It is hard to get your head around the idea that a lack of results from training, even when training for weight loss, can come from not eating enough. Especially when you’re actually eating according to your appetite and not going hungry.
It’s the opposite of what we’re conditioned to think, and don’t get me wrong, it is only one possible explanation. Still eating too much is also a possibility and in fact is often the case for people who aren’t mindful about their eating.
Active people and people who are mindful and trying to make sensible choices though? In my experience, as often as not, they aint eating enough to provide sufficient energy and other resources to make a physical adaptation to training as per their goal.
Especially when I’m revising my own targets or setting a new seasonal goal, I often have to give myself a little bit of a talking to, and ask myself “is that REALLY what you’d recommend for a client though? Really?” because we’re so conditioned to the idea that “slash calories” = “get lean”. Usually when I really crunch the numbers without any second guessing, I’ll end up a few hundred calories higher on total energy intake, and consistently I’ll see better results in the weeks ahead if I adhere to those targets with some consistency.
Taking the emotional aspect out of things for a moment here, what we’re REALLY talking about is like I described above. Our motivation for training, for being healthier and desiring to be in a different sort of physical condition and feel more confident and better about ourselves… the motivation is emotional. However, our choice of strategy to achieve that outcome should be based on logic and science, not on emotion.
What we are REALLY talking about here in terms of how to achieve this goal is simply a matter of a physical response and adaptation to the stimulus of training, requiring a certain adequate amount of nutritional resources, as a minimum. It’s not about “being good” and only eating “healthy clean foods”, avoiding temptation, or whatever else. It is about providing sufficient but not excessive energy and resources to put to use in building a leaner, stronger body condition while still drawing a little on the stored energy in adipose (body fat) tissue to make up the balance.
Now your body does adapt to whatever it is used to. When you under eat habitually, your body only expects that much and doesn’t ask for more. When you OVER eat habitually, your body expects that much even if it doesn’t necessarily have a use for it, and it will ask for more if it doesn’t get the amount it expects.
If you are not seeing results from training you are in either one or the other of those categories. This is not questionable.
For this reason, it is not terribly useful to tell people “just don’t eat unless you are really hungry”. More likely than not, that’s exactly what people are already doing. Or at least, it’s what they think they are already doing. Since the inference here is still “if you are not seeing results you must still be eating too much”, it is common for this to result in people attempting to further restrict their total energy intake by ignoring hunger signals, waiting longer between meals, waiting until they are literally ravenous rather than just peckish, and as a result they may actually end up over eating to point where total energy intake is excessive. This can lead to all manner of problems if it becomes a cycle of over restriction leading to over consumption.
So, not eating enough is no good. Eating too much is no good. Eating too much as a consequence of attempting to eat too little can be particularly bad. We can either take a guess at which category might apply to us, and usually emotions lead us in the wrong direction and if we’re undereating we think it must be too much… and if we’re overeating we sort of forget all the snacks and just think “well I eat the same as everyone else at lunch and dinner, maybe it’s not enough”. Well… screw guessing and potentially getting it wrong. Let’s crunch the numbers according to maths, science, and my many years of experience and have some certainty.
The emotional aspect is important. We need to be in touch with our emotions. We need to acknowledge and own them, process and manage them. Being in denial of our emotions is unhealthy and unhelpful, however… in taking a strategic approach to the pursuit of our goal we sometimes need to decide for ourselves “this is how I FEEL, but I will act on what I KNOW, instead”.
What we really want to do here is establish eating habits however is most convenient to us in getting the total amount the maths suggests is appropriate. Through this we retrain our appetite. Usually my approach is to start on the conservative side with an amount that is still significantly more than people would expect, but still below what I expect to produce optimal results. After a two week bench mark period, we can start to increase cautiously and strategically towards that optimal total intake target. By this time, appetite is more in alignment with actual requirements, and if we do feel extra hungry we know it is because we are adapting to training, and our body is asking for more resources to produce even better results.
Now before too long we ARE in a position where we have appropriate habits, we can trust our body to give us the right signals, and at this point “eat when you’re hungry” becomes good and sensible advice. It’s more like “eat extra when you’re hungry” though. You still need to meet those minimum requirements whether you feel like you are hungry, or not.
If you want to be sure you’re eating the right total amount with the right breakdown of macronutrients to see great results from training, jump to the Flexible Dieting page and sign up for more free information.