run a mile everyday, at first it will seem difficult. But, eventually your endurance will build up, allowing you to go further each time (while still burning a similar amount of calories..thus being fuel efficient). If you lift weights, your muscles tear and your body miraculously repairs itself bigger and stronger in order to better handle that same stress the next time around. While none of these stresses seem harmful in and of themselves (actually, quite the opposite…who wouldn't want to be thinner, run farther, and be ripped?), the problem comes when we try to put our simple logic into how the complex human body operates. We want it all, so we go for the gusto, lowering cals, and upping the intensity on the track or in the weight room.
By subjecting our bodies to multiple stressors at once, we actually end up getting the opposite of what we are striving for. The body reacts to stress by releasing stress hormones – including cortisol – which becomes a HUGE factor as we enter our 40s and beyond and are already dealing with the release of cortisol from other areas of our lives (i.e. not getting enough sleep, dealing with loss of loved ones, aging parents AND kids, etc…) during this stage of our lives. Many women, around menopausal age already understand the impact that cortisol can have on their midsection (which is the main place the the body wants to collect fat during this time, and under stress…aka “menopot”), but they may not realize that they are actually contributing to it by their seemingly healthy lifestyle. It's extremely hard to believe that the very thing that we're doing to keep our bodies healthy, is what's causing the problem. Thus we keep doing it, coming full circle.
So…are we telling you to flop on the couch with a tub of Ben & Jerry's and live happily ever after? No. Eating right and exercise, still need to be crucial parts of your plan of attack. Especially as you age. But it's time to do both, smarter, not harder. Pick your stress: eat less OR exercise more, OR do them both in moderation, but don't wear yourself ragged doing both in excess, especially long-term (more than a month or two). Don't kill yourself trying to hit the “3500 cals burned” in a week or what have you.
The best way to come out of this plateau is to begin to repair your metabolism. The only way to increase your metabolic rate at this point will be the hardest. You will need to eat more. This could simply mean just a slight increase in cals, or a full metabolism reset. If you've been eating in a deficit for so long that you don't even know what your maintenance is, it's a sign that it's been way too long, and you should hop on the “repair” track as soon as possible.
Where to begin? Start by slowly moving back to maintenance, and staying there for a while. The human body is amazingly adaptive. If you eat more, your body may gain at first, but will eventually hit the same plateau (although, in our twisted thinking, we don't tend to look at it as a “plateau” when the scale goes in the other direction, right?). You can start slowly, if preferred, but eventually you will want to keep increasing until you are back at a healthy cal intake. Staying there for a while will soon regulate your metabolism, so that when you decrease again, you will be able to lose, eating more that you did previously…
*Featured segment of the Starter Kit E-book. Click “buy now” below the image to purchase the entire Starter Kit.