Part 2: Why Eat Less, Move More Is Failing You

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Monday we covered Energy IN as part of this equation: 

Body Weight (mass) = Energy In - Energy Out

(If you missed the previous post - click here to get to part 1!)

Ok, let’s get onto the *other* big factor: energy out!

"Energy out" takes on a few different forms:

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) - the energy required to run basic functions like powering your brain, pumping your blood, and breathing. Your resting metabolic rate is what it takes to keep you alive, at rest, and this varies based on your height, weight, body composition, age, genetics, etc. This  typically makes up about 60% of our overall energy consumption.

Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE) - the energy required to break down, process, and absorb the foods you eat. The thermic effect of eating is based on how hard your body has to work to get “the goods” out of what you eat. This is typically 5 - 10 % of your overall energy demand and explains why eating minimally processed foods helps us manage our weight.

Physical Activity (PA) - We all know about this one! This is how much energy we burn through intentional exercise, and it’s usually the first place we look when we want to lose fat. This varies greatly from person to person.

Non - Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - this is the energy you burn through non-planned movement like fidgeting, standing upright, chasing your kids around the apartment, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc. This is especially interesting because this one is HIGHLY variable not just from person to person, but for each person depending on the other parts of this equation.

This brings us to…..

Issue #3: you can estimate how many calories you burn through exercise and your RMR, but you won’t be able to pin down how many calories you burn through TEE or NEAT. Which means you’re leaving out HALF of the equation for “energy out”.

Your "feeling brain" is always two steps ahead of your "thinking brain". (I know... the truth hurts).

So, let’s look at what happens when we dive head first into the "eat less, move more" approach:

RMR - stays the same initially, goes down over time through hormonal changes to maintain homeostasis (your body, like grumpy 70 year old white men, do not like to expand their horizons and do not like change.) OVERALL CHANGE: DECREASE.

TEE - goes down. Less food to digest = less energy to digest. OVERALL CHANGE: DECREASE.

PA - goes up. But likely not as much as we think. Us humans are notorious for overestimating how hard we are working when working out. When we feel like Rocky… we are probably more like Mr. Rogers. OVERALL CHANGE: GOES UP (less than you think).

NEAT - goes down. You know how 3 days into a diet you’re exhausted and ready for a nap? Well, that’s because your body will down regulate your desire to be active. You won’t want to walk, take the stairs, or fold laundry because your body will take no chances if it thinks a famine is coming and you might starve to death. Survival > abs. OVERALL CHANGE: DECREASE.

As you continue to eat less and move more, your RMR will decrease as a fail safe mechanism to ensure survival. Your hunger signals will increase through some hormonal shifts and this can bring on the classic “cravings” we deal with when dieting. That brings us to issue # 4.

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Issue #4: Increased cravings and hunger. The more weight you lose, the more your body pushes back and tries to get you to eat more.

Get ready - you're going to want ALL the snacks and junk food. And since you're working out so hard you might also be more likely to talk yourself into just going for it. After all, you deserve it. 

Because weight loss signals "stress" to your body, we also usually see cortisol increase which brings more water retention. This means you weigh more on the scale (because water is heavy) and you feel more “doughy” than usual. 

Boom. Issue #5: Our stress response to weight loss. Stress response to weight loss  can continue to ramp up, especially as we become frustrated that we aren’t seeing the results we want and stressing out even more over it. This gives us a double whammy of physiological stress PLUS emotional stress.

So to recap - you eat less, you move more, and you actually burned LESS energy through 3 of the 4 categories of "energy out". 

Depending on your workouts this might actually offset the increased calories you burned through physical activity (PA). You feel hungry, and experience more cravings, making it harder to stick to your diet. You see an increase in stress, and therefore water retention, and likely along with it more weight on the scale (ever had a diet work for a week and then slowly see the scale creep back up? You’ve experienced this first hand.) The worst part of this is that the more you push the boundaries and your body towards eating less and moving more, the harder is pushes back with these responses. The leaner you get, the harder it is to see more progress.

Is it any wonder we struggle so much to make real, lasting change to our body?

I know this can be VERY demotivating information... and hopefully you haven't decided it's all pointless and aren't currently devouring a tub of Ben and Jerry's. 

Stick with me. Information is EMPOWERING. If you know how your body will respond to these types of changes then you also know how to avoid the pitfalls. You can stay one step ahead and continuing moving forward toward progress. It's like a game of chess you've gotta keep thinking ahead. (I think... I honestly don't know how to play chess). 

In Part 3 we are looking at the typical "calorie math" (eat X number of calories per day and lose X pounds per week) and why that formula just doesn't work the way we think it will. See you then! 

Have a question? ! I’d love to hear from you by email at OR on Instagram at @ashleybrownfitnessnutrition.

NutritionAshley Brown