Let’s talk about extreme caloric restriction.
There are a few reasons that we decide to eat a lot less, and here are the two I see the most:
We are struggling to lose weight, so we think the answer is to eat less.
We have created a war with our bodies with rules that prevent eating enough.
Whatever the reason is, our decision to super restrict calories comes from a thought that we’re broken in some way. What I’m doing isn’t working, so there must be something wrong with me. Let me assure you right now: you are not broken! You are exquisitely made.
Eating in an extreme caloric deficit doesn’t work. Not only does it not work in the long term, it doesn’t work in the short term either. Here’s why:
When we decide to really restrict calories, It awakens a very primitive part of our brain, the amygdala. You probably know it as “fight or flight”. When we consciously decide to eat a lot less, this “fight or flight” jumps into action to protect us. It’s just doing its job. Remember, you are exquisitely made.
Here’s what happens:
FIGHT mode: Our brain thinks there is famine coming, so it starts storing EVERYTHING in an effort to keep us alive. It conserves every bit of energy that it can to keep us safe. What does that mean? What energy you feed it that does not require our basic bodily functions gets stored as sugar or fat for later. It protects you from harm. It’s a primal instinct perceiving a primal threat.
FLIGHT mode: Your body feels this famine and works with your brain to get fed in order to stay safe. How? It triggers cravings! It creates thoughts and images of food. It tries to get away from this imaginary threat by making you want to eat! And it wins. It might take a few days, but it wins and we eat! And we don’t generally eat whole foods, because that requires too much work to chew and to digest. We choose the processed foods, the stuff that has a high taste factor, that is easy to consume and quick to digest for quick energy.
WAR mode: When we make rules like “no eating after 6pm”, “no sugar”, “everything in moderation”, “just eat healthy all the time”, we’re challenging our body to live outside its comfort zone. These rules signal “fight or flight” to prepare for deprivation. That feels really unsafe to our brain and to our body too. These rules create a war with our bodies. And our body ultimately wins. We break our rules. In fact, the rules fly out of the window for a time and we sabotage ourselves.
So the takeaway: we can’t outsmart our body.
If only we could rely on its wisdom! It knows when it needs fuel. It knows when it would like a treat. It knows when it's had enough. We just don't trust it or don’t know how to listen. Why? Much of it is from a lifetime of what I call “diet trauma”. It’s the imprint of all the stuff we have tried and failed at and the confusing messages the diet industry has given us. It’s wrecked our relationship with food and our bodies. If you need some help healing some of this, if you need some guidance on how to start eating a reasonable amount without weight gain (because that is where the fear comes in and it comes in hard!), let’s talk. Set up a free call HERE. I would love to hear your story.