Most Women Aren’t Eating Enough
Today’s “Ask the Nutrition Consultant” question comes from Kelsey!
Q: I’m a woman in my mid-40’s and I’m struggling to lose weight. I feel like I’m doing all the right things but the scale won’t budge. I exercise daily (either a HIIT workout, running, peloton) and eat a low calorie diet. I don’t think I could possibly eat any less than I am! Help!
A: Hi Kelsey! I hear this concern and get asked this question a LOT! The majority of women I work with are actually consuming too little food to support optimal health.
Extended periods of time with too little food plus the addition of exercise stresses the body and causes our metabolism to slow down. Our human metabolism evolved to keep us alive and functioning when food was scarce. Our metabolism will slow down to conserve precious energy for life sustaining functions like keeping our heart beating, our blood circulating, and our lungs exchanging oxygen with carbon dioxide. When our metabolism slows down we burn fewer calories at rest and during activity, and we can even start storing more body fat.
Our body needs a certain amount of calories, around 1200 per day, just to stay alive. Many of the women I see are consuming 1200 calories or LESS and are dealing with issues like stubborn body fat, brain fog, thinning hair, menstrual cycle irregularities, getting sick more often, fatigue..the list goes on and on. Without the building blocks from food to perform these functions, we end up with the complaints listed above.
So where do I usually start with clients? I have them track their food and beverage intake in an app like Cronometer. I take a peak at their calories, but what I’m really focused on is their nutrient intake – how much protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals they are getting. We need adequate levels of all nutrients all the time in order to function well. Then we make small adjustments and additions to slowly increase their food consumption. It takes a little time to rev the metabolism back up and if we add too much too quickly that can cause us to gain weight as well. It takes a little time for our metabolism to get the message that we’re not in starvation mode and can start utilizing calories again.
Altering the type and frequency of exercise can also help. Many women spend a lot of time focused on cardiovascular pursuits and the “calorie burn” and not enough time on building lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass is more metabolically active and burns more calories at rest which improves our metabolism. Between the ages of 40-50 we suffer a general rate of muscle loss of about 8%, then 1-2% annually thereafter (von Healing, Morley, & Anker, 2010). Increased muscle mass is also correlated with better bone mineral content and density which is important for women as we age. With all of that being said – I usually recommend more strength training activities and fewer high intensity cardio sessions to improve body composition and support metabolism.
von Haehling, S., Morley, J. E., & Anker, S. D. (2010). An overview of sarcopenia: facts and numbers on prevalence and clinical impact. Journal of cachexia, sarcopenia and muscle, 1(2), 129–133. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13539-010-0014-2