Thanks for joining us for episode 91 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.
Today we are answering the following question from a listener:
“Hello. Thanks for your great show! What recommendations would you give for women on weight loss? What would be a safe and effective way? How do I know if there’s something else going on that needs to be taken care of that’s preventing me from losing weight? I’m specifically interested in losing visceral fat and really want to do it the healthy way.
Also, I have a history of amenorrhea, but I have now had a regular period for about a year. At what point is it safe to try to lose weight and how should one take into account a history of amenorrhea? Mine was mostly due to stress, but some weight fluctuations in training a lot have really affected it as well. I know I’m at a pretty low stress state. I’m not trying to lose a lot of weight, maybe 10 pounds at most.”
Are you are overwhelmed just thinking about the process of losing weight and don’t know where to start? Or maybe you already eat a healthy whole foods diet but aren’t seeing the results you want. If you’re ready for a conversation about weight loss that doesn’t involve crazy restrictive diet rules, today’s podcast is for you!
We are excited to provide a practical strategy for safe and sustainable weight loss as we discuss factors that affect the ease and success of the process. Some of what you’ll come away with is a checklist of things to consider to determine if weight loss is appropriate for you at the present time and a walk-through on how to calculate a safe calorie deficit.
Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:
- Things to consider to determine when weight loss is appropriate for you
- How calculating BMI can give you a sense of if your weight loss goal is appropriate for your body
- The importance of ensuring your current calorie intake is adequate
- The effect under-eating has on your metabolism
- The benefits of increasing muscle mass to help support long term weight loss
- The potential effect of decreasing calories to lose weight may have on athletic performance in the short term
- How higher protein diets are beneficial to maintain muscle and make calorie cutting easier
- How to calculate protein needs
- How an appropriate calorie deficit is the most important dietary factor in weight loss regardless of being low carb or low fat
- A walkthrough on how to calculate a safe calorie deficit for your body
- How cycles of weight loss and weight maintenance make the process more efficient and easier on your body
- This episode is sponsored by Pure Indian Foods
- Laura’s post on Girls Gone Strong, “How To Bust Through A Fat Loss Plateau”
- Chris Masterjohn’s “How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months, and How I Knew It Was Time”
Laura: Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 91 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is Kelsey Kinney.
Kelsey: Hey guys.
Laura: How are you today, Kelsey?
Kelsey: I’m a little sick. After our little conversation about how you were sick last week, and I was like I was so proud I didn’t get sick. Now of course, I am sick. I’ve been taking it easy this week for the most part because it was kind of a weird sickness. I just sort of felt like I had a little bit of a sore throat, maybe a tiny bit congested, nothing major for a few days and I felt fine. Then the last two or three days I’ve been kind of just really tired, kind of dragging. It was a weird sickness in the way that I felt like I got sick earlier, but I didn’t really feel too terrible, and then felt actually sick later on. I’m hoping to be okay by tomorrow, the weekend, but we’ll see.
Laura: This will be a fun podcast. I’m currently doing a fast with my church called The Daniel Fast and my brain is really not enjoying it. It’s hard for me to be able to concentrate and have good brain function.
If anyone’s not familiar with The Daniel Fast, it’s based on this story in the Bible where this guy named Daniel and his friends are captured by another Babylonian army and they’re trying to get them on their army as well and they’re converting them into the Babylonian culture. Daniel and his friends are Jewish so they have this….see my brain is like shutting down right now, so I apologize. They have their kosher laws about meat and animal foods. The Babylonians are trying to feed them and they’re like we can’t eat this food because it’s not kosher. And they Babylonians are like, too bad, eat it. What they end up doing is they refuse to eat any of the animal foods. They just eat vegetables, and plant foods, and that kind of stuff for it ends of being three weeks. Basically the point of it is that they were showing that they were willing to make sacrifices and kind of deny themselves pleasure, and health, and all that in order to be obedient to God.
That’s what the fast for our church is supposed to kind of get us into the mindset of. It’s really funny because normally my diet is pretty consistent, and I kind of know what I need to eat to feel good, and I don’t really think about it a lot. All a sudden I feel like I’m totally thinking about it all the time to think about, okay, what do we need to eat? How am I going to get enough protein? What am I going to cook tonight?
Kelsey: How long do you do this for?
Laura: Well it’s supposed to be three weeks. I don’t know if I’m going to last three weeks.
Laura: Because honestly this is day three and I hardly could get out of bed this morning, I was so tired. It’s just kind of crazy because it’s like you kind of forget how much food impacts your health when you’re kind of stable on a healthy, good diet.
Laura: It’s not like I’m eating bad food. It’s like fruits, and vegetables, and legumes, and rice, and all the straight up vegan grains. Well not grains, I’m not doing wheat and stuff, but thing like rice, and quinoa, that kind of thing. But it’s just amazing. When I finish a meal, I feel both really full and almost like bloated because it’s a super high FODMAP plan.
Laura: which just means it’s a lot of fermentable carbohydrates. I’m a little bloated, I’m very full, but then I’m like still hungry.
Laura: I’m like this is the worst, I hate this. I don’t know how long I’m going to last. I’m trying to do at least two weeks. But yeah, I had to take a nap in the middle of the day yesterday. Luckily I had a break in clients. I was just like I am so tired, I need to lay down and sleep a little bit to be able to function for the rest of the day.
It’s an interesting experiment. I’m feeling very empathetic for people that are making really big diet changes just because the amount of thought that goes into what you’re doing is so distracting. It’s just like there’s so much autopilot eating that can’t happen when you’re making these changes. When I have clients that tell me that they get brain fog, or sugar cravings, or that they’re hungry all the time, or all these different things that they think are maybe weird symptoms of oh maybe I have MTHFR, maybe I have mold toxicity or something, then when we look at their diet, I’m like no, you’re literally just not eating enough.
Laura: It’s just crazy because I don’t think people realize how much it can really affect your energy, your mental function, your memory. It’s just there’s so many things that I’m experiencing just in three days of not eating enough. I’m really trying to. I’m honestly putting a really big effort into getting enough. But just that experience of wow, this is what it feels like to be malnourished even just for a couple days.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: And realizing that I think a lot of people don’t realize that they’re not eating enough and then they think their symptoms are something else. It’s just crazy, I feel like if I didn’t know that this was food, I’d be like what’s wrong with me? Am I getting Alzheimer’s or something?
Kelsey: Right. Like you pointed out that you eat a meal and you feel like bloated, and I think people feel that same thing where they eat a high volume of food and they like at least literally their stomach is full, but they’re still kind of hungry at the same time, and they don’t feel good because their body isn’t giving them hunger signals necessarily, but their body is telling them in other ways, like you need more food. You get that brain fog, you get headaches, you get memory issues, you have all sorts of other symptoms of your body telling you that there’s a problem going on. But people have a hard time picking up those signals because it doesn’t totally kind of equal hunger in their minds, which I understand.
Kelsey: I think it’s a hard thing to put together if you’re not looking out for it. But I totally agree. I think there’s so much that can be done with just eating the right amount and eating a good distribution of macronutrients that works for you and your goals. I think that makes such a big difference for most people, myself included. I feel terrible if I don’t eat what I know my body wants. For me, I eat a fairly high protein diet and I can definitely tell if I don’t get a lot of protein, I really don’t feel good. To me that makes the biggest difference, of course outside of just getting enough calories in general.
Laura: That’s definitely been my struggle the last couple days is I feel like my protein intake is probably cut in half. My poor fiancé is doing this too. When he told me he was going to do it…at first I was like when our church announced that we were doing a group Daniel fast, I’m like, oh no, I’m not doing that. I was just thinking there is no way I am going to be able to function. Then my fiancé told me he was going to do it and I’m like, oh man!
Laura: I’m like okay, I have to do it because every time we talk on the phone he’s going to be like starving and I’m going to be not starving.
Laura: I feel like we need to be in this together, so I decided to do it. It’s just so funny because he’s such a Midwestern meat and potatoes kind of guy, lives on a pig farm where they sell the pigs for meat and everything. I’m just like cracking up as he’s explaining to me what he’s buying from, I think he went to Walmart or one of his local grocery stores to get his food. He’s like, I was looking for organic things and I got these vegan microwavable bowls. And I’m like, how many calories are in that, like 300 or something? He said, almost, like 290.
Kelsey: Oh my God.
Laura: Yeah. I’m like, babe, you really have to eat more than that. You’re literally going to waste away. He’s 6’4” and I’ve done his calorie needs before because he was going to be training for a track and field event, and he needs somewhere between 3 and 4,000 calories a day.
Laura: I’m like, oh my God. Honestly, I’m really curious to see how he handles this period of time. I know we both said if it starts to become a problem, we’ll quit. It makes me really glad I’m not vegetarian or vegan because I really just have no idea how I would function. It makes me really, really miss meat and I’m going to be really excited when I start eating it again.
Kelsey: Yeah, no kidding. Are you training while you’re doing this?
Laura: I mean I only train twice a week and I did get some vegan protein powder to use to make sure I’m not totally dying. But the one upside is I am using a lot of carbs so I feel like I have okay energy during the workout.
Laura: I ate breakfast and I’m already hungry, and I ate breakfast like 40 minutes ago. Yeah, it’s an interesting experience.
Kelsey: Sounds like a lot of fun.
Laura: I need to give the caveat that I’m not doing this for health or even weight loss. I mean I think I actually have gained like two pounds since doing it, probably like stress water retention or something. Doing this diet I don’t really feel like it’s something I would condone. So when I have clients that are wanting to be vegetarian, vegan that I question whether they’re going to get good health results from that. And of course it is probably related to what I’m used to. I’m sure if I was used to a low protein diet, this change wouldn’t be as difficult.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: The other challenge is that you’re not allowed to have any other beverages other than water. I guess they let you do nut milk or something and smoothies, but I think I’m having some caffeine withdrawal.
Kelsey: Oh yeah.
Laura: Because I wasn’t doing a lot of coffee, but I was having tea every day. I’ve tried to cut that out and I’m just like having headaches. It’s just like my body is like, what are you doing to me?
Kelsey: You’re torturing me!
Laura: I know. We’ll see how it goes in the next couple days. Like I said, if I really can’t function, I might have to quit. But we’ll see. Maybe I’ll get past the first couple days and then I’ll be like running on fumes or something. We’ll see.
Kelsey: Yeah. Well, interesting experiment. It certainly gives you some insight into what other people might be feeling when they’re eating this way and just not fueling appropriately.
Laura: I think just to be clear about the reason that I’m doing it…and everyone in the church is supposed to come up with their own reason for why they’re doing it and how it’s going to improve their relationship with God. For me, I realized that I am very intolerant of discomfort.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: If I’m just mildly hungry or if I have a little bit of a headache, I’m like pissed off about it. I’m like, no, this isn’t okay, I need to fix this. Even though I know what I can do to fix it, like I can just go pull some meat out of the fridge and eat that and I’d be better, I think it’s interesting learning how to deal with discomfort and not let it totally tank my mood. Like I said, I feel like I get very cranky if things aren’t exactly the way that I want them. I’m learning how to be content even when I’m uncomfortable. That’s what I’m telling myself for this experience.
Kelsey: Got it.
Laura: We’ll see how I feel next time we’re on the call. I’ll be like, no, this sucks! I hate this!
Kelsey: Well, best of luck.
Laura: Thanks. Actually I feel like this is a good segue into what we’re going to be talking about today. But before we get into our question, let’s hear a word from our sponsor:
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Laura: Alright. Our question for today is this:
“Hello. Thanks for your great show.”
Laura: You are welcome.
“What recommendations would you give for women on weight loss? What would be a safe and effective way? How do I know if there’s something else going on that needs to be taken care of that’s preventing me from losing weight? I’m specifically interested in losing visceral fat and really want to do it the healthy way.
Also, I have a history of amenorrhea, but I have now had a regular period for about a year. At what point is it safe to try to lose weight and how should one take into account a history of amenorrhea? Mine was mostly due to stress, but some weight fluctuations in training a lot probably affected it as well. I know I’m at a pretty low stress state. I’m not trying to lose a lot of weight, maybe 10 pounds at most.”
Kelsey: Alright. I love this question. This has a lot of really good questions in here. I think it probably makes sense to start with her question about how do I know if I’m ready to lose a weight? Because I think this is a question that not enough people ask and it’s really, really important that you ask that question.
She’s given this history of amenorrhea, but she says that she’s had a regular period for a year now, which is great. I would say that’s one check in the direction of being ready to lose weight. She doesn’t give us any information about her current height or weight. But if I was working with her as a client, I would certainly do some calculations to see where she is BMI wise. I just want to make sure this 10 pound weight loss that she’s aiming for is reasonable given her current weight.
When I calculate somebody’s BMI, if they’re well within that healthy range, anywhere from…it depends on sort of how somebody is composed too, but I would say anywhere from 18 to the mid-20s. Once you start getting toward the higher end of that BMI range, I think I can make sense to lose a little bit of weight or just kind of deal with body composition if you’re just not happy with how you look, or if you’ve gained a significant amount of weight to get to that higher end of the BMI and you’ve always kind of been lower on that scale. BMI is not perfect of course, but I do think that it gives you at least a sense of where somebody lies in whether or not however much weight they’re intending to lose makes sense for them. Would you say that’s true, Laura?
Laura: Yeah, with BMI I would say as long as the weight lost isn’t going to drop them into the underweight BMI category, so that’s 18.5 or less, I would feel fine with it assuming it’s not…there’s a lot of body image stuff that I like to work on with my clients. Sometimes that ten pounds even if it didn’t make them physically unhealthy, it might make them mentally unhealthy. Knowing that if they’re in a safe weight range to lose weight is definitely a first checkpoint that I want to hit. Even if they’re mentally fine, if they’re at a BMI of 19 and they want to lose 10 pounds, I’ll probably not really support the actual weight loss.
Laura: But like you said, maybe focus more on body composition, and building muscle, and maybe feeling more fit as opposed to actual losing any pounds on the scale.
Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Once I’ve kind of determined whether or not weight loss in general makes sense, then I would kind of check into other body systems to see how they’re doing, how they’re functioning. One of the ones I would look at for a woman would be her periods. Is she menstruating regularly? How long has she been doing that? Is there a history of any amenorrhea? Obviously this person like we were talking about before has a history of amenorrhea, but she’s had a regular period for a year. In my eyes, I would say that’s good enough for me in terms of periods to say okay, you’re probably ready to lose some weight.
But I’d also check in on the other body systems. How is her stress level? She says she’s in a low stress state. I would of course check in with her a little bit further on that if we’re having a conversation about it, but I’m going to take her at her word here. It sounds like obviously she does not have a lot of stress going on. Again, a little check mark there too.
Then I’d see how she’s sleeping. She doesn’t give us any indication of whether she’s sleeping well here. But let’s say she’s sleeping well, she’s getting enough sleep, and she’s not having disrupted sleep at all, then I’d give that another check mark as well.
Then I would check in on exercise. Is she exercising regularly? We don’t know from what she’s told us, so it sounds like there was a lot of training in her history. I’d want to make sure that if she is training currently that it’s an adequate amount but not too much. Not enough that it’s going to cause excessive stress on her body and not be useful to her goals and her health. I would check in on that.
I’d also check in on how much muscle she has. Laura just mentioned if somebody is within a normal BMI range and they want to drop an amount of pounds that would put them below a normal BMI, I would not support that because that’s not necessarily healthy of course to go below a normal BMI. But I would check in with how much muscle they have. Sometimes people can feel like they are…I think the term is skinny fat where you’re within that normal BMI range, but you don’t have a lot of muscle so you don’t feel like you’re “toned” or “fit,” those kind of descriptors where I think people just generally think of somebody having a little more muscle, a little less body fat so they look different than somebody who doesn’t have a lot of muscle and has more body fat on kind of the same amount of weight. I think that’s a good place to look if this person was within a normal healthy BMI and losing 10 pounds would put her below that.
Let’s just say that she’s totally within a normal healthy BMI, her 10 pound weight loss that she’s aiming for is going to keep her within a healthy BMI, she is sleeping well, her stress levels are good, obviously she has had a regular period for the last year, so everything looks good. And she’s exercising a good amount but not an amount that is going to be unhealthy for her in any way. From there we could definitely move into weight loss of course. But is there anything else, Laura, that you would add that you kind of check on to make sure if anybody is ready to lose weight?
Laura: Yeah, I would say making sure that their diet isn’t already pretty low calorie right now. It’s funny with the experience I’m having, I feel like a lot of the symptoms I’m experiencing are ones I would be looking for in a client to say that they’re not ready to do any sort of calorie restriction. If they’re tired all the time, if they have sugar cravings, brain fog, any of these symptoms that are indicating that they’re not getting enough food or enough nourishment to really function well.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: That may have nothing to do with whether they lose weight or not because I think you can still lose weight while still eating in a way that supports your mood, and your brain function, and your energy. But if they’re already kind of in that state, I would probably want to focus on getting those symptoms dealt with before weight loss is going to happen. I know that kind of has to do with a lot of things like, has she been on a diet for a long time? She sounds like she’s not stressed. Some people just eat less when they’re stressed.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: I know I’ve been there before when I’ve been under a lot of stress, I sometimes forget to eat. It’s just if somebody is going to lose weight, I want to make sure that the things that are going to help them lose weight aren’t going to make them feel worse, if that makes sense.
Laura: If we know that a calorie deficit is required for weight loss, but the person is already kind of under eating and not feeling well on the amount of calories they’re getting, I’d rather spend some time doing a re-feed process where we’re getting them feeling really good on the amount of food they’re eating and exercising appropriately. And then eventually once that’s stabilized, then we can talk about calorie restriction.
Kelsey: Yeah. Usually if somebody’s under eating fairly significantly and they’re not feeling well as a result of it, typically increasing their calories and doing that re-feed process you were talking about, I find at least that most people when they start to feel better, they’re doing more movement. Obviously increasing your calories is going to help increase your metabolism, but they’re also just tending to do more movement throughout the day because they actually have energy now.
I think that that’s definitely a good thing to think about. If you are under eating, you certainly need to pay attention to that. If you’re not sure if you’re under eating, really go see somebody and make sure you’re eating enough before you start to dive into this weight loss process because if you just continually cut calories, and cut calories, and cut calories, your metabolism is just going to kind of get messed up. It’s not going to be a fun process to lose weight at all because you’re just going to end up eating less and less amounts of calories and it’s going to kind of be miserable.
Laura: Then also as soon as you start eating normally again, you’re going to gain weight.
Kelsey: Right, yes. That’s a good point to mention.
Laura: This kind of I think is a good transition into something that I know this definitely affected my ability to lose weight in the last year. I’m trying to think, I guess in the last year I probably lost probably around 15 pounds, that’s probably the average. For me, it was all kind of at once after I’d been training for at least 6 to 8 months consistently. If this person hasn’t been training or if they don’t have a lot of muscle mass like you were saying a few minutes ago, increasing muscle mass in the short term may not help with weight loss, but it could actually help with long term weight loss as it affects your metabolic rate in general. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even just sitting around.
That’s something that a lot of my clients sometimes struggle to accept that in their weight loss journey they may need to maintain their weight for a while while they’re building muscle and eating to grow muscle as opposed to lose weight. But I found for myself that that process of basically eating to promote good athletic performance, and strength building, and muscle growth for at least six to eight months, and then there was a period of time where it wasn’t on purpose actually, but I wasn’t eating a lot because of stress and that kind of stuff, and I lost a lot of weight all at once. Luckily I’ve been able to maintain it even though I’m eating…well, with the exception of the last three days, I’m eating normally now.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: I think that process of building muscle, if she hasn’t already done it, it’s a really good place to start and it has nothing to do with dieting or even changing your diet at all other than just making sure you’re supporting your exercise levels.
Kelsey: Yeah. Like you said, I think that can just make weight loss a lot easier for people because like you said, it increases your metabolic rate, and I just think because it makes it so much easier, you can eat more calories while still on a deficit when your metabolic rate is higher. It just makes the whole process of weight loss so much easier for people and it improves your body composition, just the way that you tend to look.
People are going to…in general I’d say, they kind of like the look of somebody who is a little bit more muscular with less body fat. That tends to be the kind of people who come to me wanting to lose weight in the first place. Sometimes they go through this process of doing some weight training, putting on muscle, and then they are like, I don’t even need to lose weight because I really actually like the way that my body looks now, I feel strong, I feel healthy. That weight loss goal actually just disappears.
But for people who have maybe a little bit more weight to lose, building up that muscle will help to kind of make you feel better in the meantime because you’re going to feel stronger, a lot of times it makes people feel healthier in general. Like I said, it’s going to make that deficit that you’re going to need to be on to lose extra body fat much easier.
This is a process that I’ve actually been working on personally. Laura, you said you went through this in the last year. I’ve been weight training very consistently now for I think it’s about seven months, somewhere between six and eight. I think it’s about seven. I’ve been maintaining my weight up until the last maybe three or four weeks at this point. But I finally am feeling like I’m at a point where I have a decent amount of muscle mass. I have gained a lot of muscle in the last six or seven months. I finally feel like my metabolism is high enough that if I’m going to cut calories a little bit to be in a deficit, it’s not going to be horrible for me because I just get cranky when I can’t eat a lot. I don’t like that feeling of having to feel like I’m really restricted just in the overall amount of food that I get to eat. While right now I am on a deficit of calories, it doesn’t feel so miserable that I can’t continue it, if that makes sense.
Laura: Yeah. For me I feel like the eating to maintain and support the amount of activity I was doing for that 6 months, I feel like really set me up for being able to lose weight. My weight had been fluctuating a lot between college, and grad school, and starting work, and all that. Even though I was exercising a decent amount and trying to eat well, I didn’t really see a lot of change. I was just like, oh whatever, I’m just going to eat to support the weight lifting now and get really strong and all that. It’s funny because a lot of the PRs I had hit last year for certain strength movements like deadlifts, squats, that kind of stuff, I think my deadlift is the main lift at this point that I haven’t recovered my strength from. During the weight loss process I also lost a lot of strength which is something that people don’t always enjoy seeing, but they have to kind of get ready for that, that if you are going to lose weight, you probably are going to lose some muscle mass. It’s very hard to lose weight without losing any muscle at all. There’s ways to minimize that muscle loss. But it was just funny because I remember I think my deadlift max when I was at my strongest, and this was like I was 10 15 pounds heavier at this point, was I think 250. Now I can barely do 220, which is fine. I don’t really care. I’m not competing or anything so the number doesn’t really matter.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: But I remember it cut 30 to 50 pounds off my deadlift strength losing 10 to 15 pounds. If you’re someone who has performance goals, this might be something that you want to keep in mind that if you’re going to try to cut calories and lose either weight or body fat, that you might see a difference in performance, which again isn’t a problem if that’s okay with you, if that’s a tradeoff you’re willing to accept. For me, some of my other lifts, like I said my squat, my bench press, those are basically back up to where they were. I think my bench press actually is higher now than it was. I can do more chin-ups now because I have less weight to pull up.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: There are some things that have improved. But I don’t know if I would have been able to lose weight if I had gone straight into the low calorie consumption and training at that level.
Laura: I really like the setup process that it sounds like you’ve been doing that last 6 months or so. You said the last couple weeks you’ve been doing the calorie cut?
Kelsey: Yeah. Well, I had started it before Christmas and then I was like why did I do that? It’s Christmas, what am I doing? I basically started and then stopped it for a while for a couple weeks just around the Christmas holiday when I wasn’t home and it’s just harder to kind of keep track of calories. I just didn’t want to worry about it at that point. I started when I got back a little bit after the New Year. I guess since then it hasn’t been too, too long and I think I’ve maybe lost 3 pounds since then.
Laura: Since Christmas?
Laura: Oh, okay. So it’s like a pound a week?
Kelsey: Yeah, which is kind of what I’m aiming for.
Laura: I was going to say that’s about as fast as I would want to reasonably aim for.
Kelsey: Yeah, exactly. I’m trying to not lose a ton of strength in the process so I’m willing to trade off a slower weight loss for that. For me I would say that’s probably a fairly fast weight loss given how much I need to lose overall. I probably am the same as this person. I think given the extra muscle that I have now, I probably only really want to lose like 10 pounds. Muscle weighs more than fat, which I’m sure many of our listeners know. Given that I have a lot more muscle now than when I started that I was maintaining my weight that whole time, I probably lost some body fat in that process of maintaining my weight.
I think my original goal was probably about 15 pounds to get back to what is a more normal weight for me. I had gained some weight dealing with mold illness and you guys probably know all of my unfortunate health issues over the last year or so. That caused me to put on some weight that I didn’t mean to at all. I was just not focused, that was not my focus at all basically. To get back to what my normal weight is, it would be about 15 pounds. But I think with the addition of the muscle that I have now, probably 10 pounds is more accurate. Yeah, a pound a week is probably even potentially too fast. My goal is to kind of see how this plays out over the next maybe two weeks and possibly even increase my calories a little bit further, or not further, I guess increase my calories from what my deficit is now to see if that works out a little better for me.
Laura: I feel like we could talk a little bit about the calorie reduction process because I think there are ways to make that less problematic or less impactful on your muscle mass or your strength. Because at the end of the day like we said, you do need to be in somewhat of a calorie deficit if you’re going to lose weight. My hope is that a calorie deficit could be around 1800-2000 calories a day for someone as opposed to the 1200 calories a day that everyone says that they have to be in to lose weight.
Laura: We want you to be in a sustainable and safe calorie deficit. Of course this is assuming that you should be doing any sort of calorie deficit, or you don’t have any history of disordered eating. Or if there’s signs that you already are under eating, you don’t want to be cutting out more calories. This is really for someone who has been eating to maintain their weight for a while, feels good, is exercising regularly, is building muscle and they want to then focus on fat loss.
What I would say is if you are doing a calorie deficit, it is really helpful to have a high protein intake. High proteins diets in general have been shown to be the most effective for weight loss regardless of your carb and fat intake. Some people will lose fat better on a low carb diet, others lose better on a low fat diet. But I think the research is pretty consistent showing that in either of those cases, you should have higher protein to maintain your muscle while you’re losing body fat.
Like I said, you probably will lose a little bit of muscle during a weight loss diet just because if you’re in a calorie deficit, that’s just what happens. It’s very difficult to not lose any muscle. But you can really minimize that muscle loss by having a higher protein diet. I recommend 0.8 grams per pound of current weight or 1 gram per pound of lean mass. What that means is if we don’t know what somebody’s body fat is because a lot of these body fat measuring tools are not really accurate. I know my scale has a body fat measurement on it and it tells me that I’m 33% body fat and I’m like, I don’t think that’s true.
Laura: When I got a DEXA scan, I think, was it 2 years ago? Gosh, I don’t even remember. I can’t remember when I got this DEXA scan done, but it was right when I was just starting my training and I think it said that I was 29% body fat. Like I said, I was 20 pounds heavier at that point.
Laura: I’m pretty sure that I haven’t gained 4% body fat after losing that much weight. I don’t really think there’s a lot of accurate ways to measure body fat percentage. For a lot of people I just use that 0.8 grams per pound of current weight to assume they’re at least 20% body fat. If somebody is significantly overweight, I might drop that to 0.7 grams per pound.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: What I’ve found when I convert that into a percentage of calories is that normally tends to be somewhere 20% to 30% of calories. About 25% of calories on an actual deficit is usually where I’m seeing that number hit. If somebody say needs an 1800 calorie a day diet to lose weight, then that would be 112.5 grams of protein per day. If that person was thinking about if they were using that 0.8 per pound of current weight, that could be a woman that’s like 140 pounds. It usually ends up working out pretty well. I don’t know if there’s any better way to do it, either the grams per pound of body weight or percentage of calories. Percentage of calories tends to be easier to track if you’re using something like MyFitnessPal since that’s how they track calorie and macronutrient guidelines. But like I said, I think an average of 25% of calories from protein is going to be a really good amount to keep you from being too hungry, keep you from losing muscle. It just makes dieting easier if you’re eating a lot of protein. That’s one way to keep your calorie deficit from causing too many problems.
Then the carb and fat question I think is really interesting because a lot of research that’s come out in the last few years has really shown that’s there’s no advantage to either a low carb or a low fat diet. I think at the end of the day, the main thing that’s going to impact somebody’s ability to lose weight is that their calories are less than what their burning, which I know can be a little bit controversial in the Paleo community because people will say calories don’t count. Yeah, food quality matters and I think food quality really matters for how you feel when you’re dieting. If you you’re on a calorie deficit and you’re eating lots of good protein, animal proteins, lots of vegetables, starches that are from starchy plants, that kind of thing, you’re going to feel a lot better than if you’re eating 1800 calories of “Lean Cuisine” meals or something, or doing a vegan fast like I’m doing which is making me miserable. I just feel like the low fat, low carb question, there’s no evidence that either of those is better.
I would say that for most people they can kind of go with whatever they prefer, like what they like to eat, or if you feel that you have specific type of metabolic preference. I know I’ve experimented with both and I feel a lot better on a higher carb diet. If I’m going to be cutting calories, a lot of times that’s going to come from reducing my fat intake. The reason I like the higher carb approach is because I get way more volume of food so I can eat lots of plant foods, lots of fruit, lots of starchy plants like sweet potatoes and plantains and that kind of thing. I also feel like my energy is better in my workouts when I’m eating high carb. There is some research that I’ve seen that supports the idea that if you’re over eating on calories, then over eating carbs has less of a body fat impact than over eating on fat just because carbs don’t get converted as easily into fat as fat would because fat doesn’t need to be converted to be stored as fat.
But like I said, at the end of the day I think whatever somebody feels like they can stick to is going to be the most important factor. If that’s low carb, if that’s low fat, if that’s a mix of both but you’re just being very good about portion sizing, it really doesn’t matter. I think people should just experiment with whatever option they want to try out first and see how that goes with the caveat that if you’re doing a lot of high intensity exercise like heavy duty weight training, high intensity interval training, sprints, that kind of stuff, you may feel better on higher carb diet. If you’re doing lots of walking or yoga, or jogging, stuff that’s a little bit more low intensity cardiovascular type stuff, then a low carb may work well for you. Those are just things to think about. Anything to add there?
Kelsey: Yeah. I was just going to add that for me I tend to like, I guess I would say it’s a mix, a more a balanced kind of thing, but slightly preferring carbs over fat. That’s something that I think can change too as you maybe change the way you’re working out. I think that for me, I started at a certain point with my macro ratios and then I tweaked them over time to find what really worked for me and what I could stick to. Because one of the things that I realized very quickly, I actually had put a higher percentage of my calories coming from carbs and less from fat originally, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t even that I felt like I needed to eat the fat, but it just was something I was in the habit of doing and it was hard for me to change that habit at that time. I was like, whatever, I’m just going to move a little bit of those calories from carbohydrates to fat. It’s going to be a little bit more balanced. I’ll just have to pay, like you said, a little bit more closer attention to portion sizes for both of those things. But that’s actually been working out quite well because I don’t feel like I need to restrict either of them necessarily and I just have to make sure I’m eating a portion that makes sense given my overall goals.
Laura: Mm hmm. Yeah, I think with the carb versus fat thing, there’s definitely if you go too low carb or too low fat, there’s problems that can come up. I would say the too low fat tends to be more of a problem than too low carb.
Laura: In general, you have some basic fat needs to feel good and to be able to function normally. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will feel good doing very low carb. Like I said, if you’re doing certain types of exercise, a really low carb ketogenic type diet may not really support your performance or may cause you to not recover super well.
Like Kelsey was saying, if you wanted to do more of a mix where you’re kind of doing neither low carb nor low fat, then portion control is going to be something that you need to focus on. It’s not that you don’t need to focus on portion control with a low carb or a low fat diet, it’s just you have a lot more wiggle room because it’s really hard to over eat on just fat or just carbs I would say.
Laura: Overeating is much easier when carbs and fat are put together. Even if you’re eating kind of ad libitum, which just means as much as you want of either low fat/high protein, or a low carb/high protein diet, it is difficult to overeat on that kind of meal plan because of the lower palatability of the either lower carb or lower fat foods.
Laura: Now some people will say low carb is much more palatable than low fat. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think everyone has got their own preferences. Basically if you just think about eating pure fat, it’s not super appetizing. Or if you think about eating a meal that has no fat in it, it’s not super appetizing. But if you think about adding fat to your carbs to make them taste really good, you can see how it could be a lot easier to eat a lot of volume.
Kelsey: For sure.
Laura: But if that’s how you prefer to eat from a flavor perspective, then just doing what Kelsey is doing in making sure you’re tracking your intake, and measuring portion sizes, and that kind of thing at least until you feel good about the amount you’re eating just estimating stuff, that’s going to be really important.
I think just the take home message there is that you can do any sort of carb and fat ratio that you want and still lose weight, but if you’re eating high protein it’ll help with any sort of issues that might come up from calorie restriction. The carb and fat question is just what do you prefer and what supports your preferred exercise technique.
Kelsey: Should we talk a little bit about how to calculate the calories that you should be on at a deficit so that we can maybe then talk a little bit more about that protein need and how that fits in? You had done that example of an 1800 calorie deficit and how much protein comes from that.
Laura: Not an 1800 calorie deficit, the 1800 calorie intake, which might be like a 300-500 calorie deficit.
Kelsey: Sorry, that’s what I meant.
Laura: Just wanted to make sure. We are not supporting an 1800 calorie deficit.
Kelsey: I meant deficit as in the diet overall. But, yes. Okay. We’ll walk you through a little bit of the calculations that we do to come up with these numbers for the people that we’re working with. There are a number of ways that you can do this to get probably close to the same amount that we’ll get at the end of this today. But this is a really easy way to do it so we’ll share that with you.
For me, when I’m working with somebody who wants to lose weight and we’ve gone through all those questions about if they’re ready to lose weight, if losing weight is appropriate, all that, from there I’ll take their current body weight and I kind of play around with these numbers depending on the person a little bit. But in general I would say I tend to do…I multiply their current bodyweight by 12 for women and by either 13 or 14 for men. And then from there, we add 100 calories for every 10 minutes of moderate exercise that the person is doing. Personally, I like to average it out over the week to give somebody a calorie level that should aim for every day that’s the same. But if somebody wants to eat more on days that they’re working out and less on days that they’re not, we can do it that way too. It really just depends on what you prefer. But I’ll walk you guys through an example where we’re going to average it out so that you get one calorie level that you’re going to eat every day of the week.
To do that, let’s say we have a woman and she’s 150 pounds. She does 60 minutes of lifting 3 times a week. I would multiply her weight, which is 150 pounds, by 12 which gives us 1800. Then I would multiply that by 7 to get the week’s worth of calories. That’s going to be 12,600. Then I multiply 6, which she’s doing 60 minutes of working out, so like I said before, 100 calories for every 10 minutes. We’re going to multiply 6 by 100 to get how many calories she’s going to add for her exercise sessions. Then since she’s doing it 3 times a week, I multiply that by 3. That’s 600, which is the 6 times 100, times 3 is 1800. Then I add 1800 to the weekly total of calories that we got before, that 12,600, to get 14,400. Then I just divide that by 7, the number of days in a week, to get the daily maintenance calories of about 2,057 calories.
That’s how you determine somebody’s maintenance needs. I could do anywhere from multiply her body weight by 12 to 14 to get those maintenance needs. There’s obviously a bit of fluctuation there that can happen. The other way to determine what your maintenance needs are is to just track your calories if you’re maintaining your weight. I find that that can be a little tricky because sometimes people are under eating and they’re still maintaining their weight because of other reasons. I like to actually do these calculations for people. And then if they’re eating lot lower below that but maintaining their weight, to me there’s something else going on that we need to address before that person can lose weight.
We’ll say that this person’s maintenance calories are about 2,057. If everything else is under control, like I said, they’re ready to lose weight, then we want to decide how much of a cut in calories makes sense for them. I usually start anywhere from about 10% to 20% of calories as a deficit depending on what the person’s goals are, and how much weight they have to lose, etc. We’ll take 15% here in this case. 15% of 2,057 is about 310 calories. We just then subtract those 310 calories from about 2,060 which is the overall maintenance calories. That leaves us with about 1,750 calories as a daily goal for a 15% caloric deficit.
Then from there like I was talking about how I’m doing this currently, you start at that level. I’d have this person start at 1,750 and do that for a few weeks, see how much they’re losing. If they’re losing too fast, I would then increase that a little bit to make sure they’re not losing a lot of muscle mass as they’re going through this weight loss process because that’s what happens if you lose weight too quickly is you actually lose muscle along with your fat. We want to try to maintain as much muscle mass as possible while losing as much body fat as possible. You kind of have to find that sweet spot. Depending on how much weight you have to lose, that can be anywhere from ½ pound a week to if you’re very overweight sometimes even up to 2 pounds a week. Would you say that’s accurate, Laura?
Laura: Yeah, definitely.
Kelsey: If you have 10 pounds to lose like this woman who sent in this question, probably 1 pound a week is fine. If you want to do it even slower, if she’s doing a lot of weight lifting and she wants to really maintain her strength during that time, you can do it slower than that, maybe ¾ of a pound a week or even ½ pound a week if she’s okay with that. It depends on the person’s goals, if they’re okay with losing some of their strength in the process of losing weight, or they want to maintain as much as possible. You have to kind of decide that for yourself. Really, honestly, slower is better in most cases. But if you have a lot of weight to lose, it’s okay to lose up to 2 pounds a week because you just have more body fat to lose and it doesn’t have as much of a negative impact to lose that much that quickly.
Laura: Yeah. With the calorie estimation, there’s a million different ways to do it and I think a lot of the estimates come around the same number. I know the USDA has a little app that’s called “The Bodyweight Planner” that you can use to estimate what your calorie needs would be for weight loss and then weight maintenance. I just did kind of I guess an estimate based on you said it was 150 pound woman. I just make her 30 years old and 5’ 7” and I put her goal weight at 135 to reach that goal in 100 days, which is about a pound a week. Then I estimated her activity level to be sedentary at work and then active during the week, so 3 times of weight training a week is what we would consider active. Their estimate was that to maintain her weight, it should be about 2,400 calories. To reach the goal of 135 in 100 days, that it’s 1,826. Then to maintain 135 pounds, that would be 2,250. I think the weight loss calorie amount definitely got pretty close.
Laura: Only about 70 calories off. That shouldn’t make a huge difference. I think the hardest part here is when you’re estimating activity level, it can really make a big difference. If I make it moderate activity, that drops her estimated calorie needs down to 2,296 and her weight loss calories down to 1,696. You can see how just a little bit of a difference in physical activity estimates can affect that number. I tend to estimate a little up, and then like you were saying, you can always cut down if you’re not seeing weight loss. But I would think at 1,700-1,800 calories, a person in that situation should lose weight.
Laura: But I think it’s just important to remember that there are lots of different ways to estimate your calorie needs. None of them are going to be perfect and none of them are going to give you exactly what your calorie burn is. On the days that you’re training, you’re probably going to burn 500-600 calories for that day more than you would burn if you weren’t active. I know for me I only train twice a week, so the days that I’m exercising are a lot higher than my other days during week. But it averages out and I think those days that I do work out, I’m again focusing on building muscle so overall my metabolic rate will be higher even on those days that I’m not active.
Long story short, figuring out your exact calorie needs is not a perfect science. It’s not even close to a perfect science. But I think having a good idea of where to start and then realizing that you can experiment up and down if you feel like either you’re not losing weight at that level or if you don’t feel well even if you are losing weight, you might want to eat a little bit more just so you feel good while you can still lose weight, maybe not as fast though. There are a lot of different ways to figure it out. That’s kind of the take home point of that discussion.
Kelsey: Yeah. I think if you’re really confused by that too, if you do a bunch of these calculations and you’re like I don’t know if any of these are right, just start with something. You can always just monitor your weight as you track your calories and make sure that you’re sticking to whatever target you’re aiming for. If you’re not losing weight, you can cut it down a little bit further or if you’re losing too fast, you bump it up a little bit.
It’s really just an experimentation process and that’s exactly what Laura and I walk our clients through. We do these calculations and we’ve seen a bunch of different people do this process. Sometimes I’ll get a calculation back from “Bodyweight Planner” or one of these calculations that I’m just doing by hand, and I’m like hmm, I don’t know. I just have a feeling that this person is going to need a little bit more or a little bit less just from the other clients that I’ve worked with that have been like this person. That’s the clinical experience that goes into this. But at the end of the day, if you just start somewhere and then tweak it from there, you’re going to end up in the right place. It just may take you a little bit longer to get there, but that’s okay. You just really need to start and see what your body does.
Laura: I think that’s a good reason to potentially work with someone because like you were saying, a lot of this knowledge of what’s reasonable does come from working with other people and having that education to decide what sounds like a normal estimate. Because I think with the way that our culture talks about weight loss, and calories, and all that, like I said a lot of times most women think 1,200 is the number that they’re supposed to follow just because Women’s Health Magazine always has it on their front cover or something like that.
Laura: I don’t know if I’ve ever had a client that I thought 1,200 calories was enough food for them.
Laura: It’s one of those things where it’s like if you do these calculations and you find out that 2,000 calories is what you need to lose weight, you might be like there’s no way and I’m going to eat 1,600 instead. Whereas if you’re working with someone, they can be more objective and say no, that actually is accurate based on how active you are and if you’re eating less than that, it’s going to really negatively impact your metabolic rate. Just remembering that these numbers, yes, they‘re helpful and you can usually get pretty close to what you’re estimate should be, but you may have some subjectivity in your decision making process about how much you’re going to eat and that could impact your results. Working with someone to help figure out exactly what you should be doing, and committing to that, and not freaking out because you’re like, there’s no way I can eat 2000 calories and still lose weight! I think it’s helpful to have somebody guiding you and being the objective voice in that situation.
Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. I would say too I have definitely have had people come to me and they’ve been on a weight loss journey for a long time and they’ve been consistently trying to lose weight over let’s say like a year period if they have a lot of weigh to lose. One thing that I like to do with my clients is go through cycles of weight loss and maintenance if they have a lot to lose. I think that this just helps the weight loss process to just be easier. It helps maintain strength if that’s a goal too. It helps to maintain muscle mass rather than just continuously being on a deficit of some kind for a year plus.
Personally, I like to kind of keep the weight loss cycles to about three months, and then maybe like a month on a maintenance caloric level, and then jump back into a deficit again. Then as we do that, if somebody has a lot of weight to lose, we may need to recalculate their needs every once in a while because as you lose weight, your needs are going to change because you don’t have as much weight to fuel essentially. If you lost 50 pounds, you should probably redo your needs because it is going to change how much you actually need to eat based on how much you weigh currently.
But in general, I would say if you have a lot of weight to lose and it’s going to take you more than three months to do so, give your body a break every once in a while from losing weight and just maintain for a month or so, and then you can jump back in. It’s just going to, like I said, maintain your muscle mass, help you to not lose that preciously earned muscle as you lose body fat, and it’s just going to make it a lot more tolerable for a lot of people as well.
Laura: Mm hmm. Definitely. And for somebody who’s got less weight to lose, like this person that’s asking the question, the amount of time you spend in a calorie deficit may be even shorter. Some people will do like a six or eight week calorie deficit and then they’ll be back on a maintenance period to only lose only a couple pounds. I think if you have a lot of weight to lose, being in a calorie deficit for longer is okay. But if you’re really just struggling with those last couple of pounds, then you would want to do short pulses and not necessarily be a in a calorie deficit for months.
Kelsey: Cool. I’m wondering if we have anything else to add here. I think this is hopefully very useful for somebody who is starting on this weight loss journey. In terms of just the lifestyle stuff, I do just want to touch on that. Of course you want to make sure that you’re recovering because weight loss in general, or losing weight I guess I should say, is a stressor. I think in that sense, you need to just pay a little bit more attention to all the other ways that your body can recover, so making sure that you get enough sleep, making sure that your stress levels are low, making sure that you’re not eating at too much of a deficit, like going through these calculations and really making sure that you’re losing weight too quickly, all of those things become even more important than they were before.
If any one of those things is not doing well, you want to jump back into a maintenance diet rather than continue to try to lose weight because you’re going to hit a wall at a certain point. It’s going to be not fun, it’s not going to work as well. You might as well just go back to maintenance until…let’s say work is really crazy and that’s adding a lot stress to your life and you’re not sleeping as great because of that too, just wait until that clears up. Go on a maintenance diet in the meantime and then come back to the weight loss once those things are under control again.
Laura: Definitely. Well I feel like the lifestyle piece like sleep, and stress, and that kind of stuff, we talk about that a lot and there is so much of a role for that in weight loss. But for the practicality piece, I feel like what we discussed today with calorie cutting in your diet, and exercising appropriately I think is a really good, more technical strategy for people who kind of already have a lot of the lifestyle stuff in check. Again, the lifestyle piece may bring you back to that first question where it’s like is this a good time to lose weight.
Laura: Chris Masterjohn has a good article about that. I’ll want to link to that in the show notes. It’s about figuring out what is a good time to lose weight. He had a similar experience as us where he did a weight loss I guess experience on its own as well. He talks about how he figured out that it was the right time for him because he was under a lot of stress with his job, and his post graduate work, and that kind of thing. I’ll link to that in the show notes. But it goes into more of that question of is this a good time to lose weight? It’s not even just about if you’re going to make yourself feel worse or if you’re going to exacerbate those problems going on, it’s also just about is this going to be a successful time to lose weight?
Laura: Just making sure you’re not making it hard on yourself by trying to lose weight during a time that’s also really high stress, or you’re not sleeping well, or there’s things going on that make it more difficult because that can be very challenging and discouraging if it isn’t working.
Kelsey: Absolutely. Well, cool. I mean I think this should be a really, really great start for anybody who is trying to lose weight and is confused or overwhelmed by the process. What I like about this approach is that it does not require any crazy diet changes. I think for a lot people who are probably listening to our podcast, they’ve kind of been at the point where they changed their diet rather significantly a while ago probably and maybe lost some weight because of that, but things stalled or they gained weight back for a variety of reasons and now they’re jumping into it from the point where they’re already eating well. I think this is a good starting place. If you’re already eating good quality foods, and you’re following this ancestral sort of approach, but you’re still not seeing success in weight loss, it’s time to pay attention to your overall caloric intake, what is an appropriate deficit? Are you recovering enough to be able to lose weight?
Hopefully this was helpful if you are in the same position as this person who submitted this question. If you guys have any other questions, feel free to shoot us a message or I guess comment on this blog post with the transcript here and we’ll be happy to answer those. If you have any questions that you would like answered on our podcast, feel free to submit them on our website.
Laura: One last thing I wanted to mention, I actually have a guest post on a website called Girls Gone Strong about this topic, just how to lose body fat and do it in a way that’s healthy. I believe it should publishing two days before this podcast is published. If it is available, we’ll put the link into the show notes. It might give you guys a little more details about some other techniques you can use, but what we talked about today is kind of a big chunk of what I discuss in that article. But I’ll still link to that in the show notes.
Kelsey: Alright. Awesome.
Laura: Well, thanks for joining us everybody and we’ll see you here next week with some interesting and awesome guest interviews.
Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.
Laura: You too, Kelsey.