I. Love. You.
Which is why I am always excited and flattered to receive messages from you, via all of these platforms. I’m so happy that you find me to be a reliable source of information, and trust your questions and concerns to me. I absolutely adore that you choose me, and, in many cases, take my advice (unlike people who seem to ask my advice in person…). I love to follow up with you later and see how things are going. I love to forge these connections with you and I love watching you thrive.
But I have to level with you. I’m getting a startling number of messages recently regarding caloric intake, specifically, shockingly and potentially dangerously low caloric intake. In the past month or so, my IG direct and my reddit inbox have delivered me a disheartening number of messages from ladies who give me a similar story.
I want to lose 10/20/30/40 pounds for summer/a wedding/a vacation in a month/two months. I cut my calories to 900-1300 a day and I’m hitting the gym 6 days a week and it worked for like a week but now I’m so tired and weak I can’t get through my workouts anymore, how do you do it? How do you push through with the headaches and the rumbling tummy and low energy and look like you do?
STOOOOOOOOOP. Oh it hurts my heart!
Oh dear oh dear how have we come to this? You’ve clearly followed me long enough to trust my advice and come to me for help, so you should know that this isn’t my method! Starvation and excessive exercise isn’t how I maintain my physique at all! Even on contest prep I was vehemently opposed to two-a-days in the gym, I never once dropped my calories into dangerous levels (though I’ve touched on the fact that my fats were a bit too low towards the end) even though they were relatively low as I neared show date. That’s not how I do this at all! But oh, OH am I glad you are coming to me for help.
You see, in every one of these cases, I’ve had to do a little tough love. If you’re too weak to complete your workout because your calories are too low, and you can barely make it through your normal day, that should send some warning signals, no? Yes! And that’s why you asked for help. And that’s good! I think the issue lies in the fact that people recognize a problem, but don’t want to come off as just being weak or lazy when their plan doesn’t work out. Well, I have no issue being the bad guy and putting the brakes on such a drastic plan- none.
I’ve never once ignored someone asking for my help. I will always preface with the fact that I am not a coach, nor am I a dietician. But if I could have one wish in the world, like, if I found a genie, I would wish that everyone could live a strong and healthy life, that everyone would be armed with the knowledge of how to properly fuel their body for the lifestyle that they lead. But I don’t have a genie (though I do have some rockin’ princess Jasmine underpants, and that’s close, right?), so the best I can offer is my time and advice, when it’s asked for.
Invariably, when I give my advice, and check back in after a week or two, I’m met with good news. Energy has returned! Weight is dropping! Feeling so good! And this puts me in a glowing happy sphere of love for the rest of the day! I come home and tell my husband, “Hey, I helped someone again today. And that feels good.”
I try to be honest about my own body, my own intake, my own work in the gym, to provide a model. I swear to you the things I say are not a lie- I’m not putting on a show for social media! I’m not busy trying to sell anything, or pretend I haven’t had cosmetic surgery (just the one, and I’m always open about that) I really do eat cookies- counting the pack of peanut butter Oreos my husband brought me home the other day, I have SEVEN containers of cookies in my cupboard. It’ll take me months to finish them, though, being as I only ever can fit one or two cookies into a day. I am obsessed with vegetables and my omelettes, stir frys, and sandwiches that inevitably spiral way, way out of control reflect this, as do my sometimes-slightly-orange tinged palms and foot soles (carrots- I love them MORE THAN OREOS.) I really don’t do two-a-days in the gym. I don’t even hit the gym every day. Remember the importance of REST. I honestly don’t do scheduled cardio sessions- though I love to ride my bike all around town for fun. I eat carbs, I eat fats, I don’t have my protein macros cranked up to a ridiculous high level to compensate for keeping the other two low. I have NO food restrictions.
Except beets. I hate beets, so I restrict them from my diet because they are disgusting. Nothing you can say will sway my opinion on this. Roasting them does NOT make them taste like sugar.
I eat to fuel my body, regardless of my goals. Cutting, bulking, maintaining, getting stronger, all of these things require proper fueling.
While it may seem like cutting calories drastically is going to get you the best results the quickest, take into consideration what’s best for you in the long term. Eating so little is immediately draining- if you can’t finish a workout because your energy is so low, what benefit does that serve? You’d be better served fueling your workouts, where you can build muscle and burn calories, where you can shape your body and make it stronger, than simply not eating those calories at all.
Beyond the initial exhaustion, your body will eventually adapt to running on so little fuel- become more efficient, if you will- and I know you don’t want to eat so little forever, right? Because food is delicious. If your body adapts to running on so little, and then you try to add food back in once you hit your “goal weight,” what do you think is going to happen? All of those calories you add back in will not be surplus! Your body will have gotten so used to not having them, that suddenly it doesn’t need them, and you will begin to gain fat- and that’s the whole reason this process started- now you’re back to square one, but in a worse situation than before because in order to lose now, you have even fewer calories to cut from!
Additionally, I hear regularly- and have experienced myself, that attempting to keep such restriction leads to low diet adherence. That is, on a Friday night, you’re apt to hit the peanut butter jar and the cookie cupboard HARD, to the tune of 2000…3000… maybe more, calories. And who is that helping? You feel awful, you feel like you’ve let yourself down, your body acts weird for a couple of days… and likely none of that would have happened if you’d just given yourself a few extra calories each day that week. Your body would have felt better fueled, and your brain would have been less stressed about food. And you would feel so positive about sticking to your diet.
You have to set yourself up for success.
So my blanket, unsolicited advice: let’s end crash dieting forever. Let’s stop sabotaging our own progress by making calories the enemy. Fuel your body, work for the body you want. Don’t try to resort to fast tricks and dangerous diets. Love yourself enough to think about your current self and your future self. Stop being your own worse enemy.
Calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) using any number of online calculators. They vary, so maybe try two or three or four and take an average. If you want to lose weight, start slow. Try 15-20% off your TDEE. You should not get headaches, you should not feel like you can’t walk up the stairs, you should not add an hour of cardio to your mornings. Take. It. Slow. You will get results. You will feel good. Cutting still sucks a little, but cutting on more sucks less than cutting on next to nothing. And there are so many people who will support you and feel with you- so long as you are not doing dangerous things to your body!
A coach that I look up to, Sohee Walsh, who works closely with my forever fitness crush Layne Norton, recently posted on her blog on the topic as well, and I’ll just let her pick up where I leave off, here.
That said, thank you again for trusting me with your problems, for seeking my advice, those of you who have messaged me or taken my words to heart on any public forum. It is truly a gift to me to teach and to help people better themselves. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.