It's not uncommon to see people come in for nutritional advice and say that they've been "dieting since 12," eating 1,200 calories and not losing weight and trying every new diet fad that exists right now.
The human body is a smart machine. It knows exactly how much food it needs on a daily basis to maintain weight. The number can change depending on perpetual cycles of low calories, however, the body will always search for that maintenance.
Maintenance calories are the amount of calories required to MAINTAIN body weight with no changes to anything else, such as body fat or muscle. There are a lot of factors that come into play with maintenance including sex, height, weight, age, body fat, exercise, daily movements (NEAT), stress, sleep, genetics and perpetual dieting cycles.
Most often, people have no idea what this maintenance amount is but it can be simple to find. Tracking food in an app like MyFitnessPal makes this easy: track your weight and all food eaten everyday. If your weight is staying the same, you've likely found an amount that's about your maintenance. If your weight is constantly increasing, you're eating above it. If it's dropping, you're eating below it.
At maintenance calories, your body is happy. You have energy, you can workout hard, your sleep is great, you have a high libido and you don't ever feel hungry.
Too far below this amount for too long a time and you may have bad sleep, irregulated hormones, low to no sex drive, always feel hungry and have no energy. You also will have trouble losing weight, won't be able to get stronger and may have some irritable behavior.
The body doesn't like to be below maintenance for too long and chronic diet cycles and low calories put the body into a state that makes it difficult to lose fat. If you've been dieting for more than about 4-12 weeks or "go on a diet" more than twice a year, you may want to take a break.
If your calories are perpetually low from constantly dieting and you cannot lose weight, you may want to consider reversing your diet up to a maintenance amount. Increasing calories and giving the body what it wants will better prepare you for a true weight loss phase. Once your metabolism gets very low, the only place to go is down which can not only hinder your progress from getting too far but also cause other issues when food quantity is too low.
While reversing calories or eating at maintenance may mean that you don't lose weight, taking a break can be beneficial in the long term. You'll improve your hormones, energy levels, sleep, gym performance and bodily functions, not to mention your metabolism.
Eating more may also may have the opposite effect. Some people find that when the body is in a happier state of eating, they actually lose a few pounds that wouldn't come off before.
Whatever state you may be in or have been in, take a look at your goals and what you've bene doing to reach them. If you've plateaued for a while, it may be time to take a break from dieting and return when your body is more ready.
**Reversing calories and increasing metabolism without gaining weight is a process that does work very well when done carefully. If any of the above sounds like you and you'd like help working towards doing this, please contact us or someone else that has experience in reverse dieting and can help you set up a plan.