Diet culture tells us: “if you eat less food than your body burns, you will lose weight.” However, our bodies are not computers and do not work like calculators. What most people don’t understand is that the human metabolism is actually much more complicated than calories in vs. calories out.
Your body uses energy from food to perform all the activities you do in a day and all of the functions needed to keep you alive! Energy from food is used in three different ways:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)– energy used at rest to maintain basic physiological functions (i.e. breathing and pumping blood to your body from the heart)
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)– this is the energy required to breakdown and digest your food
- Physical Activity (PA) – Fuel used for exercise and body movements
*When you don’t eating enough to sustain all of these activities, your body goes into starvation mode*
What is starvation mode, and why is it harmful?
The term “starvation mode” is used to describe how the body adapts to a caloric deficit. When calories are restricted, the body becomes more efficient by reducing the number of calories burned. Your body’s goal is to maintain energy balance and prevent actual starvation. The technical term for starvation mode is “adaptive thermogenesis” where the body slows down the metabolic processes to conserve energy. This means that when you restrict your food intake, your body reduces how many calories you are able to burn throughout the day to prevent starvation. This is why under eating and over exercising does not work!
The negative effects of under-eating:
- Increases risk of health problems like eating disorders and heart disease
- Increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone)
- Loss of muscle mass
- Brain Fog
Being in an over stressed and underfed state will NOT help you lose weight. In an over stressed and underfed state, your body will hold onto more fat stores because it doesn’t know when the next surge of energy is coming next. Under-fueling slows down your metabolism, breaks down muscle, and as a result prevent individuals from meeting their weight/fat loss goals.
Set Point Theory
Chronic Dieter: “But if I don’t control my food, I will spin out of control, and my weight will go up and up and up and all my hard work will be for nothing!”
Dietitian: “Not necessarily”
Let us introduce to you the Set Point Theory. The Set Point Theory explains that our bodies naturally maintain a constant weight range to keep our bodies functioning optimally. Our bodies are designed to maintain a healthy state and keep us alive!
Your body’s set point makes it much more difficult to maintain a body that is smaller than it needs to sustain these physiological functions. When we under eat, the body secretes more ghrelin (hunger hormone) to have you eat more to restore your body’s natural set point. This is actually really cool! Your body is working to protect itself and maintain a healthy environment for all the activities going on inside your body.
As the body starts to put on more weight, it doesn’t just keep going higher and higher up into space and out of control. Eventually, the body will stop around it’s natural set point. It may overshoot the set point at first, but give your body time and grace to recover. After all, it was starving for quite some time, so it will need extra energy for repairs.
Watch this video to learn more about the Set Point Theory
4 Tips to avoid starvation mode & meet your goals!
You might be thinking “If I shouldn’t restrict my food intake, how can I reach my goals?” Start with these tips!
1. Eat Protein with carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and are required for daily life functions, and adding protein will help you stay satisfied until your next meal and help you build lean muscle mass!
2. Eat incrementally throughout the day
We want to focus on *fueling* for our busy day! Having consistent meals helps balance blood sugar and will help stabilize energy levels throughout the day. Aim for a meal or snack something every 3-4 hours.
3. Leave room for fun foods
The great thing about our bodies is that it uses all kinds of foods for energy including our favorite fun foods such as chocolate, cookies, or chips. We encourage to incorporating these foods into our clients weekly meal plan! Eliminating fun foods entirely could result in a binge later on. Additionally, it can isolate us from social activities! Establish a healthy relationship with these foods by incorporating them into your routine each week.
4. Work with the nutrition expert, a Registered Dietitian
Sometimes it’s best to ask for a little extra support during your journey to meet your goals. Working with a registered dietitian for one on one nutrition counseling, meal planning, and extra accountability can help. You can learn more about how Brittany Jones Nutrition Group can help you meet your goals in a sustainable way here!
Your body is incredible! It knows exactly what it needs to do with the fuel you give it. Don’t worry about controlling your food so tightly because your body will tell you what it needs at that time. You just have to learn to listen.
Here is a reminder that you deserve to eat today. You don’t need to “earn” your food, and you don’t need to punish your body for what you already ate. Choose to honor your body with love and respect today.
–Written by Gabriella Childers, Brittany Jones Nutrition Group Intern & Brittany Jones, MS, RD, LD