Dietitian Guide: How to Eat More to See Sustainable Results

Diet culture and the weight loss industry has projected this message on us for YEARS: “Eat less, workout more, lose stubborn fat. When we don’t see the results that we expect, unqualified health coaches are telling us to work harder INSTEAD of looking at the bigger picture. They proceed to vilify a nutrient and tell you to “cut out sugar, dairy, gluten, ext.”  And what happens, STILL no results. Shocker. As a dietitian guide, I am here to tell you that eating less and exercising more is NOT always the answer.

Basic laws of thermodynamics in physics states that if a person consumes fewer calories than it takes to maintain their body weight, in theory, they should lose weight.

Makes sense, right? However, your biochemistry does not care about “theory.”

From years of coaching thousands of people, I’ve come to learn this. Theory and application are completely contradictory to one another. This is EXACTLY what I teach in the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification Program.  The problem with the theory is that it does not take metabolic adaptation into account. 

A DIETITIAN GUIDE TO METABOLIC ADAPTATION.

What is metabolic adaptation? Metabolic adaptation is a series of reactions that occur in our body to lower our total daily energy expenditure, otherwise known as TDEE. This happens in response to things like chronically dieting, chronic restriction, or chronic undereating over a long period of time. 

With metabolic adaptation, we see a lot of things occur. First, we see a decrease in important hormones that regulate our metabolism and aid in fat loss, which are leptin and our thyroid hormones. Second, we also see an increase in our hunger hormone, which is ghrelin and cortisol, which is released through stress because stress is formed whenever we are chronically dieting or under eating that does put a stressor on our bodies. 

There are 4 major components: 

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): When we chronically diet, our body becomes SUPER efficient at burning fewer calories per pound, so the amount of energy we burn while at rest (or RMR) declines. 
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): This is how many calories your body burns to digest, absorb, and store certain types of foods. If you eat less, you burn fewer calories through TEF, right?
  3. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): We also see fewer calories burned through NEAT. Little movements like fidgeting or moving your hands and feet are considered NEAT. We often tend to do these movements less when we’re eating less, so we see fewer calories burned this way
  4. Overall physical activity: Eating fewer calories can lead to an inadequate source of fuel. Food IS fuel and when we don’t eat enough, we are not able to bring the same intensity into the gym that we would normally be able to with eating a proper amount of calories! Also, as your body gets smaller, it doesn’t require as much fuel and your metabolism ADAPTS to make you more efficient.  

All of these things together make up metabolic adaptation.

So how do we fix this?! Well my friend, this is the dietitian guide to reverse dieting.

Weight loss is not linear.

Before we go into the solution to this situation, I need to set the record straight. If this is you and you have been dieting on calories ranging anywhere from 500-1200 per day for an extended period of time WHILE exercising intensely and NOT seeing results, this has absolutely nothing to do with the following:

  • Gluten
  • Sugar
  • Dairy
  • The evil Carb Fairy
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • The FDA poisoning your food

If you have a nutrition coach that tells you otherwise, please SPRINT in the other direction.

Now that we have that cleared up, what the heck can you do in this situation? Well, the answer is simple. Eat more and do less. 

“Buy Tony, I want to lose weight, not gain it!”

99% of the time, this is the exact reaction that I get when I tell clients that they need to be eating more. They think I’m the crazy one.

Diet culture for YEARS has been telling us to eat less to lose weight, so often times people are in disbelief when ME, the REGISTERED DIETITIAN tells them that they need to be eating more.

Weight loss is not linear. Your body adapts over time to ANY protocol or routine. If you are eating 500kcals per day (I have had clients come to me at this point before), exercising an hour or more per day, and not seeing results, what else can you change?

Eat fewer calories? Exercise twice per day? Stay on the same path and hope for the best?

NO! What you need is a proper reverse or recovery diet. GRADUALLY begin to increase your calories over time and SLOWLY decrease the amount of cardio you are doing. With that being said, this is a case by case basis.

THIS IS ME! A dietitian guide as to what YOU should do next!

First, the most important thing is to find a coach who UNDERSTANDS that you should be INCREASING your intake, not decreasing. In the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification, we teach our students how to implement SUSTAINABLE approaches with their clients through online nutrition counseling in order to bring lifelong success.

Nutrition should not be a one size fits all approach, so here’s a basic dietitian guide to keep in mind during a reverse dieting phase!

1. Mentally prepare yourself to take a break from dieting. You can’t separate physiology from psychology. When it comes to a reverse diet, it is almost more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Diets are not meant to be sustained long term, which is why you need to understand and accept that your body needs a break!  Would you train at maximal intensely year round and expect amazing results? No! The same thing applies to your metabolism my friend.

2. Start off slow. I see so many nutrition coaches eager to get their clients up to a sustainable intake, but the problem lies in throwing too much at someone too fast. Rebound adiposity occurs when there is too much of an increase in calories. More calories at a rapid rate most likely result in an increase in body fat too. How do you combat this? A slow and consistent increase is a key dietitian tool! Starting off slow can also help with any anxiety that may be surrounded by eating more as well!

3. Understand that weight loss is not the goal right now. Although that might be your end goal, it’s always important to take a look at the bigger picture. Have I had some clients initially lose weight with a reverse diet? Yes, but that is usually not the case. I give a perfect example of this here! YOUR goal should be to get your metabolism so efficient at burning fat that when it comes time to diet again, you can lose the amount of body fat you want WITHOUT super low-calorie dieting and excessive cardio. 

The bottom line.

My biggest takeaway message is that no matter what diet you’re thinking of following, you need to prioritize your long-term health first. If you have been chronically restricting calories for a really long time, if you’ve been overdoing it on the cardio, if you’ve been causing your body so much stress, very well may need to begin increasing your calories so that you know that you’re in a healthier place long-term.

Although you might be a bit uncomfortable at first, always remember that in the end, you’re going to be in a healthier place by prioritizing your own health at the forefront.

Sustainability is the name of the game, which is exactly what we teach our students in the Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification. Protocols that are free from restriction and chronic dieting are how we can lead our clients down the path of lifelong success.

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tony@tonystephandietitian.com