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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Good Reads – Weight Loss Edition

Good morning everyone!  I’m sitting here looking out the window into another Winter Wonderland. With my 3rd snow day in the past week, I’d say Boston has been hit pretty hard! I’m not complaining though, since snow days are usually pretty rare when working at a college. Anyway, let’s hop to it.

After an amazing Super Bowl win by the Pats last night (did you guys watch?), I’m feeling pretty excited no matter what today throws at me! Of course the outcome was exactly what I was hoping for, but the game itself was an amazing game — I would venture to say it’s one of the best Super Bowls that I’ve seen, literally coming down to the last seconds (and that pass? What was that??). If you’re not a football fan, perhaps you watch just for the food and commercials? I have to admit, the commercials let me down a bit this year. Over all I didn’t think they were great, although there were a few shining stars in there.

In case you missed it, or haven’t seen this video circling the internet already, go ahead and watch my favorite of the night — from the #likeagirl campaign from Always.

This is actually a longer version of the commercial that was aired during the game, but I think the message is so strong I actually like this one better.

Today we’re going to kind of stick with this theme of perceptions and self esteem, and look at some good reads I’ve found lately that deal with different sides of the weight loss topic. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!

I Was On The Biggest Loser And It Was The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made – Kai Hibbard on XO Jane.  I’ve posted a few articles about The Biggest Loser on my Facebook page recently, and I’ve written briefly about the show here. I have a lot of feelings about this show, most of them negative, and this article only serves to support them. This is a little bit of a different take than the articles I’ve already posted. Instead of detailing the horrible physical abuse that contestants on this show go through, Kai digs a little bit deeper into the psychological aspect of this “reality” show.

3 Things Women Must Do For Simple Fat Loss – Erica Hurst at Hurst Strength. Erica has a no-nonsense approach to training and this comes across very well in her writing. Fat loss doesn’t have to be complicated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In this post, Erica outlines three basic principles that must be followed in order for a fat loss plan to be effective. I whole heartedly agree with this entire post, especially #3.

The Unexpected Side Effects of Significant Weight Loss – Guest Post by Kerry Colpitts on Weighty Matters (Yoni Freedhoff). Again, a little bit of a different take on weight loss and the effects it has on the people who succeed. Does losing weight make you a better person? Does it mean that you deserve more in this life?

Dropping Weight Without Losing Strength – Tara Spencer at Sweat Like A Pig. If you’re looking to drop body fat without losing too much strength, Tara does a wonderful job of detailing how she’s going about it for an upcoming competition. Again, fat loss doesn’t have to be complicated, but especially when you’re trying to maintain strength, simple does not mean easy. Check out Tara’s tips,

Bonus:

Why A Fake Article Called Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs Was Accepted By 17 Medical Journals  – Elizabeth Segran. I had to put this article in here even though it doesn’t really fit in with the whole weight loss theme. I just feel like it’s an important read for people who regularly read fitness, health, and weight loss articles, as these often cite research to prove their point. Why is this article so important to read? Because the author points out just how easy it is to create fake “research”, which can then be cited in the very articles you’re trusting for your own health information. The bottom line is that not all research is equal, in fact not all “research” is even real.

And that’s it. Enjoy your snow day if you’re lucky enough to have one, and for the rest of you, Happy Monday!

The Biggest Loser: Gone Too Far?

I want to start this off by saying that I’m not a fan of The Biggest Loser. Every once in a while, I will sit through part of an episode, but I haven’t watched an episode in it’s entirety it since the series first began. I am so incredibly turned off by the fitness philosophy of Jillian Michaels that I really can’t stand to watch her on a regular basis, and I think that the philosophy of the show as a whole has a lot of room for improvement.

I don’t love the premise of someone winning because of one number, that one number being the one on the scale. I don’t love the idea of the contestants working out for several hours each day while consuming an alarmingly low number of calories.  And I don’t love the idea of throwing these people back into their regular lives after this hyper-focused “healthy” lifestyle at the ranch, only to be bombarded with things like family commitments, work, and well, life.

I get it that it’s TV and that it’s there for our entertainment, but to me, it’s neither entertaining nor inspirational, in fact it’s often quite sad. But that’s all beyond the point. My focus today is on the season finale that aired earlier this week. I didn’t watch the finale myself, and didn’t really give it a second thought until yesterday when I started seeing an online reaction to the winner. Looking into the results, I was not that shocked to find that the winner was Rachel Frederickson, who lost 60% of her body weight in six months, ending up at a very small 105 lb.

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All of a sudden there was outrage and concern expressed on Twitter and Facebook, with many people claiming that Rachel had simply lost too much weight, that she had gone too far, and that you could “see her bones”.  Yes, she did drop an alarming amount of weight in a ridiculously short time period. Is this healthy? Of that I’m not sure, because I don’t know Rachel and I don’t know quite how she did it. Would I ever recommend that someone try to lose that much weight in that short of a time period? Absolutely not.

But to say that she’s too skinny is really just the flip side of the body shaming coin. Yes, she is very thin, but we need a lot more information before we can decide if she’s unhealthy, or too thin. Again, I didn’t watch the show and I don’t know her back story, but I’m willing to guess the 24 year old Frederickson went through her fair share of body shaming when she was her biggest self.  Now that she has reached the other side, she has to endure criticism from internet voices around the world for being too small? Shamed for being to large (shamed enough to willingly stand in spandex and a bra in front of millions of people each week, just to see that number keep dropping), and now shamed for being too small. So yes, she won the money, but did Rachel really win here? Either she’s actually quite healthy but now has to defend herself to all the armchair doctors in the world, or she actually is unhealthy, and well, that’s a much bigger battle to take on. For her sake, I hope it’s the former.

In my opinion, the real issue here is not how thin she appears, because in all reality, she dieted down even further just to make sure she would be the winner of a significant portion of money. The real concern here is that that is what she felt she had to do to win. Because in a competition where the only thing that matters is that number on the scale, and for years contestants have been celebrated for this type of drastic weight loss, why wouldn’t she become as small as possible? When the entertainment industry and network TV is telling us that the real “winners” are those of us who become as small as possible, where is she supposed to draw the line? And what kind of precedent is this setting for future contestants of this “reality” show?

Personally, I don’t think The Biggest Loser should be on the air anymore. I think it’s quite dangerous, both to the contestants and to the viewers who think that this quick weight loss is healthy, probable, and manageable. But I do not fault Rachel for this, she was just doing what she had to do to win. Would you compulsively diet and exercise for six months if you knew it would get you $250,000?  If you were 10 lb above the “winning” weight, would you go to drastic measures to get below that red line — even if you knew it wasn’t quite the healthiest thing to do? Something to think about. Money talks, but not quite as loud as the message that was sent from the producers of TBL the other night: “The smaller you are, the better you are, and nothing else matters.  Skinny equals success.”  I’m just wondering when society will realize that this is not true, that there are far more important things than the number on the scale. I’m wondering when society will realize that people are not winners or losers depending on their body weight, but I certainly won’t hold my breath.

Readers: Do you watch TBL? What did you think of the finale and of Frederickson’s drastic weight loss? Do you find shows like that inspirational? How do you feel about the focus on body weight as the determining factor of healthy vs. unhealthy?

Also, for more thoughts on this, check out Caitlin’s awesome post here.

Workplace Fitness Continued: Pros and Cons

If you missed yesterday’s post, I started talking about a 12 week workplace fitness challenge that I joined with some of my coworkers/friends. I suggest clicking on over and catching up on that post before you move ahead with this one so that we’re all on the same page. (*nudge, nudge…get it? Same page?… blog…webpage?)

Done? Moving on.

What do I think about the program?

There are most certainly pros and cons to a program like this. I’ll try to break them down here, if I can get all of my thoughts organized for ya.

What I like about this specific program:

  • Team Work breeds motivation: As I mentioned yesterday, having the sense of a team and others who depend on you can do wonders for motivation and performance. I’m not one to have a workout buddy — I much prefer to lift on my own, that way I can get lost in my own thoughts and really focus– but knowing that you’re part of something bigger may just push you to get one more rep, one more sprint, or 5 more pushups.
  • There is a specific strength training component: I’m happy to see that the fitness center staff have included strength training into this program. So many times, when people think of fitness and weight loss, they impulsively jump on the endless-cardio train, and forget about the fact that building lean muscle is an essential component of fat loss.
  • The specific challenges each week work as reminders for every day life: This week’s nutritional challenge, for instance, is to drink 6-8 glasses of water each day. Easy peasy, right? Well yes, unless you’re someone like me who struggles to drink enough water every single day. I am very well aware that I need to drink more, yet I hardly ever do. Now that it’s written in some challenge guidelines though? I’ve had at least that much every day this week. Again, this goes back to giving my word and to the other 3 who are counting on me.

What do I wish I could change about this program?

  • Too much cardio: And no, I’m not just saying this because I hate to run (remember?). I’m saying this because by the end of this program, each team member is expected to do 320 minutes of cardio in one week — which breaks down to about 5 days with over an hour of cardio. (blegh) Is cardio important to fat loss? Well, yes, but not this much. There is a lot of research out there to back up the fact that these crazy amounts of steady state cardio (because who can do intervals for an hour), are actually counterproductive when it comes to fat loss. Yes, like I said above, there is a strength training component to the program which is great, but I wish it were a little bit more balanced. Maybe it’s because they thought they couldn’t attract as many people to the program if it had more strength training? Either way, I feel that this just perpetuates the myth that endless hours of cardio will lead to fat loss. (*Spoiler alert: It won’t) 
  • End-Result focus is body weight lost, not body fat lost: I realize that this is a selfish thought of mine, that won’t apply to everyone, but I just thought I’d put it out there.  I certainly have a decent amount of body fat to lose, and I’m excited about this challenge to give me the extra push to do just that. But I’m also well aware that with the amount that I lift, I’ll probably only be able to realistically lose 5-10 pounds of body weight, unless I want to also start losing muscle (I don’t — Sorry, team!). So while I will be extremely pleased with a decrease in my % body fat, the only thing that will get me more points in the end is a bigger % decrease in body weight.  I know that there are certainly people who will be involved in this program that will be able to lose a larger amount of body weight, and for general society I’d say this is a good goal. Just allow me to be selfish here for a second, ok?
  • Risk of obsessing: This one honestly has nothing to do with the program and everything to do with myself. It really all boils down to this: I’m a competitive person and I want to win. As I mentioned yesterday, I do realize that the point of this competition isn’t really about my opponents at all, but is really about bettering myself. So be it. But I still want to win. A little piece of me worries that within this drive to win will grow a little seed of obsession. I’ve told you all about my past with disordered eating habits, and while those behaviors have not plagued me for a while now, I know it’s still in there somehow. It’s up to ME, and only me, to make sure that doesn’t rear its ugly head in the name of competition. (Fear not, I am in a very healthy place right now. I don’t forsee this happening, but I just want to be honest and name it as a possibility.)

Ok, I’ll take my complainy-pants off now. 

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Overall Impressions — Is this type of program beneficial?

Without a question, YES!!! Even more important than getting people to strength train is getting people to move, period. This type of program gives people something to focus on, gives them specific goals and motivators, and also works as a device to bring coworkers closer together. Despite my minor gripes about the program itself, overall I think that these types of things are invaluable in any workplace.

So there you have it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some ass kicking to do, because Damn it, we’re going to WIN.

🙂

Does your workplace have a fitness program? Have you ever participated in a fitness challenge like this?

And thanks for the response on yesterday’s post — Sounds like you guys are in for a fitness challenge of your own…Let’s get started on Monday!

My Journey to Healthy

First off I want to thank everyone for the feedback on my last post. It’s greatly appreciated and I hope that I can keep giving you material that you enjoy reading! I did realize, though, that through everything I have written about so far, I haven’t really given you guys any of my story, aside from snippets here and there. I want to take today to share with you my story; my personal journey to the “healthy” place I’m at now.  I’m doing this in hopes that others will be able to relate, because my story certainly isn’t perfect.

**Note: Before I begin, this story outlines my troubles and experiences with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. If any of you suffer from ED and you feel that reading this may act as a trigger for you, please don’t read any further.

I grew up a fairly normal (I use that term loosely), healthy child who loved playing outside, making up dances with my friends, and was generally active from a young age. Since I didn’t come from an especially athletic family, my mom didn’t push my sister and I into sports when we were little, but we were active in other ways — constantly running around outside, cross country skiing, going on hikes, etc. We ate a pretty standard American diet, and I was never overweight as a child.

Although I was never overweight, I was blessed with a body type that runs in my family… we tend to carry weight on our lower half, to say it politely. Yes, even as a child I had a little junk in my trunk, and I believe it was 6th or 7th grade when I was told by a girl walking behind me in school that my “butt jiggled” when I walked. (Why do 12 year old girls have to be so cruel to each other?) And yes, I remember who it was who said this to me… but if you’re reading, I won’t call you out. Because hey, I’m not one to hold a grudge.

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Now, I’m not saying that this comment was the spark that started me on a lifetime of insecurity and torment, but it certainly was comments like this that most likely played a part in what would happen a few years down the road.

Throughout middle school and high school I remained active in a lot of activities and had a good core group of friends. I stayed active in sports, and maintained a relatively healthy weight. However, at some point during my sophomore year, I started obsessing a little bit more about my weight, and at one point began purging.  I was 15 years old.  I went through a time where I felt disgusting for putting food in my body, and when I did, I would force myself to purge. I remember one specific time where I hadn’t eaten all day, and then “let” myself have some Chex Mix. I threw it up immediately after.

I’m not sure what exactly caused me to start, but I do know  that there was a lot of guilt and embarrassment going on, and that I knew I needed help. I never had a clinically diagnosed eating disorder because of the clinical guidelines for diagnosing both bulimia and anorexia, but I was certainly displaying the patterns of disordered eating and wasn’t quite sure how to stop. I got to the point where I would have intense bouts of guilt after eating anything, although I was able to hide it quite well for a little while. I never did binge, but would instead purge after ingesting “normal” amounts of food.

This initial bout with disordered eating only lasted for a few weeks before my boyfriend at the time found out and made me tell my mother, who helped me come to terms with my problem and helped me to begin eating normally again.  However, for the next 10 years I would struggle with a roller coaster of feelings about food and my weight. My journals from high school into college are filled with negative comments about myself, more specifically  my weight and the size of my thighs. I would berate myself regularly, commenting about how big I thought I was. I exercised, but it never really seemed to help and the mental image I had of myself never wavered.

I topped out at about 165 pounds (and it was most definitely not lean muscle mass), which on a 5’6″ frame is not unheard of or obese, but I was certainly overweight and not very healthy. I remember crying about a routine blood test that told me I had high cholesterol — I was only 20 years old, how could I have high cholesterol? (It was then that I declared I would never eat cheese again.. and that probably lasted a good 5 minutes, let’s be real). I obsessed over the size of my stomach, inspecting every inch for signs of stretch marks or other imperfections.  I experimented with weight loss pills, which although they gave me quick results, left me feeling dizzy, shaky, and even once hallucinating in class. (Thank you, Ephedra.)

I did finally start eating a little bit better and exercising more my senior year of college. I started lifting weights (they were the little weights back then, but everyone has got to start somewhere, right?) and slowly started losing weight. It would take me a good 5 years to finally begin understanding my body and I actually lost about 25 pounds over that time, which puts me at the weight I’m at now.

Sometimes, you just need to take a look in the mirror and say this:

:-))

But the most important part of this story is this: I have gone from a size 12 to a 4-6, and every size in between. At every point in this journey, from that time in Sophomore year of high school, I have battled thoughts of purging. It is not something that has gone away, it is probably something that will never go away. I had an extended period of time during college where I was purging again, this time even going so far as to do it in public, in restaurant bathrooms.  At this point, I have not done that in at least 8 years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. No matter what size I’ve been, I’ve always been the same size in my brain. I still sometimes picture myself as this big person who towers over my friends (hello, I’m only 5’6″ on a good day), who others see as the “big girl”.

When I see pictures of myself with my friends, I’m often surprised that I actually appear to be the same size as them (must be the angle).

When someone calls me tiny or small, I often wonder if they are joking.

I know it’s all in my head. I know what size clothing I wear, and that I’m not actually a “big girl”. But that doesn’t make it go away.  For the past 4-5 years, I’ve been at a much healthier place both mentally and physically than I’ve ever been, but these thoughts still creep into the back of my mind. I no longer feel the need to purge, but I know that it is lurking somewhere deep down, and it’s up to me to stay healthy and to never let that beast  out again.

Now, I’m not writing this for any other reason than to hopefully reach someone else out there who has gone through this too — to let you know that health is not black and white. There are blurred lines and ups and downs, but what matters is that you are taking care of yourself and moving forward, whatever that means for you.

Most of my good friends don’t even know all of these details (So….Heyyyy guys!), but I figured that if I’m going to sit here and write to you all about nutrition, fitness, and other aspects of healthy living, I’ve got to be perfectly honest with you. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, but I’m working to do whats best for me every day, and that’s all anyone can expect of you!

And because that was all a little heavy…I leave you with this:

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