I’ve seen this subject crop up a lot lately, so I thought I’d chime in.
Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser USA fame, was extolling the virtues of an 800 calorie a day diet for women. Just 800.
Let me put that into perspective for you, the following items of food contain approximately 800 calories:
- A regular hamburger and medium fries from McDonalds
- 1 large latte with 1 sugar and a blueberry muffin from Starbucks
- 1 baked potato with a tin of tuna and three tbsps of mayonnaise, plus 1 apple and 1 banana
- 1/2 a takeaway portion of chicken tikka masala.
- Two six-inch chicken teriyaki subway sandwiches
- 2 and a half slices of a pizza hut supreme pizza.
I’m sorry, but that is not a day’s worth of food.
Based on what my heart rate monitor tells me, I can BURN 800 calories doing the following activities:
- 60 minutes of Body Combat
- 90 minutes of water aerobics
- 46 minutes on the elliptical
- 32 minutes of high intensity rowing.
If I were following an 800 calorie diet a day and did just one of the activities above I have completely spent all my energy for the day. I need to think, walk, sleep, work, digest the meagre portions of food that I did eat, heat my body and allow all my major organs to function using…. well.. my body mass. But the body is in a state of crisis and not interested in being selective. It won’t jump straight to the plentiful fat stores, it will use whatever is available, including lean muscle and even organ tissue as fuel to keep you alive. As much as 27-28% loss in cardiac muscle mass has been reported in some studies.
I’ve shared my own experience of a well known VLCD before, and I stand by my previous opinion. It is, by far, the worst thing I ever did to my body. And I say that as an obese woman who has eaten deep fried pizza. If your hair is falling out – as mine did – or you’re risking death, then your ultra low calorie diet is a terrible, terrible idea.
And you’ll put all of the weight back on. And a little more. I have the elasticated waistband to prove it.
Being afraid of gaining weight has become almost a societal norm, as opposed to one of the indicators of a an eating disorder.
I already did the thing that terrifies so many people, and gained a crapton of weight (I know, I’m so brave). And I have to tell you, that while things could be better, they’re actually not bad. I still manage to have friends, a good job, a happy relationship and many other things that thin people enjoy. It’s not actually that scary (unless you’re in a position where you have to sit on one of those plastic garden patio chairs. That shit is frightening).
The issue is that fear of fat now appears to go hand in hand with fear of food – and if fear of food isn’t disordered, then I don’t know what is. And I say that as someone with a history of disordered eating. Your relationship with food is in seriously bad shape if you’re scared of it.
Your body needs food to fuel everything that it does. My body. being fairly hefty, needs a lot of fuel to just get around. So I used one of the many free tools available to find out how much fuel my body uses every day, and how much I need to eat to maintain my weight. To lose 1lb of fat a week I need to create a calorific defecit of 500 per day, to lose 2lbs a week, this needs to be 1,000 a day. Because cutting 1,000 calories a day is going to cause the food grumps, I do this with a combination of reduced calorie intake and exercise. I’m not hungry. I’m eating lots of food. And that’s a GOOD THING. Because to reduce my calorie intake I reduced the junk and sugar, and instead fill my body with good, healthy fuel in decent portions. I’m not hungry. And I’m losing weight. Because it’s entirely possible to do with the right research and the right approach.
Anyone who has ever tried to severely restrict calories while trying to do everything else that they do every day already knows this. Your head hurts for a reason. You’re grumpy and snippy for a reason. You can’t concentrate for a reason. Your body is UNHAPPY. Feed it!
If you decide that you’d rather be thin even if that also means weak and ill, then by all means go ahead. But I’m choosing lean and strong.