Why ‘Eat Less Move More’ Doesn’t Work

We’ve all heard it. You want to lose weight? It’s simple, just eat less and move more! If it sounds easy, that’s because the concept is a little bit too simple to be true.

Yes, for someone who eats calories in excess and leads a sedentary life, the ELMM mantra can be useful to guide them towards a more healthy life. It can even help them on the beginning of their journey to weight loss. In the beginning, going from 3500 calories consumed to 2500 calories consumed and adding in a daily walk is a perfect recipe for weight loss. But what happens when your muscles adapt to a daily 30 minute walk?

Eventually, this walk must get longer, include more hills, or otherwise progress. Our bodies are adaptive creatures, and the exact same “movement” every day will stop producing results at some point. The same can be said for calories. As you begin on your weight loss journey, a caloric deficit may be easy, but what happens when your caloric intake gets down to 1800? What happens when you stop losing weight at 1800, and now have to move down to 1500 calories per day? What happens when you’re moving more, but are now down to eating 1200 calories per day?

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…but only at the beginning 

Eat Less Move More is not a finite solution, because our bodies don’t work that way. Metabolism can be a tricky creature, one which you do have a good amount of control over, believe it or not. And at a certain point, that ELMM way of life will actually become what hurts your metabolism and causes you to stop losing weight, usually once you get to that last 5, 10, 20 pounds that you want to lose.

First, let’s look at the “Eat Less” portion of this. At some point in time, women came to believe that the magical number for weight loss was 1200. Women of all ages believe that they need to eat no more than 1200 calories per day to lose weight. This is ridiculous for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is no magical number by which every woman on the planet can lose weight. What determines the number of calories you should be eating to lose weight? Your RMR, or resting metabolic rate, combined with your activity level.

And what determines your RMR? That would be your age, size, and activity level. Keeping that in mind, a 5’8″ muscular woman can eat a lot more calories (and still lose weight) than a 5’2″ sedentary woman with the same goal. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a point at which caloric intake (or lack thereof) can cause a decrease in RMR, as well as hormonal problems which make weight loss more difficult.

Now, imagine that you’ve been on the weight loss train for a while, or even that you’ve just started. You’re consuming 1200 calories per day, because some women’s magazine told you that’s what you need to do to lose weight.  So, will you lose weight? Heck yes, of course you will. You’ll also lose a significant amount of muscle mass, decrease your metabolism, and increase your levels of the dangerous stress hormone Cortisol.

What you’ll also do is without a doubt, set yourself up for failure. 1200 calories is not a sustainable amount of food for just about anyone, especially someone who is physically active (move more, right?). At some point, you’re going to reach a point where you can’t move more because you’re not consuming enough calories to support that movement. Then what? You can’t realistically and healthfully eat less than this, so how are you supposed to continue on your weight loss journey at this point? Eating less only works to a certain extent, for a finite amount of time.

So what do we need to focus on instead of eating less? Eating smarter. Consuming nutrient dense foods, avoiding an over abundance of “empty” calories, avoiding overly processed, artificial ingredients. These are the things that we need to be doing to become healthier — less is not always the answer.

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See this? Eat healthy… not “less”

Now let’s pick apart this whole “Move More” aspect, although I do think that this is the more realistic part of the equation. As I mentioned before, our bodies adapt to the stresses we place on them, that’s just evolution. The first time you run a mile, your body is working hard to accomplish that mile. However, if you continue running one mile, three days per week for a month, that distance will become much easier for you. This is because your body has adapted, and has made running one mile much  more efficient. This means that you are expending less and less effort (calories) to cover the same distance as you were when you first started.

So while yes, I do believe that as a whole, we need to more, it’s again not the end-all-be-all of weight loss. There may come a certain point where you don’t necessarily need to move more, but you may need to move a little bit differently. If you’re a jogger, it may not be realistic for you to move “more” than the 3 miles per day that you’re already jogging, due to time constraints and other responsibilities.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if our only responsibility was staying fit?)

So if you don’t have time to do more, does that mean that you’re doomed to stay the same weight or size forever? Absolutely not. Maybe more isn’t the answer in this case, maybe you just need to be moving differently. Adding in some strength training, switching out a couple of those jogs for weight lifting sessions could make a world of difference. In that case, you’re not necessarily moving more, rather you’re just moving in a better way.

Your muscles and bones need to be challenged in order to stay strong, and to grow even stronger. Progressive weight training can help you to create these challenges without spending hours and hours per day on your fitness routine.

That being said, overall movement is very important, and is the reason why this is the part of the equation that I actually agree with. We should all be walking more, standing more, and just moving our bodies more. Park farther away, take the stairs, get off the train a couple of stops early — whatever it takes, just move your body on a regular basis.

So, what should we call this one? Move more efficiently? Move better?

When all is said and done, yes, Eat Less Move More will work for a very finite amount of time. But is it the ultimate answer to weight/fat loss and a healthier body? Not necessarily, depending on your situation.

I would be totally on board with changing it up just a little bit though — Eat Smarter, Move Better.

It might not flow as nicely as Eat Less, Move more, but you will get more out of it.

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4 thoughts on “Why ‘Eat Less Move More’ Doesn’t Work

  1. Amazing!! Eat smater, move better is a brilliant change up because it’s so true! It’s so tiring to see magazine after magazine telling us to eat less and move more because there’s so much more to the equation than that! Fantastic piece- so informative!

  2. Pingback: Monday Morning Coffee Break: Three, Twos, Ones

  3. I totally agree with you… Two years ago I started my journey of eating in a healthier way and definitely it works… I also align my eating habits along with a weekly semi- routine of bootcamp and yoga sessions and I can’t complain. I
    My next step is to start running. I would like to receive advices on that.
    Maggie
    Thanks

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