Cut Calories, Lose Muscle

One of the most popular methods that people turn to when they want to lose weight quickly is to cut calories – drastically. Not only is this not a good idea, it may actually make you fatter in the long run. When your calorie intake is too low, you will start to actually lose muscle and slow down metabolism. Your body literally starts to eat your muscle because it goes into starvation mode. So it holds on to whatever it can and decides to just eat your muscle for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since you are holding out on real food. There are healthier, more sustainable ways of going about your goal.

You've probably heard of the analogy where your metabolism is likened to a car engine. The faster your metabolism, the more energy you burn; the slower the metabolism, the more sluggish and slow you feel and go. When the body realizes that there is less food going in, it will slow down metabolism so that it can survive on the new calorie intake. Your body will actually hold on to its fat stores because that is what survival mode tells it to do and hence why it turns to muscle tissue as it's preferred food source. This creates a vicious cycle, because remember, more muscle burns more fat. Lost muscle equals slower metabolism. So withholding food or restricting calories too low for too long is not a good idea. It also isn't a sustainable means to weight loss.

People who go on very restricted or low calorie diets often feel hungry and tired. This makes this way of eating very challenging to maintain for any length of time. Cravings may intensify so much that you ultimately surrender and end up eating everything in sight, which is also a really poor choice. Think of a time when you may have thought starving yourself was a good idea. Did you gradually (healthfully) ease back into your normal eating routine or did you binge eat and pig out for a little while to make up for all of that "deprivation?" If you healthfully eased back, good for you! You are definitely in the minority and beating the odds!

So what should you do if you want to lose weight? First you want to choose nutrient-dense, plant-based foods that provide a lot of nutrition for not a lot of calories. Examples are vegetables and fruits – think dark green leafy vegetables, cabbage family veggies, berries, cherries, and apples. Then add healthy fats and lean proteins like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, deep sea, cold water fish (wild salmon), legumes and small amount of whole grains in the form of quinoa, brown, black, or wild rice, amaranth, barley. Consume enough so that your body will use fat as its energy source rather than muscle. Eat when you are at about a 3 to 4 on the hunger scale, meaning you are not ravenous, but you are starting to notice a little emptiness in your stomach and thoughts are drifting to food. Eat enough food to ensure your body that it is safe to use its body fat stores as an energy source. Stop eating when you are about 75% to 80% full. This strategy is, by nature and by design, lower calorie. It is the quality of the calories that count here. When the body knows there is plentiful energy (food) coming in, it will more readily use fat as fuel (rather than muscle). It will not feel like it is starving.

And it must be restated that weight loss is never quick and easy if you want it to be sustained. Give yourself adequate time to reach your goals. If you've over-eaten and under-exercised all winter for example, you can't expect to reverse the damage done by fasting for a few weeks in May or June. Take the five or six months you may need to get in shape (or longer) rather than trying to do it in a few weeks or months. Eat plant-based and nutrient-dense. You'll have a greater chance at long term success and you'll hold on to lean muscle, which is the key to a longer life well lived.


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