Why Dropping Calories Low Right Away is a Terrible Idea
I overheard the worst advice today.
It was a program developed by a well-known nutritionist to help a group of people at all ages, weights, fitness levels and walks of life lose weight with a simple program. Sounds ok right?
The program is called '3, 4, 5' which consists of:
Breakfast = 300 calories
Lunch = 400 calories
Dinner = 500 calories
If you just did the math - that totals 1,100 calories for ALL of the individuals involved.
NO ONE (I repeat) NO ONE - man or woman needs to go this low in calories ESPECIALLY at the BEGINNING of a body-fat loss phase nor for a long period of time.
Not to mention - caloric intake is based on: sex, age, weight, bodyfat, muscle mass, goals, activity level and lifestyle. There is no one-size-fits-all!
Let's get in to the Why:
First of all -> It is not recommended to go below 1,200 calories for a woman and 1,500 for a man. You will see varied information out there surrounding these numbers HOWEVER, the three biggest factors in not going below these numbers are this:
Extremely low caloric intake is not sustainable (read: weight re-gain)
Dropping calories low right away doesn't leave any room to continue to drop calories once you plateau (and you will).
Extremely low caloric intake causes declines in resting metabolic rates
Let's look at a scenario where you have a 200 lb woman who wants to attempt a bodyfat loss phase:
200 lb female
Consuming around 2500 calories per day
Inactive lifestyle (desk job, light walking)
Now let's say this female takes the above advice and drops from 2500 calories -> 1,100.
She will experience some initial weight loss from the reduced calories
She will likely experience intense hunger, cravings and desires to 'cheat' because of the restriction
She will experience a metabolic slow down after time as her body naturally has adaptive mechanisms to preserve energy that lead to a decline in metabolic rate.
This decline in metabolic rate will likely also lead to a plateau (read more about plateaus in my post last week about this very topic.)
So she hits a plateau and has a slowed metabolism..... now what?
Cut calories further
WAIT! We are already at 1,100 - how far down will she have to go?!
Pretty soon -> she will arrive at a very unsustainable caloric intake that has diminishing returns by way of hormone imbalances, cravings, body fat storage and re-gain potential.
So what's the solution?
Think about it, if you can start with a 10% reduction in calories and get results, why on EARTH would you cut so extremely low that you have no where to cut from after? Not to mention, once a plateau hits, you have a lot more calories to work with and other 'levers' to pull like adding exercise, changing up macronutrient intake, etc.
Let's look at this Scenario:
Woman above wants to drop bodyfat
She starts with an overall reduction in calories of 10% (2500 -> 2,250)
She adds in 3 mornings a week of low intensity, fat-burning walks in the AM
She drops an average 1lb per week her first month
She doesn't feel much by way of cravings, restriction, etc. because she is not in a large deficit
She hits a plateau around month 3
She reduces overall caloric intake by a total of 20% this time (2500 -> 2,000)
She adds in 2 days a week of 30 minute strength training days
She decides to try higher protein, lowered overall carbohydrate intake
She drops an average of 2lbs per week this month
She doesn't feel much by way of cravings, restriction, etc. becasue she is not in a large deficit
Do you see where I am going with this? Her body is RESPONDING to the changes so why jump down so far calorically that it is not mentally/physically/emotionally sustainable and set her up for failure?
She can follow the above strategy and lose 50lbs within 8-12 months and KEEP IT OFF because she isn't going to extremes and she is able to keep her calories higher, her hormones balanced and cravings from restriction at bay. She may even start to love working out and join a class or hire a personal trainer which will further her results.
Moral of the story? Extremes may work for a short period of time - but they do not have long lasting results.
Our society does have a weight-loss issue, we have an issue KEEPING the weight off because of the multi-million dollar dieting industry that preaches extremes and feeds in to our need for 'immediate gratification.'
There is no immediate gratification when it comes to your health - take the time, do it right and above all - ENJOY THE JOURNEY!