This is a re-post of an article I wrote that was influenced by Go Kaleo‘s post titled: “Adrenal Fatigue as a Cover for Starvation.” I used the same calculators that she uses and her chart is below with the same adrenal fatigue link underneath of that. I previously failed to give proper credit for the topic, but I felt this information is too important not to share. I hope you find this information as helpful and useful as I have.
This might be the most important post I’ve written. The reason I say this is because it’s about fueling your body for its daily energy needs. When your body has enough fuel, it performs its best. When it doesn’t, it slows itself down. This is called the resting metabolic rate, or RMR.
I’ve recently come across an interesting concept about meeting the basic energy needs of the human body. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy you expend at rest. Typically the example used is if you were in bed-rest, the number of calories your body would need to operate with little-to-no movement is your BMR. The second thing to look at is total energy expenditure, or TEE. This incorporates activity into the BMR equation. I’ve found two calculators for figuring out this equation that I wanted to link:
Calculator 2 (link acts up on occasion)
Personally, I’ve been playing around with calculator 1 more, so I will be using that for my examples.
Destroying your health for aesthetics is not worth it.
Click to Tweet
I say that because in an attempt to lose weight, most people reduce their caloric intake to lower their RMR all-the-while increasing their energy expenditure via exercise to “burn” more calories than they consume. I think this might be doing more harm than good for most people and I hope to open your eyes to some examples. I want to start by finding the BMR of an 18-year-old female who’s 5’4″ & 130 pounds. Using calculator 1, it is determined that her BMR is 1484. When plugging activity into the calculator, let’s say she does 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 1 hour of light exercise, and 1 hour of standing/walking. Add 8 hours of sleep and you have a TEE of 2343. So, for her size and activity level, her body wants 2300+ calories. If she were on bed-rest, she would need at least 1400 calories.
How many of you know women who are only taking in 1200 calories or less? How many of them are older than 18, taller than 5’4″ and weigh more than 130 pounds?
Let’s do the math on a hypothetical woman in her late thirties. Leaving everything else the same, I changed the age to 39, the weight to 190 pounds and the height to 5’7″. The BMR increased to 1581 and TEE increased to 2836. 1200 wouldn’t even be half of what this hypothetical 39-year-old’s body would need her to consume to fuel her daily life. It’s over 300 calories less than what her body would need if she were on bed-rest.
If you think about it, what is the hot topic right now with fatigue? Adrenal fatigue. Let’s look at the signs and symptoms compared to anorexia (or starvation):
Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
Inability to handle everyday stress
Feeling overwhelmed by relatively minor challenges
Struggling to get through the day
Tendency to avoid conflict
Ongoing fatigue not relieved by sleep
Lack of energy
Longer recovery times from illness, injury, or trauma
Intolerance to cold
Low blood pressure
Increased cravings for salty foods, sugary foods, refined carbohydrates
Extreme weight loss
Abnormal blood counts
Dizziness or fainting
A bluish discoloration of the fingers
Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
Soft, downy hair covering the body
Absence of menstruation
Intolerance of cold
Irregular heart rhythms
Low blood pressure
Swelling of arms or legs
Looks like there are many similarities, aren’t there?
Image via this link
With no data to support my next statement, I honestly believe that the people who’re trying to survive on a caloric intake less than their BMR are running on adrenaline and cortisol. It’s only a matter of time before things start to really slow down. For example, a study titled “Weight loss, weight maintenance, and adaptive thermogenesis” was recently emailed to me in a discussion about caloric restriction. Participants were given a protein-enriched formula with 51.9g of protein, 50.2g of carbohydrates, and 6.9g of fat. This was given 3 times a day for 8 weeks. RMR was measured at the beginning, after 8 weeks, after 20 weeks, and after 52 weeks.
The caloric intake of the formula was just under 5oo, so the participants were given just over 1400 calories a day for 8 weeks. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) expectedly declined, but what opened my eyes was the fact that a year later, their RMR hadn’t changed. They basically slowed the participant’s metabolism down so much that it was still below their baseline metabolic rate 52 weeks later. The authors concluded this may lead to weight gain. It’s also known as yo-yo dieting. The participants’ caloric intake didn’t go below 1000 and it still demonstrated how caloric restriction can wreak havoc on your body. No wonder people gain and lose those same 10-20 pounds year after year.
The conundrum here is what do you do? Well… whatever you want to do. But here’s what I would suggest considering:
1. Figure out your BMR so your calories never go that low again.
2. Figure out your TEE so you know the amount of fuel your body needs.
3. Monitor your caloric intake – just do it long enough to monitor how much you’re actually taking in and what it would look like to eat enough to reach a caloric intake that will satisfy your TEE.
4. If you’re trying to lose weight, cut 300-500 calories from your TEE. The 18-year-old example would need 1800-2000 calories and the 39-year-old example would need 2300-2500.
5. Give your body the time it needs to heal. It could take months.
6. Adjust your TEE as body composition changes happen.
7. Enjoy life. And enjoy the food.
Depending on how many times you’ve restricted your calories and/or exercised yourself to exhaustion will depend on how you respond to refueling your body with the appropriate calories that it has needed all along. It won’t all be pretty, but here are some things to expect:
1. Sleep. Your body utilizes this as an opportunity to repair itself, so you might find yourself in need of a regular nap while your body heals. Adjust the sleep dial on calculator 1 and watch the TEE go up. You know those pesky cravings you get when you’re sleep deprived? It might be your body telling you it’s lacking fuel.
2. Body composition changes. You might gain weight, you might lose weight. I have no idea how your body will respond, but with enough time and an appropriate reduction of your TEE, you will be better off in the long run.
3. Your libido might go up. Hooray for sexy time!
4. Your energy levels might go up. You deprive yourself of food for long enough, that’s an obvious one.
5. Sleep quality might improve. You should already know I place great importance on sleep.
Some things you will also need to consider:
1. Don’t punish your body with exercise. Use it to show yourself how truly strong your are by sticking with strength training at a low intensity.
2. You should stop the cardio. This includes high-intensity interval training. There have been studies showing that prolonged cardio is detrimental to thyroid health, which is the last thing you need if you’re trying to heal. It makes sense that if you decrease your RMR, with your thyroid hormones highly involved in metabolism and energy, your thyroid hormone production would slow down as a result. Exchange cardio/HIIT for walking or napping. I will say this: after you start to feel better and have been fueling your body adequately, I bet the negative health effects of running are a side-effect of eating too little. Make sure to use the calculator when you feel healthy enough to start running again so you minimize the risk of hormone disruption.
3. Building a better relationship with food. I am not qualified in this area, I just know the value in the psychology behind building healthy habits. You might think I’m reading your mind when I say you probably have a lot of fear, guilt, and shame when it comes to food and your relationship with it. Find an appropriate outlet to let go of those feelings and start giving your body what it needs: energy.
4. Don’t intermittent fast or follow a ketogenic diet. Feed and heal your body before you start to play with your macronutrient timing and percentages.
5. Don’t use stimulants like coffee, energy drinks, energy pills, and the like.
6. Remember micronutrients. Eating more doesn’t mean eating more junk. Keep your overall health in mind.
It’s hard to move often if your body doesn’t have the fuel. It’s hard to move smart if you don’t have the energy to connect your brain with your body. Don’t go hungry anymore. Treat yourself with the respect, love, joy, and health that you truly deserve.