I decided to post this here for all my friends to read after typing it up as a very lengthy email to one particular friend. For those who don't know, I started eating more (I went from 1200 cal a day to 2200 cal a day) one month ago, and in these first four weeks I have lost 5 lbs, and 5.75" across my upper body, blasting though a months-long plateau. All without depriving myself!
Everything I know about eating more, I learned from the Eat More to Weigh Less group here at MFP. If you like what you read here, make sure you join the group for some great support!
Okay, hopefully I don't ramble too much here. If anything I say doesn't make sense, they probably explain it better in the link above. Basically, eating more is all about providing your body with the fuel it needs so that its not reluctant to let go of the fat.
There is a bit of math involved to figure out how much fuel your body needs, but I'll provide links to online calculators that will guide you through.
First a little glossary:
BF% = Body Fat Percentage
BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate. This is basically the number of calories your body would burn if you were in a coma.
TDEE = Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is the average number of calories burned by your body per day, based on your average weekly activities. Your full TDEE calories is what you should eat to maintain your current weight.
Cut = The percentage of calories below your TDEE you should be eating to lose weight. This will usually be somewhere between 10% to 15%, MAYBE 20%, but should never be below your BMR.
Metabolic Reset = Eating your full maintenance calories for a period (usually 4 to 6 weeks) to allow your body to repair its metabolism.
Okay. So basically, if you have been eating a very low calorie diet for a sustained amount of time, it can damage your metabolism and slow it down, and cause you to stop losing weight. That is what happened to me eating 1200 calories a day and burning tons of calories running. I was working way too hard and eating way too little to not be losing weight and fat... but I wasn't losing weight or fat!
In my case I felt like my metabolism was damaged enough that I needed to do a metabolic reset. If you haven't been eating very low calories for very long, the metabolic reset step can be skipped, and you can just raise your calorie intake to your "cut" level. A lot of people like the 15% cut. In either case, when you first raise your calories, it is not uncommon to gain a few pounds in the first couple of weeks, but don't panic, it isn't fat, and will melt back off very quickly and then some once your body starts trusting you again. Take some starting measurements as well, because even those who see some gain on the scale at first frequently report inches lost during the same time period. Also, you are going to feel stuffed to the gills and bloated for for the first few days, but your appetite and digestion will catch up within the week. The best part about it is, when you reach your goal weight, you just keep eating your full TDEE, your "diet" was never really a diet, and you don't gain back all the weight!
Watching your macros is a good idea when you start eating more, to make sure you don't add all the calories as carbs! A good ratio that works for most is 40% carbs/ 30% protein/ 30% fat, but that is adjustable to suit you. This ratio leaves plenty of room for some delish carbs. :) I would say a minimum of 25% protein though. Eating plenty of protein helps you avoid losing muscle during the process of losing fat. You can customize your macros when you set your goals in MFP if you don't use the automatic calculator. Also aim for 30g of fiber a day. Watching your sodium will help with any bloat as well (2500 mg a day max is a good goal). If you eat meat, it may not be too difficult for you to hit your protein goal, but since I don't, I've added whey protein shakes to most my days. They are always a great easily absorbed source of protein to use after a workout anyway.
Okay, so now, the math. The first thing you need to do is figure out your body fat percentage. If you have had it professionally measured, that is the absolute most accurate method, but the following calculator will get you close enough. Get out your measuring tape!
Okay, now that you have your BF%, head over here for the rest of your calculating, but see my notes below as you go through it:
Steps 1 through 4 are self explanatory.
Step 5 - choose your activity level based on the average number of hours per week that you exercise. However, if you are on your feet and moving about at work, consider that too, not just your "workouts".
Step 6 - Choose your goal. If you think you need to do a metabolic reset first, choose "gain muscle, lose fat" and it will calculate based on your full TDEE. If you want to start at a cut rate, choose the 5%, 10% or 15% option.
Step 7 - Meals per day. However often you like to eat. It really doesn't matter what time of day you eat your calories though, but i think most people like the 5 to 6 times a day for eating (3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks). This doesn't change your final outcome, it only changes the "per meal" averages that this little calculator suggest for various nutrients. But you'll probably want to just track "per day" in MFP anyway.
Step 8 - Research model - Select Katch-McArdle
Step 8a - Remember that BF% you just calculated? Enter it here.
Step 9 - Zero (If you want to read the instructions for calibrating, click on the little link at step 9... it takes a month to do and is pretty much unnecessary unless you are a serious bodybuilder or something).
Step 10 - Enter Macros - 40% Carb, 30% Protein, 30% Fat. Or whatever you decide you are comfortable with.
Scroll down to your results. It will list your BMR, your TDEE, and your TDEE - Cut (Daily Calories based on goal selected in Step 6) if you selected a cut.
Okay, you've got the numbers...now what? Eat your TDEE-Cut, every single day, regardless of exercise. It already has your average daily exercise figured in and your body will respond well to the consistency. BUT, you do still want to track your exercise, and here is why: You never ever ever want to "net" below your BMR on any given day. So on certain days you may need to eat back a PORTION of your exercise calories, to bring your net back up to your BMR.
eg. Your TDEE-Cut is 1900 calories and your BMR is 1400 calories. You have a great workout and burn 600 calories. 1900-600=1300, 1300<1400, so you need to eat 100 more calories, or a total of 2000 calories for that day, to net your BMR of 1400. You never want to EAT less than your cut value, and you never want to NET less than your BMR.
So most days on MFP, you really only pay attention to the "food calories" not the automatically calculated "calories remaining". However, enter your exercise and watch your net to make sure it doesn't drop below your BMR. Your "Food" section should alway end up around your cut level, and your "net" section should never be below your BMR. Did I repeat that enough times? :)
Okay, now, here is how you modify your goals in MFP to match this new math.
Go to "My Home", click the "Goals" tab. Select "change goals" button. Click "custom" and continue. Change your net calories to your new TDEE or Cut value. Change your fat/protein/carb percentages to your new macro values 30/30/40, change your fiber to 30g, your sodium to 2500 mg. If you aren't already tracking all those things, you may have to add them to your nutrients tracked first.
And that's pretty much it! Sorry its so long... OH, one more thing. If when you submit your completed diary at the end of the day MFP tells you you are going to gain weight, IGNORE IT. :)