So you’ve dieted for what seems like your whole life and weight loss is at a standstill or you’ve only lost weight just to turn around and gain it all back. You regularly skip meals or eat low-calorie foods and you feel exhausted. Where do you go from here?
First of all, don’t get discouraged! This doesn’t have to be permanent. Research shows that even in periods of prolonged starvation (as is seen in patients with anorexia nervosa), when food is reintroduced, the metabolic rate will increase as food intake increases and the body recognizes there is no longer a period of “famine.” There may be some initial weight gain but it’s necessary as your metabolism recovers.
I would first recommend taking weight loss off the table. If you are always worried about the scale and how many calories you are eating, the stress from the situation will only magnify the problem. Weight and BMI only show a small part of the picture of your health status. Focus on the things that matter, things like exercising daily, making appropriate food choices, getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, & practicing proper stress management skills.
Other steps you can take
Incorporate a regular meal routine back into your life. If you typically skip meals, start by reintroducing normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner times into your daily life. Human beings are not like cars. Don’t wait until you are on “E” before you go to fill up again! Eating multiple meals throughout the day offers many benefits such as blood sugar control and appetite management.
Eat REAL food that you enjoy. Unless you are short on time, skip the energy bars, and meal replacement shakes. These items are not nutritionally equivalent to food and they don’t keep you full like a regular meal. Go for a well-balanced plate. Focus on foods like lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, nut butter, and dairy products.
Pay attention to hunger cues. If you feel hungry, it’s probably because you are hungry! If you are in between meals and you feel hungry, grab a snack with good staying power (both protein and carbohydrates). Examples include an apple or banana with peanut butter, cottage cheese with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt with granola and berries, or peanut butter crackers.
Be mindful of exercise. If you are someone who continually works out for long durations with high intensity, consider cutting back OR increasing calories to compensate for the increased energy demands. Exercise is great but if you are over-exercising without adding sufficient calories into your diet, you risk further metabolic damage.
If you want a better idea as to what your specific caloric needs should be or you have further nutrition-related questions, ask your physician for a referral to a registered dietitian.