Q: Is eating too little hindering my weight-loss. Is eating right and moderately healthy but in too little quantity not helpful for weight loss?
I feel like I eat moderately healthy – all whole foods/homemade meals/limited added sugars (I do get sugar from fruits), hardly eat out (maybe once a month for a family outing) but it seems like I can’t lose weight.
Ever since I have had my kids my body seems to love to hold on to the excess fat. People keep telling me I don’t eat enough. Honestly, I eat when I am hungry. Is it possible to eat correctly but in not enough quantity.
A: Thank you so much for submitting your question – this is a fairly common question so I am glad to get to answer it for you today!
I want to start with a disclaimer. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent disease. Please consult your personal health practitioner before making any changes to your diet, exercise or supplement routine.
First of all, I would like to commend you on eating a diet full of whole foods and minimal processed sugar – that is AWESOME! Secondly, you’re absolutely right; eating too little can hinder weight loss.
How does this happen? When we restrict our intake too much (whether it’s on purpose or unknowingly) our body makes shifts in our metabolism to maintain homeostasis (definition: the tendency of the body to seek and maintain a condition of balance or equilibrium within its internal environment, even when faced with external changes).
Just think: all of the functions our body has require energy (calories) to carry out. This means our body uses energy to carry out functions like digestion and hormone production. What often happens from a prolonged period of reduced food intake is that the production of sex hormones and thyroid hormones slows down and the production of cortisol (our stress hormone) increases. When our stress hormone levels are high, our body is very unlikely to release weight and actually tends to store fat instead (often around the midsection).
As much as I would love to tell you that by just focusing on eating whole foods you don’t have to worry about the calorie content, I would be lying. Calories do matter… but there is a large margin of error when we calculate them. To learn more about this, check out my post here. This makes it very confusing – you must consume fewer calories than your body burns but not too little. Some researchers suggest that an approximate 300-calorie deficit per day is a good number to aim for initially then make adjustments as needed afterwards to achieve a weight loss rate of 1-2 lbs per week.
Non-Food Related Reasons Your Weight May Not Be Budging
Other things to consider that impact our ability to lose weight but are unrelated to food include:
Stress levels (this could be physical stress from over exercising or emotional/mental stress from parenting, a stressful job, a long commute, family issues, financial issues, etc.)
The amount of sleep we get on a regular basis (the less sleep we get, the less our body is able to repair and the more stress that puts on our body)
Digestive health (digestive issues often point to inflammation somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. In my practice I see that when we are dealing with a significant amount of inflammation it becomes more difficult to lose weight)
Underlying food sensitivities (When we continuously consume foods that our bodies are sensitive to, it promotes inflammation in the body)
Tracking Your Food
If none of these above issues seem to be what you’re dealing with, I would suggest journaling your food in an app like “My Fitness Pal” for one week. Look at the end of the week what your approximate daily calorie intake is as well as your macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) breakdown is.
I have clients who do well with higher fat, lower carbohydrate and moderate protein and some that do well with lower fat, moderate carbohydrate and higher protein. This macronutrient breakdown may be something you have to tweak in order to reach your goal. Figuring out the proper breakdown can be difficult and take time (unfortunately this cannot be resolved overnight) and if you do not feel ready to take this on yourself, reach out to a nutrition professional that you trust. I am now offering virtual as well as local nutrition consulting so please do not hesitate to contact me or click here to learn more.
Okay so you’ve done the tracking and still don’t understand why your body is not releasing the excess weight. Let’s move on to the next potential issue.
Let’s start by having you ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you sleep well at night?
- Is your mood stable?
- Do you have a regular period?
- Are you losing hair?
- Are you constipated?
- How is your body temperature?
If you’ve answered “yes” to several of these questions, it may be worthwhile to pay a visit to your family physician to request a full thyroid panel. Most physicians will test your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) as an indicator of whether or not you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), however you may need to dig a little deeper. I will post more in depth about this later but for now, if you’re dealing with the above symptoms, I recommend getting a full thyroid panel completed, which includes:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO)
- Thyroglobulin antibodies
Testing all of the above markers will give you a clear picture of how your thyroid is functioning. It is quite common for women to develop hypothyroidism post pregnancy – so these tests may be particularly important for you.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas as to where to start! Weight loss and weight loss resistance can be overly confusing and there are so many factors can impact whether or not our body will release the weight we would like it to. Just be sure to ask yourself if this particular weight is realistic for you at this time. As women we often put too much pressure on ourselves to reach this “ideal” weight instead of giving our body the praise it deserves (yours birthed children!)
If the weight you want to lose is a pesky 10 pounds, this is typically always the most difficult to lose. If the weight you want to lose is closer to 50+ pounds then the tips above may be helpful in figuring out what is going on.
If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thanks so much for submitting your question!
Yours in Health,