Super Charge Your Fat Loss By Eating More

In my last post on my recent fat loss journey I mentioned that eating more food and increasing my calories for the 6 months prior to trying to lose fat made the process of losing fat much easier. My amazing wife, who graciously reads all my blog posts before I post them, was surprised by the fact that eating more calories could make fat loss easier.

The fact she had not heard of it before made it clear that it would probably be worth elaborating on in its own blog post, so here we are, let’s discuss how eating more calories can make fat loss easier.

If you are not familiar with this idea of eating more food in order to make fat loss easier it might seem counter intuitive, I can see how it might raise an eyebrow.

This has to do with the common assumption that if you want to lose fat you need to eat less.

While at its most basic level we do need to eat less calories in order to lose fat, there is also a practical limitation to do so. As I alluded to in my post, you can only push your calories so low before you just can’t sustain it any longer.

It’s rare, but you see women eating 1200 calories a day and men eating 1800 calories a day and not losing any weight. This is just too few calories for an adult to be eating in order to sustain their health and their enjoyment of life.

The reason this happens can have to do with a lot of things and as always when we are talking about metabolism we have to keep in mind our metabolism is responding to a lot of inputs, it’s not just about the amount of food we are or are not eating. Sleep, stress, exercise, hormones, gut health, and a lot of other external factors all play a role in how our body metabolizes food. It’s also important to realize that our metabolisms are not static, they are very dynamic, likely changing day to day.

With those caveats out of the way what tends to happen is someone wants to lose some body fat so they go from eating 3000 calories a day and cut their intake down to 1500 calories a day. On top of that they also tend to start to exercise like a mad person. Not only have they drastically cut their calories but they have also increased their caloric expenditure putting them in a big energy deficit. The fat should just melt off!

However these drastic changes come as a shock to the system because your body goes into high alert, if this continues its a life or death situation. Instead of tapping into body fat to make up the difference between the amount of energy coming in and the amount of energy going out, the body becomes very reluctant to use its body fat because fat is a buffer for survival in this case. Instead the body starts spending less energy on other bodily functions that are not necessary for survival. You will see your movement outside of exercise decrease, hormone levels drop, immune function gets suppressed, essentially things that are not necessary for survival get down regulated to conserve energy.

This drastic cut in calories combined with increase in exercise is just one such example. You could get to this place in a number of different ways. The main point I am trying to make is that if the body has an energy crisis problem on its hands then it will do its best to be frugal with how it’s spending its energy reserve.

Think of it this way…

If you lost your job and had to rely on your savings for a few months would you be spending money on non-essential things?

No, you would be trying to cut back on spending on anything non-essential.

Fat is your energy savings account. When you severely restrict the energy coming in, your body is going to be very frugal with how it spends the energy stored in your body fat.

At the same time you are left potentially still having plenty of body fat to lose and eating very little but having a hard time making progress.

This is where eating more food comes in.

If eating less can cause your body to conserve energy, eating more can cause it to expend more energy.

So if someone is in a place where they are eating too little and their body is conserving energy when they start to eat more, the body will start to bring back on the systems that it may have down regulated due to a lack of energy. Hormone levels increase, movement goes up, energy goes up, immune function improves…we begin burning more energy and feeling much better.

We want to go beyond just eating more calories however. What we want to try and do is build a bigger metabolic engine. We want everything firing on all cylinders at max capacity.

To do this there are 4 important things you must do:

  1. Eat more calories
  2. Eat adequate protein
  3. Get 8-10K steps a day, up to 15K would likely be beneficial
  4. Resistance train 3 days a week

Eating more calories sounds easy enough, but it actually takes a little forethought.

What you don’t want to do is go from eating 1500 calories a day and jump up to 3000 calories a day. Just like dropping your calories quickly is a shock to your body, the same is true for increasing calories too quickly.

Instead what I suggest you do is add 200 calories per day then wait. Give your body time to adjust. You might stick with those additional 200 calories for as long as a month or 2. Then add another 200 calories per day and again, wait. What you are doing is giving your body time to adapt and let those calories do its magic.

The additional movement and strength training will send a message to your body that it can put all these extra calories to use. Some of them will be burnt in the process of moving and exercising. The real magic is with strength training…the additional calories and adequate protein, will give your body all the building blocks it needs to start to add muscle.

Muscle is the real magic behind building a bigger metabolic engine.

You might also be wondering what types of foods should these additional calories be coming from?

Whole foods…plain and simple.

Just because you are eating more calories is not an excuse to add in junk food. Just add in more fruits, vegetables, whole grains (if that is your thing), fats, and protein (if you are under consuming protein).

Depending how far you are trying to push your caloric intake you might need to start to look at which foods are going to give you “the most caloric bang for your buck”. It will be hard to get more calories from above ground veggies at some point. You will have to use denser sources of calories. Foods that you might typically avoid when trying to lose fat suddenly become a useful tool. Nuts, seeds, oils, smoothies, honey, nut butters, maple syrup, would all be calorically dense, and in some cases hyper palatable, which means they will make it easier to eat them. Most people however, unless they are very active, probably won’t have to resort to relying on these types of foods but I did want to mention this point for those who are especially active.

I am sure you have one glaring question though…

Won’t the scale go up when I do this? Won’t I gain body fat?

It is hard to say really.

I do think for most people the scale will go up…but think about what you are doing from a logical perspective.

You are eating more food and you will therefore have more food in your digestive tract.

You may also be eating more carbohydrates, which means you will also hold more water.

This all means more weight on the scale, BUT IT DOES NOT MEAN MORE FAT!

As always we want the scale to be our guide, but we don’t want to focus on the acute fluctuations, we want to focus on the trend. In the short term the scale might go up, the worst thing you can do is freak out and reverse course. Instead stay the course and see what happens over the month. It likely will even out and in some cases go down as your body adjusts.

Also realize the goal here is to not only increase your body’s metabolic rate and restore down regulated processes within the body, we are also trying to add muscle. Muscle does not weigh nothing so you can expect your weight to increase as your muscle mass goes up (assuming you don’t lose an equal amount of fat).

Look for signs that weight on the scale going up is a sign of muscle gain rather than fat gain. If you see the scale increasing you also need to look at your performance in the gym. Are you getting stronger? Are you lifting more weight? Is the scale going up but your clothes are fitting better? These are all signs you are adding muscle WHICH IS WHAT YOU WANT, IT’S A GREAT THING! YOUR BODY COMPOSITION IS IMPROVING!

But to be frank some fat gain is going to usually come along with increased muscle mass, especially if you are a well trained individual. That can be hard to accept when your ultimate goal is to lose fat. I understand that. I can promise that as long as you are moving your body throughout the day and resistance training and taking sane jumps in calories then the amount of fat you add is going to be minimal, and will easily come off once you jump back into a caloric deficit.

If you have been poking around the interwebs recently you might have heard what I am describing in this blog post referred to as a reverse diet.

Unlike most of the topics I cover on this blog, the concept of a reverse diet has little scientific research behind it, but there are lots of anecdotal accounts of how amazing it can be for people who have been in a caloric deficit for a long time and are struggling to lose fat.

Like most fat loss practices, marketing takes over, and the claims that get made around reverse dieting get really overblown. Whenever I see claims of people eating 1500 more calories a day and all of sudden lose a ton of fat it makes me raise an eyebrow. Notice above I tried to set expectations to be more realistic about what will likely happen, I am not going to make magical claims about what could happen during a reverse diet.

What I really think is happening in a reverse diet is just helping bring your body back to a state where it’s no longer in a “crisis for energy”. There is a lot of research about the effects of being in too big of a negative energy balance for too long of a time. If you want to understand more about those effects and the research behind it you can read more in this blog post. The only way to reverse those effects usually involves eating more calories and/or reducing activity expenditure. In fact what I really think is happening in a reverse diet is this

Essentially what the above graph is showing is the relationship between energy intake and energy expenditure. We are essentially increasing caloric intake to match expenditure, and continuing this process over the course of time. In the process the body spends less time in an energy crisis restoring the negative impacts on hormones, energy, immunity, sleep, and stress.

Essentially the way I envision reverse dieting working is making the individual healthy!

A healthy body is going to feel safe enough to tap into its energy savings account and spend some of its fat when it’s put into a slight caloric deficit.

The main take away from this post is that before beginning a fat loss phase you need to be healthy. In this post we discuss how being in a caloric deficit for too long can negatively affect your health. However, we can replace a long term caloric deficit with any number of things. Gut health, poor sleep, chronic stress, too many processed foods, poor metabolic health, lack of exercise and movement, any of these can make fat loss more difficult or impossible. Establishing a baseline of health before trying to add any kind of additional stress is a MUST. You need a strong health foundation. If you want to build a strong health foundation sign up for my newsletter below and each week I will send you content that will help you do just that.

6 thoughts on “Super Charge Your Fat Loss By Eating More

  1. I find this so counterintuitive and difficult to put into practice, even though I believe it. But I really struggle to eat more when I am struggling to lean out (I am trying to go from slim to lean). I am really hungry these days, so should probably be taking this advice. My clothes all still fit, but watching the scale creep up consistently is demoralising.

    1. Hi Joanna!

      When you say you are slim and trying to be lean, do you have more concrete terms to describe that in body weight or body fat percentage?

      1. I don’t know percentages, but I weigh 53 kilo and used to be more like 50, even a couple of years ago. I am 51 years old, and postmenopausal already (on both HRT and thyroid meds). It’s not about the numbers, it’s knowing that I would rather have less “squish” and more muscle. I already get a lot of exercise that matches the description of your post as well as the primal blueprint (walk and swim a lot, sprint once a week, lift weights, and also a barre class because it’s fun), although I could probably increase days when I lift weights (currently twice a week).

      2. Thanks for the additional info!

        It is really hard to say for sure just on the limited amount of info I have to go on, but it does sound like it could be a lack of calories that might be holding you back. If you are exercising properly, your hormones are optomized, your sleep is on point, your diet is good, and you are eating enough protein, it could be that your body doesn’t have the calories it needs to add muscle.

        As I explained in the post, eating more may not get rid of the squish, but if it does allow you to add muscle, its going to be a net positive for you. It will make it easier to get rid of the squish after and you won’t have to diet as hard to get there.

        I also understand watching the scale go up can be a battle mentally. One suggestion I have is to maybe take away the scale as you go through this process and instead use your strength training performance as the target metric. The goal is to add muscle, so you should be seeing your strength in the gym go up. Track that. Focus on getting strong. If you see your strength go up, that’s the thing that matters. If you are adding calories in the form of whole foods and not going overboard on the caloric increases every few weeks, you are unlikely to really be putting on much if any body fat.

  2. Thanks! Super helpful and also very encouraging and motivating. I am going to track my strength workouts and progress more systematically. Lifting weights definitely makes me hungry, though! So that’s a sign I could be eating more.

    1. I agree, if you are getting hungry after lifting it’s another sign

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