Starvation Diets, Food Binges, and Sedentary Lifestyles
Fitness coach David Greenwalt describes a common female client: She is 5’5” and 185 lbs. mostly sedentary and eating 400-700 calories/day. A combination of a mostly sedentary lifestyle, quick-fix, processed foods and consistent excessively low calories has resulted in an incredibly stubborn fat loss scenario -- but her ability to add body fat is remarkably strong.
Five or six days per week the woman’s calorie intake remains in the starvation range. However, there are occasional nighttime and weekend binges during which 500-700 carbs calories loaded with fat – such as doughnuts, rolls, cookies, pizza etc. -- are consumed.
According to Greenwalt, many Americans are able to maintain their level of obesity following this formula: starvation + binges + sedentary lifestyle.
Starvation Mode: Fact or Myth?
This woman’s metabolism is suffering greatly with a chronic caloric intake of less than 1000 per day for a 185-pound body weight. Greenwalt says, “It’s running cool, not hot. Her metabolism has matched itself to her caloric intake. What’s more, her body has maximized production of enzymes that are designed to help store any additional calories as fat. So, anytime additional, immediately-unnecessary calories are consumed the enzymes are there and waiting to store the additional calories as fat.”
Weight Watcher’s Research Department has a slightly different point of view: While there is no biologic evidence to support the "starvation mode" myth, there may be behavioral reasons why weight loss stops when calories are severely reduced. Over-restriction of calorie intake, known as high dietary restraint is linked to periods of overeating, hindering successful weight loss.
What's the Solution for a Slow Metabolism?
Irregular meal patterns have been shown to have a negative influence on the thermic effect of food metabolism. A regular schedule is more beneficial, so do not flip-flop between severe calorie restriction and food binges; likewise do not fluctuate between three meals on some days and five meals on other days. Stick to a pattern and maintain the number of calories.
The dietary solution is a caloric intake that supports a healthy rate of weight loss, produces a minimal reduction in metabolism, and avoids inducing too-high levels of dietary restraint. The Cleveland Clinic recommends the following dietary changes:
- Maintain a diet that keeps carbohydrates to no more than 50 percent of total calories.
- Eat foods defined as complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread (instead of white), brown rice (instead of white), and sugars that are unrefined (instead of refined; for example cookies, crackers).
- Increase your fiber consumption by eating legumes (for example, beans), whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce your intake of red meats and poultry.
- Thirty percent of your daily calories should come from fat.
- Consume healthy fats such as those in canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and nuts.
- Consume no more than one drink a day for women, or two drinks a day for men.