Common knowledge says if you want to drop fat, you need to eat less and exercise more. That’s not wrong, but oftentimes it’s much more complicated than that.
In order for the body to drop fat efficiently, lots of things need to be working in conjunction — your hormones need to be balanced, gut health needs to be in check, you need to be getting enough sleep, among other things. With that, your metabolism needs to be functioning optimally.
One of the most common things I’ve seen as a nutrition coach is something called metabolic adaptation. It’s what happens after prolonged periods of under-eating or crash dieting. After prolonged periods of under-eating or enough crash diets, it’s likely some level of metabolic adaptation has set in. Thyroid function down regulates, hormone production is reduced, NEAT is reduced (meaning normal, everyday activities like walking burn less calories than they used to), among other things.
It would make sense that if our body is not getting sufficient calories, metabolic functions and processes slow down to enable survival. This can make you feel like you’re lacking in energy, your workout performance is stagnant, your sleep quality is low, you are injury prone, and you have a hard time shedding body fat.
So, how do you know if you’re eating enough?
In addition to feeling some degree of the above symptoms, the best way to know if you’re under-eating is by sizing up your current caloric intake to where it should be based on you and your activity levels (otherwise known as your TDEE — total daily energy expenditure). Here’s how:
STEP 1: Track your food
Download an app like MyFitnessPal and log everything you eat/drink in the app for at least three days. Don’t change anything about the way you currently eat. Stay honest and log it all in.
Once your three days are logged, find the average of total caloric intake for those three days.
STEP 2: Calculate your TDEE
In order to calculate your TDEE (your total daily energy expenditure aka the proper amount of calories your body needs to maintain it’s current weight if your metabolism was functioning properly) you need to first calculate your BMR. Your BMR is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest – not taking into account any additional activities you do throughout the day like your workouts, daily walks, or activity required by your job.
I could give you the proper formula to calculate that exactly but for the sake of brevity, you can use this BMR online calculator.
Once you have your BMR, you have what you need to calculate your TDEE. We do that by using the intensity multiplier scale below:
Little to no exercise = BMR x 1.2
Little exercise, trains 1-3 days weekly = BMR x 1.375
Moderately active, trains 3-5 days weekly = BMR x 1.55
Very active, trains 6-7 days weekly = BMR x 1.725
Extremely active, double-day training and/or intense physical job = BMR x 1.9
Now, what if you CrossFit 4 times a week but have a job where you sit at a desk all day? Then bump your multiplier down a notch (1.55 to 1.375). What if you have a highly active job like professional mover? Then bump up your multiplier to 1.75. What if you are a teacher who spends most of your day walking around but not doing heavy labor, then keep it at your originally calculated multiplier.
STEP 3: Compare and analyze
How does your current caloric intake compare to the TDEE you calculated for yourself? Is your TDEE calculated at 2,230 calories but you only eat an average of 1,980? If so, there may be some level of metabolic adaptation at play. The good news is that you can fix it! Typically when I have a client who shows signs of metabolic adaptation, we start them on a reverse diet where we slowly increase their food intake based on their hunger levels until we work them up to their TDEE. After that, the body is in a much better position to function its best and drop fat!
If you have questions about the information above or want to work with a nutrition coach to start working towards your goals, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org!