The same way you don’t wear the same clothes all year round (even if you live in SoCal), you can’t stay in a calorie deficit all year round. Sorry, not sorry. Your body cannot withstand being in a calorie deficit all year and actually give you the results you want. Have you ever gone on a diet (or reduced your caloric intake) and eventually stopped losing weight? That’s essentially your body’s way of telling you it has gotten accustomed to those new calories. In order for you to lose more weight, you’d need to cut your calories down even more. For people in a caloric deficit (without the guidance of a coach- or even with the guidance of a bad coach), that might mean you’re eating a very low amount of calories to begin with, and to see any real change on the scale you’d have to significantly reduce those calories even more.That means if you were eating 1200-1400 calories on your diet, you’d need to cut 400-500 calories from that. Just to put it into perspective, a 2 year old needs roughly 1,200 calories daily.
SO WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO IF WE WANT TO BE LEAN, BUT CAN’T LIVE IN A CALORIE DEFICIT?
The same way the Earth goes through seasons, so should you. There is a time to diet (if that’s actually what you want), a time to reverse diet (building calories back to maintenance), and a time to eat at maintenance calories- there might also be a time to build if you are looking to get stronger AND leaner.
Why do we need these seasons? You put a lot of stress on your body- you work out, you have a job (probably), and you have some sort of personal/family/social life. Your body can’t tell the difference between psychological or physiological stress, and it responds the same way, so even if you feel like you’re relieving stress by drilling yourself into the ground with exercise, you’re actually putting a greater demand on your body to recover. Being in a caloric deficit is also stressful on your body- there are not as many nutrients going around to fuel/sustain your organs. The human body is super resilient, and so you can get away with some added stress for a short period of time before feeling the deleterious effects. But eventually, your body either adapts to the stress placed on it by shutting down or pausing other processes (sometimes digestion- aka bloating, problems digesting foods) to make sure it can keep you alive to continue fighting off this imaginary threat (in the form of all the stress you’re piling on).
THE SOLUTION? STOP LIVING IN A CALORIE DEFICIT.
Here's how it works when I onboard a new client:
History & Current State
After going over their dieting history, exercise history, background, family life, current job situation, goals, and current stressors, we look at where they are at in life, and where they are at with their current food/exercise habits
We work to find their maintenance calories, and then we stay there for at LEAST 1 month, but most of the time its more like 2-3 (working with me is not going to be a quick fix, and you can expect to work with me for 6 months or more).
Gameplan for a Deficit
Once we have developed consistency with maintenance calories in the form of building high-quality meals and developed autonomy and the ability to make nutritious decisions in social situations, then AND ONLY THEN, do we talk about a game plan for a calorie deficit. This is a looooooong process- but then again, so is your life (at least that’s the goal, right?).
In a calorie deficit, we check in weekly to track biofeedback and health markers. If something is trending off, we discuss whether or not to continue in a calorie deficit.
This is just a snapshot of the process, and I’m sharing this with you because I want you to understand that just because you said you want to go on a diet, it doesn’t necessarily mean your body is prepared or your life is suited for you to do that.
I went into a calorie deficit and for 3 weeks everything was going great! I felt good, I was only a little hungry at certain points during the day, but I was still sleeping well, and I was generally happy. 3 weeks in, we moved homes, my commute tripled, and I took on more responsibility at work. I kept pushing through with the calorie deficit- because, I mean, I committed to doing it, right? Not too long after I lost all motivation to work out. The most I could muster was to walk our dog. Then I started waking up in the middle of the night multiple times. Then literally EVERYTHING annoyed me, to the point where I would pick fights for no reason, or just generally avoid people. I was exhausted, starving all the time, and then I started feeling bloated. Up to this point, I told my coach (yes, I’m a nutrition coach and I have a nutrition coach!) that I was just a little tired, stressed, and didn’t really want to work out. I had to be honest with myself and recognize that I was not in a healthy mindset to continue a calorie deficit, nor was I in a place in my life to continue a calorie deficit.
The point is that you can’t force your body into something it isn’t ready for. If you are stalled with your weight loss, or not happy with where you are at, consider giving your body some love and taking yourself out of a calorie deficit for a while.
NOT SURE WHERE TO START?
EAT A PROTEIN, FAT, VEGGIE, AND CARB AT EVERY MEAL (3-4X PER DAY) SERVINGS:
Protein = Size of your palm (most women), x2 (most men)
Fat = Size of the top of your thumb
Veggies = 1-2 Cups (your cupped palm- for everyone)
Carbs = depends on your meal, but at least 1/4 cup
If you eat this way and you start gaining weight, cut back a little on the added fats at one or two meals (sometimes our protein choice has all the fat we need). But I would also challenge you to allow your body to gain some weight if you’ve spent the last few years jumping from diet to diet- your body tells you what it needs. If you eat this way and start losing weight, add more carbs to your plate at one or two meals.
THIS IS THE SIMPLEST PLACE TO START. IS THIS GUARANTEED TO WORK FOR EVERYONE?
Of course not. But if you have no structure right now, this is the easiest way to develop some consistency. If you are lacking veggies in your life, just adding them into every meal will probably also make you feel better right off the bat.
If you want more guidance, tailored to your specific needs, work with a coach. It’s not the only way to achieve your goals, but it’s going to be the most surefire way to do it.
Arielle (aka Coach Bloom, or just Bloom) is a L-3 coach and has been in the fitness space for over 8 years. She is also a nutrition coach, dropping knowledge bombs all over social media with the hope that one day, everyone will eat their veggies and protein, drink enough water and move their bodies.