I’m terrified to gain weight. About eight years ago I developed an eating disorder in college, but I have managed to return to a normal weight (I’m 5′ 4”, *** pounds) and a semi-normal lifestyle since then. However, I’m still scared to relax about food and exercise for fear that I’ll gain weight and never lose it again. My body is the type that likes to hold onto weight, and it’s very difficult for me to lose. I feel trapped by diet and exercise. My diet is very healthy and I eat about **** calories a day. I also exercise 6 days a week and burn around ***-*** calories at each workout, but I go to bed dreading exercise the following day, wondering if I’ll have the energy to make it. With this practice, I have maintained my weight for a few years, although I haven’t had a period for three years. Even so, I’m exhausted and wish I could relax, enjoy going on weekend vacations with my family where there’s no gym, and simply stop obsessing with the whole thing. Is it possible to eat more or exercise less and still maintain? Or do I need to keep this up to maintain my weight like I have been doing? I’m so tired of being tired and feeling trapped. Is there anything I can do? – Kate
There are a couple of things that I hope will help you relax more with your eating.
1. Understand that it takes 3,500 calories above your needs to gain one pound. This applies to just about everyone, even people who think that they can gain weight by just looking at food. Water weight is different. Just drink a 16-ounce bottle of water and get on the scale and you will gain one pound. BUT, it is water and it will filter through the kidneys and be excreted.
2. Our body needs a certain number of calories just for the vital organs to work. That is referred to as resting metabolic rate. I don’t know your age, but an average metabolic rate for someone your height and weight simply working at a desk all day is about 1,600 calories. That is without exercise.
When you burn as many calories as you do in exercise, you potentially slow down your metabolic rate to protect your body. Food is needed to feed organs and when there is not enough food to fuel the organs, your body says, “Uh oh, something is wrong,” and slows down your metabolism to protect itself. Bottom line is that you should be able to do far less activity and maintain your weight.
Most weight maintainers don’t exercise every day. Calorie balance is an “average.” It is unnecessary to reduce your intake on no exercise days just as you wouldn’t necessarily add calories just because you exercised for 45 minutes that day. But allowing “a little more” and “a little less” may occur based on your true physical hunger.
A registered dietitian can help you better understand these principles. See “Finding a Nutritionist” to find a dietitian in your area.
Eileen Stellefson Myers, MPH, RD, LDN, FADA