Eat more to lose weight; it sounds way too good to be true, right? I thought so, too. Society and diet culture have taught us that the way to lose weight is to eat less. And while weight loss will always come down to calories in < calories out, there are some important considerations that we need to take into account here.
If you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels in your fitness and weight loss journey, doing everything “right,” but still not seeing the results, this article is for you.
Today, I want to share with you my thoughts and experiences with eating more and losing weight. How does this work? Who should try it? And how would you go about executing efficiently?
Let’s dive in and cover everything you need to know!
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Can Increasing Calories Help Lose Weight?
Yes, especially for those who have been eating in a caloric deficit for an extended period of time, increasing calories can actually help you lose weight by re-invigorating your metabolism. Although this concept feels counterintuitive, there are many people who trust the process, increase their calories, and finally end up losing weight or breaking through their weight loss plateau.
Of course, this isn’t a green light for anyone and everyone to run off and eat copious amounts of calories and expect to drop pounds. We have to understand what our metabolism is, how it works, and how our individual bodies respond to various situations and stimuli before being able to make an informed decision on how to move forward.
We’ll begin by talking about the number one factor that plays a role in your potential to eat more calories and lose weight: metabolic adaptation.
What is Metabolic Adaptation?
Metabolic adaptation, or MA, is the process by which the body alters how efficiently is turning the food you consume into energy. MA is actually an evolutionary biological process that is used in response to starvation.
When considering MA through the lens of our prehistoric ancestors, it’s easy to see how it works and why. When food was plentiful, it meant that starvation was not likely, therefore there was no need for the body to store calories to be used later. In this situation, the body will use as many calories as possible to fuel your biological functions. However, in times of famine and scarcity in relation to food, our metabolism adapts to become extremely efficient, using only the minimum calories needed to maintain our most basic biological needs, saving the rest to be stored as fat for later use, thereby preventing starvation.
These days, we aren’t likely to be in situations where we aren’t sure where or how we’ll get our next meal. Food is easy to come. In fact, it’s too easy and convenient to come by these days. Without getting too in-depth here, it’s important to understand how metabolic adaptation relates to dieting, as this is the closest thing that most of us will ever get to starvation.
When you enter into a diet (calories in < calories out), your body recognizes this decrease in calories as a sort of starvation. In response, your body will start to slow you down a little bit, downregulating to accommodate for the drop in calories so it can become more efficient. While this is a great process to have in place for times of true starvation, it doesn’t bode well for the long-term dieter.
A short-term calorie deficit (diet) will get you results in the form of weight loss because it’s a new stimulus to the body. However, the longer you are in that calorie deficit, the more time your body has to adjust down to that amount of calories you’re giving it each day. Eventually, it will become accustomed to operating on those lower calories and will settle into that new maintenance place.
The problem with this is that you, the dieter, are now running into is that you’re still eating at what used to be deficit calories, but now your results have completely stalled out because your metabolism adapted. Sometimes, you can drop your calories a little lower to re-set the process, but you can only go so low before you’re forced to do something different. This is where a reverse diet (eating more) comes into play.
But before we get into how to eat more to lose weight, let’s talk about some of the signs you might be experiencing when your metabolism has adapted to your deficit calories.
Signs Your Metabolism Might Have Adapted (You’re eating too little)
Aside from the obvious sign that your metabolism has adjusted down to meet your current lower caloric intake (stalled weight loss or even weight gain), it’s important to pay attention to other biofeedback markers that will tell you that your current intake isn’t conducive to your health.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of metabolic adaptation include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Prolonged muscle soreness
- Poor digestion
- Mood changes (irritability, depression)
- Decreased energy
- Poor sleep
- Low or absent sex drive
- Poor performance in the gym
- Overall poor adherence to your lifestyle plans
Why Eat More to Lose More?
If you recognize any of the above signs of metabolic adaptation, it’s time to shake up your nutrition to get things flowing again so that you can get back on track with your weight loss goals, continue to make progress, restore your biofeedback, and start feeling well again.
Prevent muscle loss
When you’re eating in a long-term calorie deficit, your body will start to catabolize your muscle tissue. This might lead to some weight loss, but remember; we don’t want to just lose weight, we want to lose fat. Losing your hard-earned muscle can completely change the look and feel of your body, and not in a good way. If you want that lean, “toned” look, you need that muscle tissue!
Enjoy food freedom
What if losing weight didn’t mean that you had to white-knuckle it the whole time, restricting all the time, and missing out on precious moments and opportunities? When you get to the point where you can eat more calories while still losing weight, you’ve basically unlocked every person’s dream diet. With more calories and macros to work with, you’re able to enjoy the foods you like without putting such a mental and physical drain on your mind and body.
This point piggybacks nicely off my last point. If you’re restricting your food intake all the time, it’s only a matter of time before you break. You will inevitably feel the strain of your restrictive lifestyle and give in to your cravings and urges and end up swinging too far in the other direction. To prevent this, you can eat more food regularly, incorporating the foods that you like, and reduce the chances of feeling like you need to hit the “F-IT” button and let it all loose.
Biofeedback is seriously underrated in the fitness and wellness industry. It’s easy to be experiencing poor biofeedback and never even notice it. However, it’s so important to be aware and cognizant of what our body is telling us regarding our most basic life functions. If you are missing your menstrual cycle, sleeping terribly, feeling drained all the time, and having no sex drive, these are major red flags that your body is screaming at you to feed it more food.
Reverse Dieting: Your Roadmap Back to Homeostasis
Ok, so you’re aware that you’re eating too few calories and you’re ready to right the ship. But how? Reverse dieting is a great way to start eating more while, potentially, still losing weight.
A reverse diet simply means the opposite of a diet. So instead of taking calories away from your daily intake, you’re adding them back in. We use reverse dieting as a way to ease your calories back up and efficiently find your maintenance calories (the place where your body weight stays the same) rather than just jumping straight to your assumed maintenance.
Here’s how reverse dieting works:
- You start by slowly adding calories and macros to your daily intake. This usually comes in the form of adding carbs and fats, keeping protein at .8-1g per pound of body weight.
- You continue to track your food intake diligently (I use the 1st Phorm app).
- You work to hit your new macro targets as closely as possible.
- You weigh yourself daily and record that number. You also track your body measurements week to week.
- You stay at those targets for at least a week before making any changes. If you’re losing weight or maintaining your weight, increase it again. If you’re gaining weight, double-check that you are being 100% adherent with your consistency. If not, try again for another week. If so, you might be at your maintenance (this should take weeks to get to, though!).
Finding Your Maintenance
I often get clients asking me how to know when they found their maintenance, and the truth is that there really is no exact science to it. You’re going to have to do some trial and error and you might end up gaining a little weight if you overshoot your maintenance. The key is to be as consistent and adherent as possible so that we can get the most out of your reverse diet.
Remember, the goal is ALWAYS to eat as much as possible while still losing weight or maintaining your weight. I can’t tell you how many people I have seen who have spent months or even years eating at low calories only to discover through reversing to maintenance that they could have been eating hundreds of calories per day more and lost weight or at least maintained it. The moral of the story is that you need to trust the process!
I highly recommend having a coach on your side to help you through the process of reverse dieting and finding your maintenance because this process can be just as much of a mental game as it is physical. Mentally, it’s very hard to be in a phase where we’re being asked to eat more and not expect the scale to drop down every day. However, I have seen time and again that when you trust the process and work with a great coach, you will look, feel, and perform so much better.
How to Eat More, Lose Weight, and Still Be in a Deficit
As I mentioned above, we often see people eating far too few calories when they could actually be eating a lot more and still making progress with their weight loss goals.
I like to have my clients “earn” the right to a calorie deficit. This means that I want to see them figure out what their true maintenance calories are and then see them spend a decent amount of time eating at those calories and restoring their biofeedback before we even consider a cut.
Why? Because if you put in the work to reverse your diet and find your maintenance calories, you will be able to enter a calorie deficit at much higher calories than what you were previously doing before.
For example, let’s say we have someone who has seen some decent weight loss while eating 1700 calories per day. Then, she plateaued after a few months because her body adapted. She stopped losing weight and making any progress. In this case, it makes sense to up her calories via a reverse diet because dropping calories further would put her in a place that’s hard to maintain.
We start a reverse diet and end up finding out that her maintenance calories are around 2200. She stays at these calories for about 3 months and is feeling great. She’s ready for a cut. This time, as we go to set her deficit numbers, we don’t have to drop right to 1700, which would be an aggressive, 500 calorie decrease. Instead, we could start her at a moderate deficit of 1900 calories and see how her body responds. Then, when she hits a plateau down the road, we have some wiggle room to drop calories even more. See how that works?
If you could lose weight by eating more, you would, right? I think we can all agree that the more food we have to work with the better!
To lose weight, you will need to be in a caloric deficit, as mentioned above. But that deficit doesn’t need to be as extreme or restrictive if you take the time to get into a maintenance phase first.
Focus on macro targets
Calories determine your weight and macros determine how your body looks. The right combination of protein, carbs, and fats will determine what your body looks like as you lose weight i.e. how much fat and how much muscle is on your frame.
Don’t forget your micros
When in a weight loss phase, our body is not getting enough food, which means that we need to still make sure it’s getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly. Micronutrients will help keep your body feeling strong and well throughout your calorie deficit. I recommend Micro-Factor by 1st Phorm.
Make Smart Food Choices
If you’re struggling with feeling like you’re constantly hungry and going over your macros, try making some swaps so that you’re eating more food but not adding a ton of extra calories. Adding things like a big bowl of salad or a giant serving of watermelon to your day will add a lot of volume to your diet, help you feel full, but won’t put a strain on your macros. On the other hand, you can eat a bunch of processed foods that contain a ton of calories and then be hungry again in an hour. Make smart choices while maintaining a healthy balance.
If you want to eat more to lose weight, upping your daily movement can be a great way to allow more calories into your day without placing any negative repercussions on your waistline. And it doesn’t have to be formal workouts done in the gym. Just get up and move more! Steps are highly underrated, but incredibly effective when it comes to your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and can play a significant role in your weight loss.
Understand that there are cycles
Your fitness journey is not going to be linear! There is no straight shot to hitting your goals and then just staying there. You will need to constantly be putting in the work, getting in tune with your body, paying attention to biofeedback, and making the necessary adjustments to keep progress moving forward.
Even those who have a lot of weight to lose will bump into obstacles in their journey. This is normal and to be expected. Our bodies were not meant to live in a calorie deficit forever, we need breaks and re-optimization so that our metabolism doesn’t downregulate to the point where we stop making any progress.
The Bottom Line: Do You Need to Eat More to Lose Weight?
If you’ve been eating a low-calorie diet and are experiencing some of the poor biofeedback markers referenced in the article, there’s a good chance that you could eat more to lose weight. What’s vital to understand is that the process might take you some time!
For some people, they will immediately begin to see weight loss as soon as they start increasing their calories because their bodies are feeling safe again, they no longer need to hang onto fat to survive. For others, they will need to go through a complete reverse dieting process and find maintenance calories before they are able to get back into a calorie deficit where they will be able to then eat more and lose weight.
The biggest takeaway here is that many of us are eating far too few calories, thinking it’s the only way to lose weight when in reality, we can use the tool of macro counting for weight loss to optimize our nutrition and put our bodies into a place where they feel safe, supportive, and ready to work with you to reach your goals.
As always, having personalized macro coaching on your side throughout this process is going to be the most beneficial for adherence and sustainability.
You can certainly go for it on your own as well, just make sure you have a reliable place to calculate your macros and the willingness to lean into some discomfort while trusting the process.
My goal is to see as many women as possible eating more, losing weight, and thriving in their bodies and lives!