Maintaining/gaining on less calories?!

I'm experiencing something really strange and I really hope someone can help me.
About a year ago, I was maintaining at 120 lbs eating around 2100 calories a day and exercising twice a week. After my summer holiday, I felt bloated so I ate less for a couple of days, around 1600 cals. A couple of days later, I found out I had gained about 4 lbs since before my trip, so I decided to keep eating 1600 cals to avoid further weight gain. Unfortunately, the gain didn't stop until I reached 130 lbs. I maintained that weight eating the same amount of calories for about 9 months. In that time, I tried to lose a little by eating healthier and exercising more, but it all didn't help, so I stopped. I was so frustrated that I ate about 500 calories less than before, but weighed 10 lbs more. I still do not understand how that is possible (it's not muscle mass). I decided to up my calories a little to around 1700 a day, and 2000 on days that I exercise. In three weeks, I gained another 3 lbs. I know this is not much, but I only ate 200 cals a day more, whereas to gain one pound per week, you should eat 500 cals more. Now I'm at a higher weight than I have ever been in my life, eating less than before. Does anyone know how this is possible? I really don't know if I'm eating too little or too much, because I'm totally sedentary (on the couch all day on most days), only working out twice a week (30 min cardio, 60 min strength training). However, while I was maintaining at 2100 cals last year, I didn't really move much more than this, so this should not really be the issue. Still, I go cycling for at least 30 mins a day now, because I'm feeling way to lazy. I really hope someone knows what's going on. I'd love to go back to maintaining 120 lbs eating 2100 cals.


  • norcal_yogi
    norcal_yogi Posts: 675 Member
    bumping for you.....
  • fiveohmike
    fiveohmike Posts: 1,297 Member
    Were you keeping track of your measurements by chance? Body weight can fluctuate pretty significantly for various reasons, but its usually better to rely on your measurements.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    I haven't taken my measurements, but I know I really got bigger. My shorts and pants don't fit anymore, my love handles are worse and I have a lot more upper inner thigh fat than before. So it is all real weight gain..
  • alioopwontonsoup
    alioopwontonsoup Posts: 17 Member
    Bumping for you. I've had somewhat similar issues in the past but have no idea why or how or what happened.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    When you were eating "around 2100 calories" - were you actually logging to know that - or rough guessing it?

    And was eating 1600 the same method?

    Do you actually weigh the foods that go in your mouth, and that includes packaged food for servings?

    And beyond that, unexplained weight gain, which doesn't happen when you eat less than prior maintaining at - is reason to see Dr.

    Elevated cortisol from stress on body can retain 10-20 lbs.
    And doesn't have to be stress you are aware of, and unrelated to diet or stress thinking about weight gain.

    Sadly you'll really have to think back to any other changes you remember from back then.
    Like why did you feel bloated - what had you eaten? Had it again?
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    Well, I don't have a food scale so I am just roughly guessing, but I did that a year ago as well, so it does not explain the big "calorie gap". First I thought that I might have eaten more healthy last year, but I checked my food log, and it turns out I actually ate more unhealthy stuff back then than nowadays. Number of workouts per week hasn't changed, but I'm exercising a little more intensive now. Daily activity is low, but a year ago it was as well, so that's no change either. I've been to the doctor to have my blood checked and everything was fine. Also had my BMR tested and it was a little lower than expected based on a formula (1322 vs. 1459), but it wasn't "abnormal" they said. I have to say that I've had a very stressful year, so I think that definitely contributed. The problem however is that the weight gain increases my stress level so I am kind of stuck in a vicious cycle now.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    They tested RMR actually, which is 150-250 above BMR.

    And 150 below what was expected for gender, age, weight, height could be bad, then again if you have less muscle mass than average, it could be right on.
    Then again it could be suppressed because of prior dieting attempts, even to eating 2100, which would sound high, but may be low.

    Got a good bodyfat % estimate, or several not-so-good estimates to average together?

    That will give a better idea if RMR was close or not using Cunningham RMR formula.

    And you are correct, if potential accuracy was the same between eating levels, that doesn't explain it. So you could easily have been eating more than that in both cases, or if you tend to inflate "just in case", you could be eating well less than that.

    If you think it's stress, then you just gotta get out of it. Start measuring and find past measurements to see if really any increases to be concerned about, or perhaps you have clothes that say there is not because they still fit well.

    If you don't, you can keep yourself gaining, and cutting out more calories will just increase stress on the body beyond your mental.

    It doesn't sound like you have the normal symptoms of the real metabolic damage, so what's left is the stress.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    Is it really RMR instead of BMR, even if I wan't allowed to eat or drink in 12 hours until the test and had to go to the hospital by car, instead of bike or on foot, to avoid moving to much? It could still be a little low due to my very low calorie diet and eating disorder a couple of years ago, but after that I ate a very high calorie diet for a while to regain weight, and the weight gain wasn't that fast, so my metabolism should not have been that low back then. But the problem is that at some point, I wanted to stop gaining weight, so I ate about 500 cals less, but my weight didn't drop. It would stay stable for a while and then creep back up, causing me to drop my calories further. Then I would remain stable at this higher weight for a while, until it would creep back up again (without changing intake or exercise) and I would lower my cals a little again. This has happened a couple of times, leaving me with the lowest caloric intake in years, but my highest weight ever. I'm at a higher weight than when I started to lose weight, but I'm watching what I eat much more, having less calories than back then and exercising more. Any explanations? Could it still be that my body thinks it is starving, even though I don't eat extremely little and I am very sedentary? I know this sounds strange, but when I got off my very low calorie diet, and started eating like 2500-3000 calories (at a very low weight), being sedentary and no exercising whatsoever, I gained weight very slowly, which my indicate that I actually need more calories than average?

    My body fat percentage (tested using two different methods) is around 25%, which I think is really high, but they said I now had the ideal body composition and weight for my small frame.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    RMR - you came in and sat down and a breath mask was hooked up to your face for about 15 min.
    BMR - you stayed overnight in lab and they woke you and put a breath capture hood over your head and you went back to sleep.

    And yes - you most certainly can lower your RMR by eating too little. But as I said, it can also be lower than expected because you burned off muscle mass, but it may then be totally correct for the amount you have left. Hence having a BF%.
    And 25% is healthy for a woman.
    It's not at the athletic level. You a training athlete?

    Were you honestly logging your calories during the slow creep up in weight?

    Everyone that claims they gain on 1200 calories also admits they binge and have cheat days and meals - and while the goal may indeed have been 1200, their actual average eaten was higher.
    Throw in inaccurate food logging you have, even higher.
    Do that on a suppressed metabolism - you can easily gain fat, because each pig out day is actual surplus of food, and body is going to store it as fat in case the craziness continues.

    So you know the definition of insanity? Reread your description of what you saw and what you did regarding weight and calories.

    Hopefully at this point you realize goal weight is a range - not a number. All kinds of totally expected reasons for it to go up - as water weight.
    In fact your BMR literally does change through the month, for you, no decisions on weight going up or down should really occur until you have a month of data, and then another month to compare to.

    Yes, you probably do need more calories than you think, and more than you've been providing.
    Sounds like for good long stretches you were eating an easy 50% less than your body could have been burning.

    Get the spreadsheet on my profile page.
    Stay on the Simple Setup and Progress tabs.
    Look at the sample data, change it to see effects if desired, then delete all the yellow cell data.
    Put in your own stats and measurements.
    Get your planned activity in there to see potential TDEE.

    From what you are eating now, add 100 calories daily for a week at a time, making your way up to that TDEE.
    You can hang at the TDEG level for couple weeks to see if no response, but then keep moving on up.

    If by eating a mere 100 calories extra daily for a week, which would take 35 days to actually gain 1 lb slowly (reread that), but you gain more or faster, then you just confirmed how much of a deficit you are in.
    Just topped off water stores with storing more carbs, because you were very depleted likely.
    That will probably happen the 2nd week too when you increase another 100 daily.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    Thanks for your post! I'm not an athlete, but I've been doing free weight training (deadlifts, squats, hammer curls, chest press, shoulder press etc) for 9 months now and it hasn't changed by bf% at all. Is that because my body is so messed up?

    I am not logging calories exactly, because I don't have a food scale, but I do write down what I eat and estimate the calories in it. That means that when I say I eat 1700, it could vary between like 1600-1800 per day, but definitely not up to 2100, like I was eating before, so it does not explain the weight gain at all. I don't binge and I know how many calories all products I eat contain, so the estimate should be close.

    What do you mean by "So you know the definition of insanity"?

    Do you really think I need to eat more calories? I'm really confused, because when I use formulas to calculate my TDEE based on BMR and activity, I should maintain on the calories I am eating now (but not gain, obviously), but from my own experience I know that I maintained a much lower weight on 400 calories more (or could this have been because I just reached a healthy weight again and my body still needed extra fuel for certain repairs?). Is it possible that I need that much more than expected based on formulas?
    I used the approach of adding 100 cals per day when I went from 1600 to 1700 (and 2000 on workout days, so actually than would have been an average of 1800 per day, so an increase of 200 per day), which made me gain 3 lbs in 3 weeks. But a gain like this should occur when eating 500 above maintenance, which would imply that my maintenance is about 1300, which is obviously way too low. You say that if I gain more than expected, it proves that I am indeed eating too little. Did I understand that correctly? But how am I supposed to up my cals when it makes me gain even more weight? I'm already at a higher weight than I have ever been so I'm quite depressed already..

    Oh and just to be clear, my period of eating too little ended about 3,5 years ago. After that I ate 3000 a day, but restriction in response to weight gain has caused me to lower, in steps, to the 1600 I am at right now.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    Correct on changes to bodyfat while weight stays the same. That only happens if other improvements cause weight gain, like muscle mass. But that requires more energy.
    If your body has already suppressed your systems to conserve energy to better match the food level going in - is it going to make something new, (which takes more energy to make), which causes daily increase of energy? No.

    Ya, you have no clue how much you eat until you weigh and compare. Even packaged items with "about 2 servings" is going to be off for so many reasons.
    Fresh items that are any size you'd have no idea really.

    And what can work at the start with huge margin of error won't work later on when it's much smaller.

    So you could be like average person and are actually eating much more than you think, which means prior you really were too.
    Or you could be vastly underestimating the amount, because you don't really know and trying to play it safe, and creating a much bigger deficit than you know.

    Insanity - doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
    You said "I wanted to stop gaining weight, so I ate about 500 cals less, but my weight didn't drop. It would stay stable for a while and then creep back up, causing me to drop my calories further. Then I would remain stable at this higher weight for a while, until it would creep back up again (without changing intake or exercise) and I would lower my cals a little again. This has happened a couple of times, leaving me with the lowest caloric intake in years, but my highest weight ever. I'm at a higher weight than when I started to lose weight, but I'm watching what I eat much more, having less calories than back then and exercising more. "

    You can't use any formula's or do any math frankly - one whole side of your equation is unknown - so it really doesn't matter what the other side says.

    You can reread my last post last paragraph for recap on what gaining faster than fat gain means and why.

    Like 3 lbs in 3 weeks, you are correct, IF, IF that was fat, would mean 500 more daily than maintenance. But was it literally 1 lb a week, or more faster in 1st week, than nothing last 2 weeks, or you only weighed start and finish of 3 weeks so no idea how fast or slow the gain was?

    You should do the 2 week test. Perhaps unstress you too.
    Eat 250 more than current eating level.
    If you were indeed already eating at true potential full burning metabolism maintenance - you would gain 1 lb slowly over that 2 weeks.
    If you are actually eating at suppressed metabolism maintenance - you will potentially gain more faster or nothing.

    And this needs to be a real measured 250 calories daily - not some wild guess of weight and calories in whatever you eat. So find and weigh something that will give that many extra calories. Perhaps a glass of chocolate milk measured or something, just simple.
    Keep your other logging as sloppy as it is.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    Thank you so much again!!
    I'm sorry it doesn't really make sense what I did, but that's because of my eating disorder. I am so afraid of gaining even more weight and even though I can rationally reason that it does not make sense to keep dropping calories and so on, my ED and fear always "win" this debate.

    The 3 lbs in 3 weeks was just the difference between when I started upping my calories and three weeks later. I didn't weigh myself in the meantime, because I was afraid I would freakout and would not be able to continue eating more. But when I saw the weight gain after three weeks, I indeed freaked out so I am extremely scared to eat even more. I am truly heavier than I have ever been!
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    So for the last few days I've increased my intake by 250, like you suggested. My weight has gone up about 1.3 lbs in 6 days, so definitely faster than half a pound over one week. Should I still go through with it for another week? Is it possible that my weight does not go up anymore in the second week or even goes down? I'm just really freaked out, because my weight is seriously higher than it has even been! What should I do? Can I already draw the conclusion that my metabolism is messed up, and if so, how can I fix it?
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    So you just increased water weight.

    You were not eating at maintenance before.

    You just topped off glycogen stores with attached water - and raised your LBM, and increased your metabolism.

    Your weight going up more totally depends on how depleted you had those stores.

    That water weight was going to come back sooner or later, no way around that. So don't stress over it.

    Stress can actually mess up hormones and cause 10-20 lb gain of water. Really. So don't stress.

    You need to keep doing what you are doing. See out the 2 week test.

    Then you need to make your way up to potential TDEE, just add 100 daily for a week at a time though.

    When you start feeling warmer, and hair and nails and skin seem different, your body has felt comfortable doing other energy burning stuff with metabolism.
    When you feel warmer, not great season for it of course, then body is getting warmer, good sign.
    May even start to feel hungry in there.

    And when you add 100 calories, make it a known exact 100 calories. Perhaps a snack every night that has exactly that much, or mid-afternoon snack.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    Thanks once again.

    Two days ago I suddenly gained 2 pounds overnight. I know rationally that this cannot be real, so I thought the day after it would be down again, but it was up another 0.5 lbs. Today it was down a little, so I hope this trend continues, because I cannot take it anymore. I am really depressed. My psychiatrist (for my eating disorder) told me to stop doing this, because my body is totally overreacting and I cannot handle it emotionally. The problem only is that I am afraid that if I go back to eating what the metabolism test said, I will not repair it. I've been doing that for 9 months and my metabolism hadn't changed.

    Is it possible that 2100 calories is not my TDEE, even though my tested RMR was 1322 and I am literally lying on the couch all day, except for running three times a week and going to the gym two times a week? It seems like my TDEE cannot be higher than this, but it can also not be that much lower that this gain is theoretically possible, right?

    I keep reading that when your metabolism is messed up, you're cold all day, your hair falls out, your skin is dry etc, but I do not have those symptoms. Does this mean my metabolism is not that bad or do not all people have these symptoms? I actually feel warm all day, even when other people don't. It's really weird. But I must say that I have always had that, even before my metabolism got messed up. So actually the only "symptoms" I have are gaining weight even though I am definitely not eating enough to be causing this gain. I have also had a really stressful year, so probably the stress has something to do with it as well, but I cannot stop stressing, because I am so extremely bothered by my weight and body. I've been doing some yoga and breathing exercises to relax a little, but I don't know if it is helping.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    You said you were eating 2100 when exercising 2 x weekly and weighing less, and maintaining.

    TDEE should be higher now, right?

    Unless, were you more accurate with logging then, so it was closer to real 2100, whereas now inaccurate 2100 but could be real 2300?

    Then again, you aren't that high yet.

    You don't have to get all those symptoms of suppressed metabolism.
    The first thing the body actually does to leave enough calories for all that stuff, is slow down your daily activity. Where you may have burned 400 hundred with spontaneous movement, you now burn 100 say. So 300 is saved for the metabolism to use.
    Only if undereating by enough that there is still a lack and threat does it start slowing down actual metabolism.

    So what else compares different between now and prior eating 2100 working out less?

    You might want to lower the eating goal to instead of 250 over prior eating level, just 100 more.

    I'd say you don't need the 2 week test, prior eating level was not potential TDEE or you wouldn't have gained that fast.

    These are valid weigh-in days, right? No higher than normal sodium meals day before, ect?
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    xStrawberryBubblegumx Posts: 24 Member
    I was not logging more accurately then and I wasn't eating healthier or whatever so that should not be the issue. I weigh myself almost daily, so that I see the overall trend, instead of the day to day fluctuations. Turns out the sudden 2.5 lbs weight gain was a fluctuation and I have lost 2 lbs of that by now. So from when I started to eat 250 more (on the 17th) until now, I have gained 2 lbs.. Does this give any indication of what my true TDEE is?

    How much higher should my TDEE be now that I am 18 lbs heavier compared to a year ago? It might also be important to mention that I had lost weight from the summer before then until winter (like 10 lbs) and by last summer I had just gained it back, so my body might have still been repairing. Could that be the case? Could that mean that my TDEE was higher than normal back then and its lower now because no repairs are necessary anymore? I'm so sorry for all of the questions but I'm just so confused.
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    Well lets hold on trying to discern anything from invalid weigh-in numbers.

    Go back through your days that you are basing this info on, and mark the valid days.

    A valid weigh-in day to minimize totally expected water fluctuations is:
    Morning after rest day eating normal sodium levels and not sore from prior workout.

    So day to day is useless for what this is trying to discern.
    If you want day to day, then you'll need at least 2 months of data to find a trend line in all the useless noise.

    And no, the sudden weight gain gives no indication of true potential TDEE - all it confirms and proves is that the prior eating level with no weight lost or gained was NOT true potential TDEE.

    The ONLY time you can do the 3500 calories / lb of fat is when the change in weight was fat - and that is indicated by the time taken to gain or lose it.

    Like if you gained 1 lb overnight, you can't say then that your TDEE is 3500 calories lower than you ate the prior day. Obviously not.
    Same thing applies as 2 lbs in 1 week, were you really eating 1000 calories daily over true potential TDEE? Of course not.

    You could do the test for 2 more weeks even 250 higher yet, and gain another 2 lbs, proving this current eating level isn't potential TDEE either, but rather just depleted carb stores again topping off.

    But 1 week proved what is and is not going on.
    You were not eating 500 over potential TDEE for 1 week for it to be fat gain.
    It was water weight, and therefore prior eating level was not potential TDEE.

    Now go back to slow increase so metabolism and body speed up burning rate slowly.
    Again, eat 100 extra daily for 1-2 weeks at a time.

    And I don't know how much your TDEE would be higher, depends on how much extra LBM you have in that 18 lbs, compared to just fat.
    But that would require stats from last time eating 2100 and stats this time to actually compare your burn per lb of LBM.

    One study did show it taking over a year to get body to speed back up. More recent study I linked I think showed 3 months to gain back 50% of the suppression. Meaning TDEE was 500 lower than needed to be, but 3 months eating at maintenance it was only 250 lower.
  • xStrawberryBubblegumx
    So it's been a while and I've gained even more weight. I'm now 145 lbs (5 ft 9). About two months ago, I started training for a half marathon, so I added three running workouts to my usual two gym workouts. I do one short run of about 45 mins, one interval training about 45 mins and one long run that is over 100 mins now and goes up every week. Six weeks ago I decided to up my cals to about 2000 a day. Over the last two months I have gained 10 lbs. The last couple of weeks my weight gain has been very strange. My weight would stay stable for a week (or even longer) and then suddenly it would jump up 2 lbs. It's freaking me out, because every time I think my weight is finally stabilizing and I relax a little, it jumps up again and I'm super stressed again. I'm really can't handle this weight gain anymore, but I don't know whether I should eat less or more. Logically, I would say, if you're gaining, you should eat less. But last year I weighed 24 lbs less, eating about the same number of calories, but exercising way less (only gym twice a week and way shorter workout than now). This would imply that now, exercising much more and weighing much more, I should be eating much more, right?
    Any idea what's going on or advice on what I should do now?
  • heybales
    heybales Posts: 18,842 Member
    What's likely going on for majority of that water weight gain is stress.
    Stress about weight, stress from potentially too much exercise with level of eating, stress of being in a diet, perhaps stress of not enough sleep for level of exercise, life stress.
    Stress constantly elevates cortisol rather than useful spikes, which can lead to upwards of 20 lbs water retained.

    You need to stress out.

    Now, some of that gain is perfectly normal.
    You are running more and longer. How does the body respond?
    Does it need stronger muscle to go farther? No.
    Does it need more muscle to go longer? No.
    Does it need more of the limited carb stores to endure? Ah yes. Carbs store with water.

    And your blood volume, especially if warm, needs to increase to aid in getting oxygen to where it's needed, besides cooling effect.

    So you have 2 runs weekly at least, maybe all 3, that require recovery from.
    What do you do the day after the long and the interval run to allow recovery and repair?
    And how intense is that short run? Since short do you do it has hard as possible?

    Are you aware of the difference between training the aerobic fat burning system and the anaerobic carb burning system? Only ask because I've seen far to many that have no idea, and so training program is not for any benefit except running.

    Are you doing a free public HM training program? Was it written for someone in a diet where recovery takes longer? I've yet to see one that is.

    3 days a week is actually very good program, and exactly the 3 types of runs I'd recommend, but I'd be specific with HR or effort to make each useful for some aspect of training.
    But any good program can be ruined by thinking you should do more and adding a lot to it. So just curious.

    And correct about eating more when doing more when weighing more. And increased water as described above is water that must be managed, ie energy is spent on it, that's why it's a part of LBM and metabolism goes up with it. So increase there too.