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The Fed state: Chronic Undereating and Prolonged Deficit

The Fed State is part of an ongoing series of posts that is related to food, diet, nutrition, and reaching nutrition goals. This first part of the series will be about chronic undereating and prolonged periods of being in a deficit. Parts two and three will dive into seasonal eating and why some diets tend to fall short just before reaching our goals.

If I could only lose ten pounds! I want to see just a hint of abdominal definition. I don't need to be crazy about how I look but it makes me feel better when I look a certain way. I train all the time, five to six days a week. I eat “healthy” and live an active lifestyle. What's going on? What can I do to get myself to that point? I must be overeating...that's it, I’m going to cut calories. That's what I’m going to do. No more “overeating” I want my summertime jacked and tan look. I work hard for that. I deserve to have the body I train for.

All things we have said to ourselves while looking in the mirror. The natural reaction is to assume you eat too much. This may not always be the case. Especially if you are a chronic undereater or have been in a prolonged deficit. Undereating is easy to do. When was the last time you actually hit your protein goal? What is your protein goal? Why are carbs and fat important? “I just want to be smaller" do I get there. Well, my friends, I’m here to shed some light on the subject and give some reference points and things to think about, and how to be in the “fed state."

Eating less for a prolonged period of time will eventually slow the body's metabolism. When you slow your metabolism too far, your body goes into starvation mode. Being in starvation mode means you are going to hold onto every calorie you take in, just in case things get really bad and there is no food. This is actually a pretty cool thing our body does to sustain life. When we starve ourselves, and by starve I mean chronically under-eat, we slow our metabolism. A healthy deficit is 25% under maintenance calories, starvation is being under your resting metabolic rate.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, "the minimum caloric intake per day is 1,200 calories for women and 1,800 calories for men. Starvation calories are an intake of fewer than 600 calories per day, however; any caloric intake below the recommended minimum doesn't provide the body with the fuel it needs to function properly. A starvation diet doesn't promote weight loss because your metabolism slows down in response to low caloric intake. Moreover, because hunger and serious side effects are associated with this type of eating, it's unsustainable and dangerous.”

This will put the desired body composition on hold and while we may “shrink” the problem really doesn't go away. We need to eat! Think of your metabolism like a fire. If you are starting from an underfed state, it's time to get those coals stoked. We need to get that blaze going again. To do this, we can start by adding small amounts of food to each meal. Like adding kindling to the coals. We can't just dump an entire cord of wood on the fire and expect the blaze to come roaring back. It's the same with our metabolism. Start small and build the fire. Once we have some flames going we can add bigger and bigger pieces of wood into the fire and start creating some heat! Now that we have things burning again, we can start to manipulate fuel sources for the desired results. Being chronically underfed is like trying to start a fire with wet wood. It's a similar mentality too, “I’ll just eat less and move more," it can work, but only in the fed state.

Not to worry, we have a fix! With the common knee-jerk response and thought process mentioned above, let's talk about how to enter into the "fed state" and getting the mind and body to work together and earn the desired results. Keep in mind this can be for adding muscle, getting lean, or finding and keeping the desired body comp all year long (more to come on seasonal changes in fed state 2).

Understanding our total caloric needs vs. our total expended calories is crucial. Most of us think we are a bit more active than we actually are. This is important when we are setting our macros and watching our intake. If we err on the higher side of expenditure we can easily overeat. If you train for an average of 60 minutes every day and have a desk job your activity is lower than you may think and this should reflect in your overall intake. The same can be said for a manual laborer, training is probably easier than the workday and food intake should be higher than those individuals that move more.

Once we have turned up the heat for a while we can consider eating in a deficit for fat loss or a surplus to build muscle. So let’s add some fuel to the fire. We want to choose quality fuel as well. Fresh cut wet wood just doesn't burn like dry, seasoned firewood. The same goes with food, fresh, single ingredient, whole foods burn a lot cleaner than processed “easy to eat” foods. It's worth the extra cost of buying the good stuff and putting some time into preparing your food. So if you are struggling to get the results you are after, consider your intake, output, and the level at which your fire is burning. Some of the leanest folks in the fitness space are probably the ones eating the most each day, maintaining muscle mass, and burning fat. If you need help stoking the fire I would urge you to start by adding some kindling and look for next month's post on seasonal eating and why you need to make changes throughout the year to keep the fire burning.


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