Ask Monica: Should I Eat More to Burn More?

Q. I started an exercise regime that says I should eat more than I normally do so that my body will burn the calories to lose the weight. The exercises are weight training and cardio and last about 45-60 min per day/ 5 days a week. Is it true that we should to eat more to burn more? I’m have been on the program for 90 days with minimal weight loss.

A.  I wish you’d written about 89 days ago because I’m afraid you’ve been given some bad information.  Simply eating more (or eating more frequently) does not cause your body to burn calories at a faster rate than it otherwise would.

(See also: Metabolism Myths)

Here are a few strategies that may help your body to burn calories at a faster rate–but as you’ll notice, there are some rather significant details that your plan failed to mention:

Eat more protein. Eating more protein can increase the rate at which you burn calories.    The change probably won’t be dramatic enough to result in any noticeable weight loss, however, unless you also decrease the total number of calories you eat.  (For best results, I suggest cutting back on calories from starches.)

For more on the effects of protein on weight loss, please see this episode of my podcast: Protein and Weight Loss.

Build muscle with strength training. Muscle is more metabolically active than other types of tissue. So increasing your muscle mass can help you burn more calories throughout the day.   However, many people imagine this effect to be a lot bigger than it actually is.  Adding a pound of muscle to your body could help you burn at most an extra 30 calories a day.  (Over the course of a year, that would add up to three pounds.)

Avoid very low-calorie diets. There’s one other situation where eating more can increase your metabolic rate. If you’ve been on a very low-calorie diet for an extended period of time, your metabolism may have slowed to compensate.   Eating more will help reset your metabolism at a higher rate–however, you will probably also gain weight.

Eat Less, Move More to Lose Weight

If you’ve been exercising 5 hours a week for 3 months, and your workouts are reasonably challenging, I bet you’ve made some great strides in terms of your fitness and strength.  Count that a success!!  “And even if you’re not losing weight, if you’re losing inches where it counts, don’t change a thing.   If, however, you’re not losing weight OR inches, it might be time to make an adjustment in your food intake–and that adjustment should be to  eat less, not more.

For some advice on how to eat less  without feeling hungry, see this episode of my podcast: How to Eat Less without Feeling Hungry.

5 thoughts on “Ask Monica: Should I Eat More to Burn More?

  1. You might want to add that strength training can obfuscate our true scale weight because the scale weight measures everything – fat, bones, water, salt, muscle. If this person has been doing strength training, why not mention that taking measurements is probably a more effective way to see fat loss? Why predicate this entire article on weight? I’m 12 pounds heavier than my lowest, and I have smaller measurements now than I did then precisely because I strength train. I love your stuff Ms. Reinagel, but we don’t all need to be obsessed with our scale number when there are other ways to show progress and not discourage us or make us seriously change our routines.

    1. That’s a great point! I should have said: “If you’ve lost minimal weight but you’re losing inches where it counts, don’t change a thing. If you’re not losing weight OR inches, it might be time to make an adjustment in your food intake.

    2. The truth is, for the average dieter (the person said they are trying to lose weight), strength training is not going to “obfuscate” the measured amount of fat lost all that much. The average male can only gain 1/2 a pound of muscle a week, while the average female can only gain a 1/4 pound. These numbers are when a person is eating excess calories. A dieter is (hopefully) eating in a caloric deficit, so muscle gain is much harder to achieve because that would require an anabolic state in the skeletal muscles and a catabolic state in the adipocytes simultaneously. Yes, muscle gain while dieting can definitely be done – studies have shown those who weight train while dieting can preserve lean mass while losing fat and even gain a few lbs. of lean mass. However, the amount is usually small.

  2. One time in my life I was consuming less calories than I was burning off via work and the gym. I was losing weight fast, but in an unhealthy way. It was an unsustainable lifestyle, but I wouldn’t say that eating more caused me to burn more calories.

    Granted, all of our physiologies are different, but I could easily tell when I had stopped losing weight when I ate 100 more calories than normal I’m sure this article is targeted towards people who are already living a healthier lifestyle, but this may mislead other readers they don’t have to adjust their eating habits.

    Recently, I’ve been trying to eat lower on the glycemic index. It will steer you to more protein heavy foods and it’ll usually also mean eating less processed foods.

    I agree that eating the appropriate amount of food will keep your metabolism higher partially because your body doesn’t think it’s starving. I agree with C. Jones with emphasis on scale number. If you’re in a strength training program and eating protein there is probably no way that you’re not gaining muscle mass.

    I enjoy your articles, mostly because my friend is a huge fan, but of course I enjoy them equally.

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