Can eating more food, more frequently actually help you lose weight?
I was several weeks into my new fitness routine with my personal trainer, Bryce. I was consistently losing about 2 pounds per week, everything was looking pretty good. He said "I think we're to the point where your metabolism is going to slow down, we need to kick-start it. I'm going to up your calories from 2200 to 2500 per day." This news went against my intuition...how can eating more help me continue to lose weight effectively? It just didn't make sense.
Hanna Feeny, MS, RD, CSSD writes on Active.com:
Believe it or not, a weight-loss program that overly restricts calories will set you up for failure, as will a skipped meal. There is a point at which cutting calories will work against weight loss because consuming too few calories (or too few meals) leads to increased appetite and low satiety as your body prevents starvation. You will find it hard to implement your healthy eating goals when you're feeling hungry and dissatisfied. And you will suffer from cravings, ultimately causing you to fall into under-eating and over-eating cycles.
Your body will make a choice: lose body fat or lose muscle. An inadequately fueled body will choose to drop calorie-burning muscle rather than fat. Excessive loss of lean muscle mass leads to weight loss without improvement of body composition or health. This leaves you frustrated and ever-battling your weight.
This is what my trainer was trying to avoid...he knew that my metabolism was naturally speeding up as a result of better exercise and eating right. So rather than reduce calories to ensure that I continued to lose weight, he actually increased them.
Bodies are complex systems and there is a chance that what worked for me wouldn't work for you. Some of you are also thinking - 2500 calories per day? Wow, that's a huge budget. Well, yeah, but I am a 6' 1" tall male, so your mileage will vary. I did a blog post to help you calculate your own daily caloric intake. The point is, once in a while it actually makes sense to increase your caloric intake in order to continue to lose weight effectively. Obviously, as you lose significant weight your body's caloric requirements will decrease overall. But here I am 75 pounds lighter, near my ideal weight, and my caloric intake requirements are the same as when I started. That's because I put on a lot of muscle in the process, which burns more calories even when I am sedentary.
What you DON'T want to do is automatically assume - "I'm going on a diet, I need to cut my calories." That is a BAD assumption. Use my blog post to get an idea of what your caloric intake should be...it might end up being lower, higher or the same as what you are currently consuming. The biggest difference will be that you're eating different food. Food that is more nutritious and frankly more satisfying. If you just cut calories blindly, you could send your body into "starvation" mode where it fights to keep the fat it has. You need to work with your body, not against it.
There is also a lot of truth to the point that by eating more meals, more frequently, that you will suffer from less cravings and won't be as inclined to overeat during your primary meals. I eat six meals a day - 3 snacks and 3 major meals. I find that for me personally, eating every 3 hours helps keep my blood sugar levels more even and I don't suffer as much from cravings and therefore don't end up overeating. There are others who would say that the feeling of hunger is good, and that you can successfully lose weight eating fewer meals. They are correct as well. These types of things are up to you - you're the mad scientist, and your body is your laboratory. You need to keep experimenting to get the right combination of factors that will ultimately help you be successful.
One other aspect of "eating more to lose weight" is...I didn't say eat more calories to lose weight necessarily. It turns out that many of the most healthy foods are bulky, take up a lot of room in your stomach, and have much fewer calories. This is an extreme example, but let's compare broccoli to pop tarts. A pound of broccoli has 153 calories, 30g carbs, 2g fat and 13g of protein. A pound of pop tarts (about 8) has 1520 calories, 287g carbs, 40g fat and 16g protein. At 153 calories, I could eat a whopping 14 pounds of broccoli a day and meet my daily caloric goals. My caloric goals would be expended after 11 pop tarts, and I would be blowing my daily carb and fat goals out of the water. Not to mention putting myself into a sugar coma and getting heartburn. The point here is, eating healthier typically satisfies you more because foods like veggies are bulkier, have far fewer calories and much more nutrition than refined or sugary foods.
So yes, eat more to lose weight! Just do it in a smart way.