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Ness: Considering ‘I don’t eat enough’ claims

It is not uncommon to hear a frustrated individual blame eating too little on their weight-loss problems.

I’ve heard many folks swear they eat a peanut butter cracker twice a day and still can’t lose weight. This is followed by the declaration they must be eating too little.

This thought process it is not coming out of the blue. Metabolism can be a complex and confusing topic.

I would like to attempt to clear up this myth and shed just a little light on the topic.

Metabolism is the sum total of all the energy required to power cellular processes and activities. In other words, it is the energy required to live and do everything you do.

Whether we’re talking about energy consumed or expended, it is usually measured in calories.

I believe the root of this myth is based on the idea fasting and low-calorie diets reduce your metabolic rate.

The actual data on these topics is very conflicting. Truthfully there is not a complete understanding of what affects metabolism and by how much. It is very likely there is high variability between individuals.

There are countless factors that might or absolutely do influence metabolism. Among the long list are multiple body compositional variables, age, sex, activity levels, genetics, frequency of meals and sleep habits.

What we do know is eating too little will kill you. It won’t kill you right away. It will first cause a lot of weight-loss and malnutrition. Then it will kill you.

We’ve all seen the unfortunate result of malnutrition in the swollen bellies of dying children in third-world countries. This is not a problem the majority of Americans face. Two notable exceptions being contestants on shows like “Survivor” and “Naked and Afraid.” Contestants on those shows often endure severe calorie restriction and, as a result, lose a lot of weight.

In defense of the “I’m eating too little” crowd, it is absolutely true the loss of lean body mass (usually muscle) does result in a lower metabolism. Weight loss in general does seem to have an effect on metabolism beyond the loss of lean body mass. This does not mean eating too little makes you fat. It means losing weight (particularly muscle) can make it more difficult to continue losing weight, because your metabolism is lower.

Weight training during weight-loss can reduce loss of, or increase muscle mass, which will help you keep your metabolism higher.

The good news is this does not change the fact burning more energy than you consume will result in weight loss. If your activity level remains the same but you eat more, you will gain weight. If your activity level remains the same, but you eat less, you will lose weight. If you have any doubt about that statement, you don’t have to consult the mountain of scientific evidence, just try it yourself. The results will be the same.

To get a good idea of your metabolic rate, I strongly suggest tracking your weight and caloric intake over a period of weeks. For a quicker result, you could do a metabolism test at a weight-loss clinic or go see Gina Lang at her Day One office in Winchester.

There’s even more good news. You can increase your metabolism.

Exercising not only burns calories while you’re moving, but the recovery process (returning to homeostasis) also requires energy. If you have heard the term residual burn, it is referring to the recovery process.

Furthermore, building muscle mass will increase your metabolism. Muscle requires energy to sustain itself. Therefore, more muscle means a higher metabolism.

Jamie Ness has been a personal trainer since 2013, and currently provides services at the College Park gym in Winchester. He has nine years of track and field/cross country coaching experience ranging from middle school to NCAA Division I. He is an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and received his master’s degree in kinesiology and health promotion from the University of Kentucky in 2012.  For more information, visit http://nessxv.wixsite.com/jamie-ness-training or email jamie.ness@uky.edu.