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Spinoff thread: "eating too little then gaining it all back"

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On another thread (the one with the Huff Post article about "eat 1200 calories" advice being cause for apology) somebody suggested that if you lose weight by eating too few calories then you will eventually gain it all back because it is not sustainable.

Given what I've learned on MFP thus far, I'm wondering why that is so.

Even if you lose the weight rapidly because you are eating too little, why wouldn't you be able to maintain that new weight by simply sticking to your maintenance calories, which - if you have been truly underrating - should be considerably more than what you've been doing so far.

Example: let's say you have a woman who "should" be eating 1600 calories per day for a 1 lb a week loss and 2000 for maintenance. Instead, she decides to go for eating 1300 cal/day. She loses 2 lbs per week and is super happy, although admittedly she is hungry fairly often. When she reaches her goal weight, assume her TDEE is now around 1800. In order to maintain her weight she gets to increase her caloric intake from 1300 to 1800. She is pretty darned happy about that, and no longer going hungry.

Why isn't this sustainable?

Replies

  • BinaryPulsar
    BinaryPulsar Posts: 8,927 Member
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    Because she lost muscle (which requires more calories to sustain and allows for more food) and reduced her metabolism, so it doesn't jump up to 1800, instead her maintenance calories are reduced. The person ends up in a yo-yo cycle of losing, then regaining more fat than they lost.

    There can also be negative health repercussions from nutrient deficiencies.
  • Chief_Rocka
    Chief_Rocka Posts: 4,710 Member
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    Jane Doe would likely plateau at some point before she hit her goal, and, since she has already played nearly all her cards, her tools to reestablish a deficit would be very limited.
  • ndj1979
    ndj1979 Posts: 29,136 Member
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    It is sustainable for someone that has made the right lifestyle changes.

    However, if you read the threads you will see that this is not sustainable for a lot of people - for whatever reasons - and they lose 50 pounds and then two years later have gained it all back.

    Barring any medical or mental disorders, most of these people - IMO - were looking for quick fix, found it, and then went back to old habits. This is why we always see people on "diets" ...They are like this week I am doing the cabbage diet, or atkins diet, or south beach diet, etc etc...when in reality, if they would just change their lifestyle and ditch the diets they would see better results.

    In order to have sustained success you have to make the proper lifestyle changes that allow you to have long term benefits of weight loss and being healthy.
  • cdjs77
    cdjs77 Posts: 176 Member
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    Yes, this is true. What people really mean when they say it is unsustainable they usually mean the person will not be successful because a) it is hard to maintain such a low calorie diet for such a long time, and so they may binge and/or b) the person will gain the weight back once they are finished losing the weight by going back to their old diet that made them overweight in the first place.
    However, if someone were to continue counting calories and eating a healthy balanced diet once they were done with weight loss they probably wouldn't gain the weight back.
    My mother lost somewhere between 30-40 lbs on 1000 - 1200 calories a day and has kept the weight off for almost a year now. She still eats her favorite foods, she is just better at portion control, she tracks her food,and she exercises regularly.
  • walleymama
    walleymama Posts: 174 Member
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    Because she lost muscle (which requires more calories to sustain and allows for more food) and reduced her metabolism, so it doesn't jump up to 1800, instead her maintenance calories are reduced. The person ends up in a yo-yo cycle of losing, then regaining more fat than they lost.

    Interesting. So you're saying that, by losing muscle, her maintenance calories may be little more than the 1300 she was eating to lose weight, so she will essentially have gotten herself "stuck" with eating too little to be satisfied. Do I have that right?

    Which also suggests that, if you lose weight "properly" and don't lose muscle, you will be "rewarded" by a maintenance that is a bit higher than what you were eating to lose. Is that correct?

    And if you gain muscle, you will be able to eat even more to maintain?
  • BinaryPulsar
    BinaryPulsar Posts: 8,927 Member
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    Because she lost muscle (which requires more calories to sustain and allows for more food) and reduced her metabolism, so it doesn't jump up to 1800, instead her maintenance calories are reduced. The person ends up in a yo-yo cycle of losing, then regaining more fat than they lost.

    Interesting. So you're saying that, by losing muscle, her maintenance calories may be little more than the 1300 she was eating to lose weight, so she will essentially have gotten herself "stuck" with eating too little to be satisfied. Do I have that right?

    Which also suggests that, if you lose weight "properly" and don't lose muscle, you will be "rewarded" by a maintenance that is a bit higher than what you were eating to lose. Is that correct?

    And if you gain muscle, you will be able to eat even more to maintain?

    Yes.
  • DanaDark
    DanaDark Posts: 2,187 Member
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    Usually, people that eat far too little will not have gained the skills to know how to eat at maintenance. This is a big factor.

    From there, upon eating more, even if just going from deficit to maintenance, there is weight gain (more food being processed by the body requires extra water, which in turn isn't weightless).

    As mentioned above, the loss of muscle mass that follows along with very low calorie diets will lower the maintenance energy required as well.
  • klaff411
    klaff411 Posts: 169 Member
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    Yeah. That's a great deal of generalizing going on. Everyone is different. In order to loose weight you HAVE to run a deficit. Its just basic math. The efficacy of how big that deficit should be we can argue about. But any medical professional will tell you the basic fact that you still have to take in less than you burn.

    Frankly HUFFPO is a rag. I don't believe a thing they print.
  • BinaryPulsar
    BinaryPulsar Posts: 8,927 Member
    Options
    Yeah. That's a great deal of generalizing going on. Everyone is different. In order to loose weight you HAVE to run a deficit. Its just basic math. The efficacy of how big that deficit should be we can argue about. But any medical professional will tell you the basic fact that you still have to take in less than you burn.

    Frankly HUFFPO is a rag. I don't believe a thing they print.

    Someone who has a lot of weight to lose can have a larger deficit than a smaller person, but they can also eat more and still have a larger deficit because they have higher maintenance calories to maintain a heavier body weight. The OP was not asking about each individuals maintenance calories and deficits (that will definitely vary), she was asking about eating at a larger deficit than would be recommended for that individual. That was what the question was about specifically.
  • Dlacenere
    Dlacenere Posts: 198 Member
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    Because your body wants homeostasis, so it adapts to that 1300 calorie level - which in most cases after a long period of time, especially without having some maintenance level days mixed in, becomes that persons maintenance level and they have to eat less and less to be able to lose (sacrificing any muscle they have along the way). When they eat more, they gain. They would need to slowly and intentionally increase their cals to train their metabolism back up - or do a full metabolism reset - which is probably higher than 1600 calories depending on their height, weight, age etc...This is why you always see the classic overweight woman, doing 60 minutes or more on the elliptical or treadmill going full steam and eating 1200-1300 calories per day looking exactly the same every day you see her - with a good amount of weight around her middle because her cortisol is so high from stressing her body so much with low cals and high burns...
  • Phoenix_Warrior
    Phoenix_Warrior Posts: 1,633 Member
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    It is sustainable for someone that has made the right lifestyle changes.

    However, if you read the threads you will see that this is not sustainable for a lot of people - for whatever reasons - and they lose 50 pounds and then two years later have gained it all back.

    Barring any medical or mental disorders, most of these people - IMO - were looking for quick fix, found it, and then went back to old habits. This is why we always see people on "diets" ...They are like this week I am doing the cabbage diet, or atkins diet, or south beach diet, etc etc...when in reality, if they would just change their lifestyle and ditch the diets they would see better results.

    In order to have sustained success you have to make the proper lifestyle changes that allow you to have long term benefits of weight loss and being healthy.

    Love this ^^