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Feed the Fire, i.e. Eat More to Lose Weight

By ASHLEY DONAHOO

When trying to lose weight, many people simply think: "I'll just barely eat anything so I can lose those pounds! That should work great, right?" Wrong. It's just not that simple.

When trying to lose weight, there are a lot of factors that go into it, but the biggest and most important one is making sure you're eating the right amount of calories. If you consume too few calories each day, there are issues you'll run into.

So, why doesn't consuming an extremely low amount of calories work well?

When you drop your calories too low, your body starts to think you're starving and kicks in its survival mechanisms. To combat starvation your body holds onto your fat stores and begins to use your hard-earned muscles as energy, leaving you feeling weak and tired. Any weight you do end up losing is not lost through your efforts per se, but by your body literally "eating" its own muscle. (Yes, this really happens.) Consequently, instead of gaining muscle and losing fat, you're losing muscle and gaining fat.

When you throw in exercise on top of an extremely low calorie daily diet, you may be asking for double the trouble. You're increasing the stress on your body, but not feeding it enough to work properly, causing fatigue, irritability and putting yourself at risk for infection. Your metabolism slows to almost a halt, putting a strain on your body because you're depriving it of the nourishment it needs.

Eventually, your metabolism will slow so that you plateau and it'll seem like no matter what you do, you just can't lose any more weight. This is because your body is in "starvation mode" and is refusing to let go of any fat. Your body's will to hold onto those fat stores will probably outlast your will to starve off the weight. And this is a frustrating place to be in. But this is fixable - you just have to change what and how much you're eating.

To lose weight healthily, you want to keep your metabolism burning and make sure you're burning fat and not muscle. How do you do that? Look at your metabolism as a fire: you have to continually feed a fire to keep it burning big and bright, right? Your metabolism is the same way - you have to keep feeding (nourishing) yourself in order to keep your metabolism running at full speed. You do this by making sure you're eating enough nutrient-rich, real food to maintain health and support your body and energy levels, but low enough so that you lose weight. This number will be a little different for everyone, and it will take into account your age, height, weight, activity level, etc.

To keep your metabolism burning bright, you may want to eat often. I encourage people to eat breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack, and dinner - and if you have enough calories left in your daily allotment at the end of the day (hopefully you will!) - then you can have an evening snack as well. This trains your body and metabolism to expect food at certain times and lets your body know that you are feeding it, so there's no reason to think it's starving.

Another reason not to drop your calories too low is because as you lose weight, you will have to adjust that daily calorie number along the way –especially if you have a lot of weight to lose. A calorie goal is often a moving target along the journey of a large weight loss because the lighter you are, typically the less calories you need to keep your energy level up and maintain your weight, so the less calories you should be consuming if your goal is to lose.

Essentially, you need to find that balance and know in the beginning that you will have to adjust things along the way. It's all about finding that balance between calorie intake (eating) and caloric expenditure (exercise) and constantly evaluating and making sure you're on the right track.

Something I ask people to consider is the long-term as well as the short term. Think about the long-term when it comes to calories. Is what you're doing maintainable for the rest of your life? If you're eating too few calories the answer is likely: "No." There's only so long you will be able (and willing) to literally starve yourself. So, why not focus on eating healthily and having a great balance in your life when it comes to food and exercise?

If you need to increase the amount of calories you consume each day, I realize this is probably a scary prospect for you. No one wants to gain weight while they're trying to lose weight, and a one-to-two pound increase can be very frustrating, I know. Truthfully, you may see a slight bump in the scale over the first few days - but please stay calm and stay on course.

Let me explain why this is happening. Your body is still in storage mode (from those days when you were practically starving it), and until it realizes you're not going to starve it anymore, it'll keep storing the food coming in as fat. But if you stick with it, your body will adjust to the new calorie number and your metabolism will increase, and you'll start losing again.

Any time you change your calorie goal, give it a few weeks to let your body adjust. I know this can be frustrating to have to wait, but you just can't make your body respond any faster than it will on its own. Trust me, though, once your body adjusts to this number, you will feel so much better.  You'll be healthier, and the weight will start coming off if you have calculated the correct calorie number.

This whole journey is about changing your mindset on a lot of things. This journey is as much mental and emotional as it is a physical one. This new way of looking at food as fuel is part of this journey. You have to learn how to nourish your body properly in order to be successful at this and maintain a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. Remember: This is not just a "diet" to lose weight -- it's a healthy lifestyle that you're learning and working on. And balancing calories is a big part of that. You can do this - one step, one choice at a time!

In the meantime, trust me on this part: Get the right calorie goal and nourish yourself properly and this journey will be a whole lot easier for you in both the short and long terms!

–Ashley

Ashley Donahoo lost 137 pounds by eating right and exercising and tracking her daily food and fitness with LIVESTRONG.COM's free MyPlate calorie tracker. Ashley went from barely being able to walk around her block, to running several miles a week after losing the weight! She also enjoys spin classes and yoga.  Ashley is now the Topic Guide for LIVESTRONG's Food Tracking forum and she is also a weight loss author, blogger and inspirational speaker. Ashley has a husband and two active sons that keep her busy at home. Her motto is "Choose the Change" because, ultimately, you have to make the choice to take control and change your life. Using LIVESTRONG’s Recipe Builder inside MyPlate, Ashley created healthy and filling recipes for her busy family. These recipes are now available in her “Choose the Change” Cookbook and Weight Loss Guide (available in paperback and e-book.) The guide has a ton of information on how to lose weight healthily and keep it off, includes sample menus, grocery lists, swap lists, etc,  the cookbook has over 80 big-portioned, delicious, & family-, budget-, and figure-friendly recipes – all of which have nutrition labels so you can track them all with MyPlate! This book along with LIVESTRONG's tools and support forums will give you the information and tools to finally help you lose weight and get healthy for good! 

You can follow Ashley on Facebook, Twitter, in the LIVESTRONG.COM Food Tracking forum, and on her website at ChooseTheChange.net.

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