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February 25, 2014

Why the Advice “Just Eat More to Rev Your Metabolism” is Misguided

Though he hates the attention, one of the perks to being married to a professional brainiac is that we get to constantly discuss really awesome stuff–biochemistry, research, behavior, psychology, natural health, relationships, personal development, learning, growing, risking, improving. Many have commented that we are “so intense” because Jade and I live, eat, breathe this stuff. It’s a blast!

And I’m proud to announce that Jade’s latest book will be out in 2015, and it will address not only the perils of traditional dieting (eat-less-exercise-more), but will include a novel, useful take on how to break the dieting cycle and what happens when our metabolism simply doesn’t run as well as it used to. Jade calls this “The Law of Metabolic Compensation,” when your metabolism no likey the decreased calories/increased exercise approach.

He and I talk about this often–him the master of the biochemical aspects and me pulling up the rear with mindset implications, and so I thought we’d record a Skype discussion to share with you all of this “stuff.”

Watch the full-length interview here and skip down below for my insights:


The 3 Ascending Stages of the Body Transformation Journey

The first thing I want to discuss is the dieting/eating progression that was addressed in the interview. The body transformation process goes something like this (and depending on where you are in your journey, you may or may not resonate):

1.0 Version: Just eat less food. We hear that weight loss is all about controlling portions and decreasing calories. And while we know that the works in the short-term, it often makes things worse in the longterm, AND requires immense willpower, which we know is exhaustible. Trying to starve yourself into weight loss is not a sustainable approach because your body compensates.

2.0 Version: Eat more of the “right foods” (quality over quantity) and make sure you eat every 3 hours so as to never let yourself get hungry, because if you do, then watch out! This will also keep your metabolism “revved” and prevent “starvation mode.” This is the often-cited bodybuilding recommendation: eat 5-7 times a day from your Tupperwares–protein, veggies and clean starches. Does this work? Yes. But, I do have 2 issues with it: 1) Food can become a full-time job: shopping for it, prepping it, cooking it, placing it in Tuperwares (washing dishes!) and eating 5-7 times a day. Yo. Talk about mental energy and physical time! You have to have the rest of your life fairly automated to dedicate yourself this way, and 2) The idea that you can’t ever let yourself get hungry is shortsighted. So always trying to preempt hunger can keep us at a disadvantage, never exposing us to it (and therefore never allowing ourselves to practice dealing with it). And unfortunately, if this is our only strategy, what happens in those times when we inevitable do feel hungry? Do we just unleash and eat everything in sight??

Which brings me to…

3.0 Version: Work to get more in tune with your physical sensations: hunger, cravings and energy, and start eating according to YOU, rather than according to “the rules.” Jade and I talk a lot about how following someone else’s rules for you can be a crutch and keep you dependent so you end up “program jumping” rather than finally figuring out YOUR fat loss formula. Furthermore, in the 3.0 version, you begin allowing yourself to actually GET a little hungry. Feel the sensation. And then in THAT moment, you harness mindfulness and make the best choice possible. It’s the practice of exposing yourself to situations where treats are available and PRACTICE making a better choice.

Exposure to “Willpower Challenges” Helps Hone Mindfulness & Dissipate Food Anxiety

I discussed this on Facebook recently, the idea that exposure to sweets, treats and cheats can actually take the illicitness out of food. Familiarity with it can help dissipate the need to EAT IT ALL RIGHT NOW. It helps strengthen willpower and removes the stress of worrying about where’s my food? and, will there be something I can eat there? and, I don’t know what to do if I don’t have my Tupperwares! or, what if there are sweets there, will I be tempted? All of these 3.0 moderation practices allow you to be around ANY food ANY time and not have IT control YOU.

There is no more “dieting.” There’s just eating. And it goes on forever, so we can teach ourselves to relax a bit around it (doesn’t mean we eat everything we want, because that’s not relaxing either!) and then we can TRUST OURSELVES to navigate the situation wherever we end up. We always know it’s in our power to make the best choice. The only options are not binge or deprive anymore. This process takes the “off limits” mentality out of eating. Because I don’t know about you, but the second I put something on the “do not eat” list, it’s all I crave! :)

Is There Ever a Time You Should “Eat Less?”

Jade goes through this in-depth in the video, but the answer is yes.

And no, eating less food will not automatically slow your metabolism and put you in metabolic damage. A piece of popular advice given in the weight loss industry is that if your weight platueas or your metabolism is unresponsive (i.e. “starvation mode”), that you should just eat more food.

Coaches say it “revs your metabolism” and this is true that to a certain degree–your resting metabolic rate will increase–BUT, your body’s physiology in that moment is in a “compensation” phase (again, refer to the video for full explanation) so many women will actually STORE FAT WAY MORE EASILY as a result of just eating more. Your body is kind of like a sponge in that moment.

So the answer to a slowed metabolism as a result of traditional dieting (eat-less-exercise-more) is NOT to a) keep doing more exercise and keep eating less (that only leads to more metabolic damage), but it’s also b) NOT to eat more and exercise less. Because this also throws your metabolism out of balance (besides, this is how people become obese in the first place) and yet it’s often the advice given?

Instead, Jade outlines two alternatives:

1) Eat less, exercise less. 


2) Eat more, exercise more.

Both options help balance metabolism and also do not throw hunger, energy and cravings out of whack. For those who want more weight loss, you’ll go with eat less, exercise less. And for those who want more muscle gain/body shaping, you’ll want to go with eat more, exercise more (the traditional formula of athletes).

And one final consideration …

The nutrition plan you follow and the exercise regimen you pursue need to be, first and foremost, SUSTAINABLE.

So much of this comes down to personal preferences, doesn’t it? For me, obsession with food–shopping for it, prepping it, cooking it, Tupperwares, washing dishes, eating it 5-7 times a day (!!!)–can feel like a full-time job. It can take over your life. And for me, with the other aspirations I have (my businesses, my relationships, my personal down-time, etc.), the option to EAT LESS is actually appealing. I don’t want to spend all that mental energy and physical time with food (of course I also did all that for many, many years when competing!).

So for me, eating less is better. But in order to do that, it’s essential to also cut back my exercise or at least switch from lots of cardio to more restorative activities (like leisure walking or light stretching) that don’t make me hungrier or increase cravings. Because now, MY goal is effortlessness. And being in #MaintenenceMode 365.

So, this is a choice. A lifestyle choice.

If you just love exercise and want to train for hours every day, then you’ll have to eat more too. OR, if you want to learn to automate your physique (AYP), which includes spending the least mental energy and physical time to maintain your weight, then obsession with food needs to take a backseat. And hours at the gym will be less too.

So the idea that you can’t or shouldn’t ever eat less is shortsighted. BUT, there IS potential danger when you cut them through a white-knucking, willpower-harnessing approach. If you’re exercising less, your appetite is naturally less. As are your cravings. But if cutting back on food volume is a struggle because you are starving 24/7, then your metabolism is not balanced. Your biofeedback (hunger, energy and cravings) will give you the clues you need. Work to get in touch with them.

Much of this switch requires a mindset shift. Away from blindly following “the rules” and starting to get in touch with your own inner sensations and introspecting a bit. And this switch takes courage and effort and patience and commitment to a new way! Could you do it? Could you relax a bit with all the rules (and by extension, lessen your neuroses around food and dieting) and start trusting your own body? :)

Let me know what you think of this stuff and the discussion on the JillFit Facebook page! I look forward to your insights and experience! Ox, Jill

Related: Metabolic Effect’s Metabolic Rehab program

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