Weight Loss Isn’t Always About Eating Less and Exercising More

January 3, 2013 | Comments: 25 Comments

Categories: Motivation, Nutrition, Science, Wellness

This is the longest blog post I have ever written, but it’s important.

Everybody screws up once in a while and sometimes it takes a while to realize there was a screw up. It took me almost four years to realize that I was making the same mistake every day. Every freaking day. I was starving myself.

I wasn’t not eating, but I was eating 1200 to 1400 calories per day and that just isn’t enough for me. I am only 5’2″, so I don’t need a ton of calories, but I am a personal trainer who moves almost all day, every day and I do need to eat enough to fuel that activity. I started eating 1200 to 1400 calories per day after I had a shoulder injury that prevented me from moving my arm at all for about six weeks. In that six weeks, I gained eight pounds. Not a lot, but not an inconsequential amount on a small frame like mine. I help other people get fit for a living, so walking around with the extra pounds was not acceptable to me. I already knew how to train, but I wanted more help with how much I should be eating. I entered some numbers into an online calculator and it told me to eat 1200 calories on days I didn’t train and 1400 on days I did. I trained most every day, so I ate mostly 1400. I lost the eight pounds in four weeks. I was actually kind of astonished. I didn’t think that I would lose the weight that fast.

Even though I had lost the weight, I still wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I didn’t have the muscle definition that I felt I should have considering my training schedule. I thought that if I lost a bit more fat, my awesome muscles would show through, so I kept eating 1400 calories. And didn’t raise it for three years. I ate more on days when I was really hungry, but I always came back to that little number. Always eating as organic and homemade as much as possible. Healthy eating became almost an obsession. In three years, I did not get rid of that last couple of pounds and I didn’t gain any more muscle. I was tired most of the time, cold all of the time, didn’t sleep well, rarely broke a sweat, even while leading group BOSU classes, and I was often cranky. I was too busy helping other people to notice that I wasn’t reaching my goals.

What I did notice and found to be bothersome was being tired constantly. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I had anemia or hypothyroidism or adrenal fatigue and was looking to make appointments to get myself checked out when I had a brief conversation with my husband. About five months ago, he looked at me and said, “You don’t look like what I think someone should look like who works out as much as you do.” After a couple of seconds thought I replied, “You’re right.” This two-sentence exchange sent me into a tailspin, though I didn’t realize it at the time because the badness didn’t happen until about two weeks later, when the full force of what he said sunk in. I had been working my ass off in the gym lifting weights or doing HIIT five to six days a week and I still looked the same and my body fat percentage wasn’t changing. I started to stress and when I get this kind of stressed, I stop eating because eating makes me want puke and I hate puking. This lasted for a little over a month.

At this point, I wasn’t even eating 1000 calories per day because I just couldn’t and I still wasn’t losing weight. Then two things happened that changed everything. First, my husband took me out to dinner. Second, I read a blog post.

The dinner was a tipping point for me emotionally because when he told me where he made reservations, an awesome Italian restaurant, my initial reaction was to freak out. Why would he make a reservation at a pasta place?!? He knows I don’t eat pasta anymore! Fortunately, he knew this was going to be my reaction. We talked about it and I decided that I was no longer “almost” obsessed with “healthy” food, I was completely obsessed and should calm myself down and eat the pasta. I did and it was brilliant. I even had a glass of wine. And dessert. AND THE WORLD DIDN’T END. In fact, I felt much better than I had in a long while and was happy to have been able to eat food. Yay, food!

I read blogs from other fitness professionals all of the time, but most of them are not overly useful and I file them away in the recesses of my brain so that I will know what my clients are talking about when they ask me about The Warrior Diet or whatever is the hot thing that month. This blog post from Amber of GoKaleo was not like the others. It was like a Dwarven war hammer to the side of the head. It really was that heavy. (I’m a geek like that.) In it, she writes about when to eat for weight loss and when to eat for body recomposition. Eating for recomp means that you eat more food to fuel the building of muscle versus eating for weight loss where you want to restrict calories a bit. Her first two tips are that you should eat for recomp when, “You’re at, or close to, a healthy weight, even if it’s higher than you wish,” and, “Your weight loss has stalled and simply won’t budge no matter what you do.” I thought to myself, “Holy crap! That’s me!” Then I sat and wondered about what I had been doing to myself and I got pissed. Even while I was starving myself, I was helping other people lose weight and build muscle. I was doing right by them, but I was treating myself like a weight loss client instead of a body recomposition client. At 115 pounds, my weight was just fine. What was wrong with my brain and why did it take reading the same information I have given to clients in someone else’s blog for it to apply to me? At this point, I got really mad at myself because I know exactly why: I come from an overweight family and I was terrified that if I let my guard down, I would become obese overnight. My mom is 5’3 and was 225 pounds at her heaviest. My grandmother was 400 pounds when she died and at that weight, it doesn’t even matter how tall she was. Most of my maternal aunts and cousins are overweight, too. My mom has always struggled with her weight and I internalized every one of her negative cues about food and size. This sounds like I’m blaming my mom. I’m not. She didn’t force me to become obsessive about food and my weight, I did that all on my own.

These two events, the dinner and the blog post, happened about three months ago and everything has changed since then. I visited a different calorie calculator and got a pretty good estimate of how much I should be eating to gain muscle. I became my own science experiment. I raised my calorie intake by 100 calories week until I reached 1800 calories. Because this was for science, I didn’t change anything else. During the month of not eating, I dropped my workouts to four times per week, so I kept that schedule. I ate the same foods, just more. I lost two pounds and 3% body fat in no time. I am headed for that muscle definition I’ve always wanted. It’s pretty awesome to get to eat so much food and look the way I think I should. I’ve noticed other changes, too. I sweat during workouts. I’m not so cold anymore, not even my nose! I’m not tired all of the time. I sleep restful sleep and getting up in the morning isn’t so hard. I’m a lot less cranky. At least I think so, my clients may have other things to say.

I was on my way to 1900 calories when, thanks to my dog and a mud puddle, I injured my shoulder again. When that is healed up and I can get back to lifting heavy weights, I’ll give 1900 a go. Based on the calorie calculator, I’m guessing my best muscle building intake will be around 2050, but that is just a guess and I’m excited to do the science and find out!

TL;DR Don’t starve yourself. Learn from my mistakes. Eat real food. Unless you have a medical condition, there is no reason to not eat any particular type of food, even pasta stuffed with mascarpone cheese and lobster then covered in a butter sauce. For real.



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25 responses to “Weight Loss Isn’t Always About Eating Less and Exercising More”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your journey! It is heartfelt and honest and very helpful. I’ve been wondering for a few years if I just don’t eat enough, since I too am a super healthy eater. I’ll do the calculators and let you know.

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      I’m so glad it speaks to you! The calculator that I linked to requires that you know your body fat percentatge. If you don’t know that, you can use this one (http://scoobysworkshop.com/calorie-calculator/) from his site. Not quite as accurate, so you’ll need to to a little more science to figure out what your exact needs are, but it is so worth the effort!

  2. Soph501 says:

    Totally what I needed to read! I know it works and it has done for me previously but there is just something psychological about eating so many more calories than what you think you need.

    Thanks for writing this, I know what I need to do now 🙂

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      I know it can be terrifying! I’m so glad this post was helpful for you. Good luck, happy eating and lifting! Please do come back and let us know how it goes!

  3. Thanks for the guidelines shared on the blog. Something also important I would like to state is that weight loss is not information on going on a celebrity diet and trying to shed as much weight that you can in a couple of days. The most effective way to shed weight is by taking it gradually and obeying some basic suggestions which can provide help to make the most out of your attempt to lose fat. You may recognize and already be following these tips, but reinforcing expertise never hurts.

  4. Holly says:

    Reading this is hard for me, but I know what I need to do.

    I was actually wondering if you could help me. I suspect that I am doing the same thing to myself. I eat between 1200-1400 calories a day and work out 5 times a week with, at the most, a half hour cardio with either constantly changing speeds, or changing intervals and inclines. I incorporate my weight training within my cardio, sometimes I will do a challenging cardio, jump into weights, then jump back into cardio. I like changing the things I do every few weeks because I get bored. I also like doing little intervals of jumping jacks and other random vigorous exercises throughout the day.

    I thought I was doing right because according to a general standard, I wasn’t “starving”. I am 5’7 and 183 and trying to lose fat/weight. When I calculated what I should be taking in, even the “extreme fat loss” category was a little higher than what I normally take in. I actually have lost 6 pounds in 3 1/2 weeks but I notice that my clothes are starting to feel different. I just don’t want to go on starving myself unintentionally, especially since I have had body image issues before, and the last thing I need is to starve my body.

    I would appreciate any help you could give.

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      Holly, thank you for posting. What calculator did you use to determine your calories? There are a lot of them out there and they are not all created equal.

      “Extreme weight loss” calorie intake is considered 10 x your body weight. For you that would be 183 x 10 = 1830 cal per day. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Particularly considering where you are right now. The problem is that depending on how long you’ve been restricting, you may have some metabolic damage that needs to be repaired before you can move on to healthy fat loss.

      Do you think you could slowly work your way up to 1800 calories per day? Add 100 calories a week until you get there? And then keep at that number of calories for at least a month?

      Here is a wonderful resource on eating more and repairing your metabolism http://eatmore2weighless.com/

      If you want a more accurate estimate of what your body needs to fuel itself, go here and enter your information http://scoobysworkshop.com/calorie-calculator/

      Please keep me updated and please feel free to email me if you like, or just ask questions here. I will always answer.

  5. Jasmine Nasari says:

    Hi im injured cant do any cardio and I used to do crossfit I tore three ligaments in my ankle and im still waiting for a full recovery ive put on all the weight I lost when I could train. Now im super confused on how many calories I should eat. I went from 1200 which I found impossible to do to 1300 and now 1400 im worried its to much at 1400. Feeling really down about it to. I can’t train, feeling chubby and feel like im taking all the steps back that I achieved.

    • Brandie Sylfae says:


      I hope you are recovering well! Did you see my post about arm cardio? http://www.nbsfit.com/wellness-2/effective-cardio-using-just-your-upper-body/

      You have to be creative with your exercise. clearly, you can’t do what you had been doing, but there is always an option. If you didn’t injure your upper body at all, there are all sorts of things that you can do sitting down to keep your upper body and core in shape!

      As far as food goes, have you looked at one of the calorie calculators? As long as you are estimating your activity correctly (health calc even has a printable sheet that can help you with that), and you don’t have a metabolic disorder, you should be within a couple hundred calories for your energy needs using one of those tools.

  6. Sara says:

    Hi!!! I needed to read this! I have been eating 1000 calories for years! I do cardio and weights everyday! I have recently increased my calories to 1400 calories. It has been 4 weeks and I have gained 5 lbs!! I am so tempted to go back to 1000 calories. I figured after 4 weeks I would see a change. My pants are tighter now!!!! I started around 112 and now I’m 116.4. When you increased to 1800 calories, did you gain weight in the beginning? How long until you lost the weight. I’m scared to gain any more weight! Please help!

    • Brandie Sylfae says:


      I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you . I have been dealing with some health issues and I wasn’t in the head space to give you a proper answer. I hope you have continued to eat more food and lifting weights in the meantime!

      I lost then gained, but then found out that I have a very low resting metabolic rate (RMR), so when I raised my calories up, I went too high. it isn’t a bad thing though because it led me to get my RMR tested and I’m glad that I did. I may have some underlying medical problems that I’m getting looked at. that is to say, I’M NOT NORMAL IN THIS. A non-metabolically challenged person of my size and sex should have been able to eat what I was eating and not gain as much weight as I did.

      Some resources that may be useful for you are http://eatmore2weighless.com/ and http://www.youreatopia.com/

  7. Krista says:

    Great information! I think I have been seriously under eating for awhile now. I’m almost 6′ and I work out really hard 6 days a week for 1 – 1.5 hours at least/ day. I have been eating around 1100 – 1500 calories a day. I was very overweight and lost quite a lot, but I have been stuck my current overweightness for a while now. I have been panicking the past two months. I pretty much stopped sleeping, I am freezing all the time, I am moodier than anything and I feel stressed out to the point that a lot of my hair is now falling out – which is not cool. I made an appointment with my doctor, because I cannot get myself to eat more – it is scary for me to eat more. I don’t want to start gaining weight back. I have been gradually eating less and less and exercising more and more with no positive benefits. The fact that you lost weight gives me a spark of hope that I could do that too.

    • Brandie Sylfae says:


      Trust me when I say that I completely understand how scary it is to eat more food. Also trust me when I say that you probably need to start eating way more than you currently are. I’m 5’2′, have a messed up metabolism and I eat more than you do.

      It’s great that you are going to see your doctor. I would love to know what s/he says. The scary thing is, all of your symptoms can be linked to under-eating. Here is a really awesome resource that has a ton of information http://eatmore2weighless.com/

      You can eat more food and become leaner. Remember, it’s not about how much you weigh. It’s about how comfortable you feel in your skin. Our weight does not define out worth.

  8. Anna Zhang says:

    Hi! I am the same eating between 1200-1400 and I have stayed the same. I got toner but I would like to see the scale move and have a more defined abs. I am getting fitter but I am eating a lot more and I always feel bad but if I don’t eat than I feel grumpy. But my question is should I eat back my calories that was burned during exercise with that more advance calculator ?

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      I’m so very sorry your question slipped by me! Yes! You should eat back your calories if recomp is your goal, which is seems like it is. never be grumpy for the sake of defined abs.

  9. Hey Brandie

    As an aspiring writer, I thoroughly enjoyed your article. You used your life as an example to tell a STORY, and that is indeed the BEST form of content! Your Introduction sucked me right in because I could totally relate to being of those legendary ‘screw ups’. And I was nodding while you were relating your dinner experience with your husband!

    In essence, your ability to educate AND entertain has me in awe! #HUGSSS

    I was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder – Anorexia – over 4 years ago. After multiple hospitalizations and support groups, I look fine, physically, although I am an emotional wreck! 😛

    Anyway, I am 5’6” and around 144, and want to lose like 10 pounds to look and feel better. I am a health nut in that I portion control everything – although there are days when I just want to listen to my body and eat those decadent pastries and fatty ice creams! LOL I also walk on the treadmill for around 4 hours per week. Unfortunately, I find weight-training very boring and hence stay away, BUT I am going to start taking some Body Work group classes at my gym. I hope my fellow-fitness-friends will motivate me to tone my body!

    During my ‘tryst’ with ‘starvation’, I got addicted to chemically-laden products, like Splenda and Frozen Food, which then led to constipation and a VERY BLOATED stomach – there have been times when people have offered me their seats in trains, thinking that I was pregnant. Since I struggle with body image issues every minute, you can imagine how much those assessments hurt. 🙁

    BUT I am taking tiny steps towards more organic and home-cooked meals, so fingers crossed for flatter stomachs! LOL

    Anyway, I apologize for my rambling. I sensed a ‘friend’ in you and hence felt like blurting out a mini-bio! hehee

    Keep writing…keep smiling…keep succeeding

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      I came here to answer someone else’s question and I realized that I had never said thank you to you for this wonderful comment. I’m sorry.

      Thank you so, so much. Thank you.

  10. Nadia says:

    So glad I came upon this… I always feel so guilty when, like today, I gave into my desires and ate a LOT more than I normally would. But, I’m also extremely fit and about the same weight as you and even though I have rest days between my training days in the gym, I can feel pretty lethargic and even mentally exhausted (having a two-year-old contributes of course!) on certain days in the week. After eating up a storm I feel so much better! But on an emotional level, I have to deal with the guilt and accept that the extra calories may be required by my body and the loss of “will-power” is not a failure!

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      I’m glad you made it here! We need food to live and to get strong. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more upset I get that our society has discouraged women form being strong and taking up space. Eat food and work hard; no guilt required!

  11. Nicole says:

    i’m glad i found this but also so confused… i am trying to shed the extra pounds i still have but it just seems so impossible I’ve gone on so many different weight loss websites and have just started using a calorie counter app on my phone and it says i should only be eating 1200 calories per day, even the websites say the same thing!! so i just don’t get it! am i meant to consume more calories or not? Right now i’m 5 ft 2 and i weigh 115 everyone tells me I’ve got no fat left to lose but i can see that i still have a belly and fat thighs that i’m dying to lose but its JUST NOT GOING!!! i honestly just feel like breaking down.

    • Nicole says:

      I’ve also been working out six days a week and doing workouts that say they burn 300 calories and i am trying to gain some muscle as well but i don’t know whether i should eat back those calories or not because the weight loss websites say not to

  12. Amy says:

    This has made me so confused. I’ve been on so many different websites and they all tell to stay under 1200 calories daily so I have been doing just that but I haven’t seen much of a difference.

    I’m 16 and I’m 5ft2 and weigh 115, everybody says I’ve got no fat left to lose but I know I do and I’ve been trying so hard to lose three or four more kgs but it just seems impossible and I DONT GET WHY I eat healthy and exercise 6 times a week so what am I doing wrong??

  13. Alicia says:

    This is the best Blog I have ever read. It is so true. Enjoy life. I’m 120 and 5′ 4″ and what I do is on days i’m lazy I only eat 1300 calories, on days I work out I eat 1600-1700, and on random days when I just want to enjoy a night out with my boyfriend I allow myself to go over 2000 calories. You need to give your body variety.

  14. Amber says:

    I am trying very hard to wrap my mind around this new concept and I am struggling. I too found Go Kalepo and found her blog so much more different than what I have been told by personal trainers, nutritionists and all the other weight loss websites available on the internet – which are a LOT. I currently weigh in at 140, I am 36 years old and I am 5’8.5″ (yes that half an inch is very important to me). I started to workout and “diet” 6 years ago, of which I weighed 178 lbs. I dropped weight like it was butter, felt great but could not get the body definition and tone I wanted, So I kept on pushing and then started to count calories. At one point I became so weak and fatigued I could not stay awake thru a workout, read a book to my kids, or even formulate a thought. I went to a doctor was diagnosed with all kinds of problems, from gluten intolerance, to hormonal imbalance to hypothyroidism. I started to gain cellulite and weight in my thighs, rear and abdomen, I panicked and really started to push myself. That is when I was diagnosed with bulimea. I have been struggling with this as I am only eating up to 1800 calories a day, I work out 6 days a week only for 30 minutes as I can no longer handle the hour long workouts – no energy. 3 days strength training and 3 days cardio/HIIT. I continue to gain more fat and seem to be either losing muscle or the fat I am gaining is covering it up. How in the world can I possibly eat up to 2500 calories and lose weight!? I want to believe it, but it just doesnt jive. But neither does what I have been doing. I am stuck and tired of feeling horrible, no energy, feeling like I am getting dumber by the day and packing on fat instead of muscle. I am a homeschooling mom, I am very active, I try to stand a lot and I get my kids out whenever I can, on walks, bike rides going to the park etc. So I don’t sit a ton but I do sit. What do you recommend – I want to be done with this horrible cycle and just be fit and healthy. But what does that look like??

  15. Klara says:

    Just wondering what do you think. My trainer at the gym has set me @1350 kcal. I’m 5.8″ and 144lbs, work on my feet and do about 10 hours of cardio a week (endurance cycling) and 1-2x week 30mins weight session with my trainer. I have been trying to lean up/put on some muscle and loose a bit of fat but haven’t seen any changes in the last 3months (body comp, scale, clothes…) all of the calculators tell me I should be eating a lot more calories but I’m worried I’ll put on weight again and all the hard work will be gone…

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