Why restricting calories does not work
by Tina Muir from RunnersConnect
It creeps on. Before you know it, you are heavier than you ever thought you would be. You see a photo of yourself and wonder who that big person is who looks just like you staring back at you. Or maybe you notice a scale at a friend’s house and cannot resist the temptation to get on it.
“That’s it. I am on a diet.”
We often have these inner battles with our minds. We do so well with healthy eating, but suddenly, all your focus is gone, and you are back to eating as you were before. Another diet attempt abandoned.
It has been made abundantly clear that if you are a heavier runner, you are putting extra stress on your muscles, bones, and tendons, which can put you at a higher risk of injuries, but realistically, most of us are trying to lose weight to look better. To feel more confident in ourselves for an upcoming event, be it a race, or just a party we are looking forward to.
Many runners turn to restricting their caloric intake to lose those extra pounds. An effective tool, but one that if you take it too far will actually cause the opposite. If your body is used to 3,000 calories a day, and you suddenly cut back to under 1,000, your body will be very confused and will look back to our hunter-gatherer days when our ancestors would binge on food that was available and then go an extended period without anything. When you limit your calories too much, your body will think this is what is happening. Therefore, it will cling on to every morsel that you consume, and you will gain fat as it tries to give a nice cushion to live on if there is no more food.
When we first decide that we want to lose weight, we think that the less we eat, the quicker the weight will fall off.
Feel better, look better! Get stylish workout gear!
Makes sense right?
Unfortunately, that is wrong, especially if you are running while you are trying to lose the weight. Those calories you are putting in are energy, fuel for your training. If you do not put enough in, you are going to be unable to run as fast or as far. Without those calories, you are missing the opportunity to make a significant gain in fitness, which you will regret come race day.
Your body will also not be able to repair itself correctly after a run, which means your muscles will break down to find that energy within themselves. This means you go into your next workout not fully recovered. The next time you run hard without enough calories, you will push your body further into a hole. Now you are risking overtraining. If you are using a marathon training schedule to reach your marathon goals, this could spell disaster.
Okay, so what if I do not care about my performance? What if I am purely running to lose weight?
If you do not care that your body will lose muscle as well as fat for running reasons, consider the following: Muscle is a metabolically active tissue (which means your body burns calories to keep that muscle). Muscle speeds up your metabolism so you burn more calories.
However, if you start to lose that muscle or restrict enough, your body will slow your metabolism down significantly to save every calorie. You will not lose as much fat, but will keep losing muscle as your body holds onto the fat, knowing it can use it in times of severe starvation.
So what is a healthy amount of calories to restrict?
If you want to lose weight, you should aim to have a deficit of 400-600 calories per day. If you try to lose 1,000-1,500 calories per day, you have to sacrifice some of the foods that are keeping you healthy. Think about all those vitamins and minerals, proteins, good fats, and carbohydrates that will keep you full of energy and strong.
By restricting, you are going to be hungry a lot. When you are hungry a lot, it just takes one weak moment to lose your focus, and before you know it, you have binged on all the junk food you could find, and you end up giving up this diet.
It is just too hard.
Cut back by 400-600 a day, and you will lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, where you can keep it up for the rest of your life without feeling like you are missing out, and you will still continue to make improvements in your running, which brings much more true satisfaction and happiness to our lives.