How Much Weight Can You Lose If You Ate 1K Calories or Less Daily? The Rise of 1K Calorie Diets!

It's been a l o n g  time since those days but your girl Melissa knows very well what it's like to hardly eat (planned starvation) and/or follow aggressive types of dieting such as when I was getting ready for a body building competition some years ago. Needless to say, I've walked the walk!

Over the years, I've coached quite the number of women and one trend in particular keeps coming up! I always ask my new clients "how many calories are you eating daily on average?" and if they don't know I help them track their food intake and figure it out.

SOOO many times, they have told me a version of this same story:

I used to be so much smaller and have more muscle definition, I weighed [125lbs] most of my life and now my weight keeps creeping up a couple pounds, at least, every year. I eat clean and I work out more, but I can't seem to gain muscle or get leaner...

Here's the thing, many of them have actually read on how to achieve their desired weight-loss and MANY of them have been coached by a professional—I'm talking about a coach, trainer, and some times even a nutritionist—and they were recommended a version of the same thing:

Eat [these] 3-4 meals daily and do these [exercises] 5-6 times per week and you'll lose weight...

"These" meals are usually the same combination of rice, broccoli, and chicken breast or the occasional salmon everyone is used to receiving as a "lose weight + get lean" recommendation. Some times it's sprinkled with a "secret exercise" that a supposed celebrity used to achieve their peak physique for a movie or some type "new supplement"—carnitine, carb blockers, fat burners, and even weight-loss drugs—but it's the same story nonetheless.

For "exercises" it's a similar story, you go from one machine to the next machine at the gym and do an hour of cardio after that every day at the gym. Their goal, as they say, is for you to "use more calories and thus lose more weight"; sometimes fancy terminology is used such as "caloric deficit state", but it's just this bland food + low calorie + cardio as a form of weight-loss type of scenario.

Long story short, based on my experience—and that of my clients—with these cases over many years of crazy yo-yo eating and working out, we found the trend I can only describe as:

1K Calorie Diets...

The rise of "1K Calorie Diets" is something we're all familiar with although not by this name specifically. You've read, have been told, and have been advised to eat some combination of "brown rice, chicken breast, and broccoli..." in order to lose weight and, in addition to that, do "cardio" to burn more calories.

This this not something you'd think about or run into until probably some time in your late 20's or mid 30's. Before that time, on average, we tend to have a positive outlook on our weight to height ratio or "I look hot..." in plain English. However, over time women normally gain 1-2lbs per year on average; as of 2016, according to the CDC, the average height for an American woman is 5'4'' and the average weight is about 170lbs. 

Average Weight for American Men and Women Published by Washington Post

This particular situation triggers this series of events:

  1. Eat a low calorie diet (1K-1.2K or less daily caloric intake) + do cardio
  2. Lose weight rapidly, but unable to sustain it over time
  3. Gain weight rapidly.
  4. Repeat the cycle.

The issue with this cycle is that your body can't tell the difference between a bout of low caloric eating in order to lose some weight vs. starvation-lite; your body reacts to these types of diets as it would when not being able to access all the resources it needs.This is because although the restricted diet, in terms of calories, causes your body to use its reserves, your body is able to accurately determine that the amount of nutrition calories is insufficient and then proceeds to release a series of hormones that increase your appetite, push you to become resistant to fat-loss, and increase your ability to store fat; I highly recommend you read further on the hormone leptin for example!

Even if you accomplish the extreme weight-loss stories we like to see on tv and social media, the challenge is to stay healthy and not gain the weight back. Turns out that many people don't even know what healthy fat levels are, I've been asked by many people how they can achieve "10%, 7%, and even 1% body fat..." which tells me that there's a big lack of understanding around how much fat humans need to properly function; and women need more fat than men actually. Below you can see a graph published by The Atlantic on Americans' ideal vs actual weight, this will not be surprising to you.

Ideal vs Actual Weight by Gallup

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), healthy fat percentages for normal women ranges between 25%-31% and for fitness around 21%-24%. If you're so lean that you stop getting your period, your libido disappears, and you constantly struggle physically, then likely it's time to increase your nutrition calories. The same goes to the overweight or obese end of the fat spectrum, having excess fat can lead to everything from sleep disorders to a compromised immune system.

Whenever I've been asked to help a client follow macros, they have almost always told me that they eat "clean". You read that right, nobody has ever told me exactly what they're eating, their go-to cheats, how much alcohol they drink on average, and certainly nobody mentions their stress levels or lack of sleep. In fact, most people just want to know what exercises to do in order to make some muscle, lose weight, and continue to eat and drink whatever they are eating and drinking.

I think you're starting to see the issue that exacerbates the cycle I described above. Either you're eating bland food, taking supplements, and doing a bunch of cardio or you're trying to do crazy exercise plans while eating and drinking whatever you like. The worse part of this is that there are many self-proclaimed "fitness gurus" that figured out a supplement, diet, or training plan that allows you to eat whatever you want and have an aesthetic and lean physique; we've all seen a version of this too.

If 1K calorie diets are so bad, how come people are still doing them?

Because they *work! I bet you that you were not expecting me to say that. But there's that BIG ASTERISK *, a BIG caveat, something you likely have experienced already. Do you remember the cycle from above?! Let me refresh your memory:

  1. Eat a low calorie diet (1K-1.2K or less daily caloric intake) + do cardio
  2. Lose weight rapidly, but unable to sustain over time
  3. Gain weight rapidly.
  4. Repeat the cycle.

So yes, these *diets and *training work, and then they don't. If you manage to eat the bland food and follow the workouts + cardio for months, then you'll experience rapid weight loss initially. But there a few unintended consequences of this cycle and the longer you follow the 1K calorie diets, take supplements, and do crazy workouts then the longer it will take to undo the damage:

  1. Being in a "deficit" for extended periods of time changes your metabolism and what used to be the deficit are now your "maintenance" calories.
  2. Even small changes in your caloric intake have huge consequences; if you eat under 1K calories daily and then eat a piece of cake (500 calories) during a crave, you just at 50% more calories that day and your body may react aggressively to the surplus.
  3. Due to the restrictive caloric intake your body may swing from aggressive weight-loss to not losing any weight; this is a sign of serious metabolic changes, and people usually react by eating less or working out more which makes it worse.
  4. You may get to the desired results but with no roadmap on how to get back to eating a more nutritionally dense diet and/or doing workouts that don't beat your already weak body.
  5. Due to the planned starvation, every time you go through the cycle, it becomes harder for you to lose weight, maintain healthy weight, and make-hold onto muscle mass.

The above are just some of the most remarkable consequences, but depending on the person, their age, and any lifestyle or health conditions, then there are other issues which may show up later on.

So what can you do?

Red Pill vs Blue Pill, The Matrix

Did you ever watch The Matrix?! In this movie, the main character, Neo, is a hacker who lives with the feeling that something is not right and he finds bits of evidence that we may be in some type of artificial reality. During his quest, he meets Morpheus, and this character offers him the choice of two pills: The Blue Pill and The Red Pill.

These pills are simply a philosophical analogy. You take the blue pill, everything goes back to how it was and you forget any of this happened. You take the red pill and you're faced with the truth. There is no promise of the truth being easy or pretty, it only gives you the opportunity to see what is really going on and then make a decision based on reality. The catch is that once you choose the truth, you cannot go back. For the purpose of exploring what to do, let's use the Blue Pill vs Red Pill analogy!

The Blue Pill:

You had a good time reading this blog, learned a few things, maybe you found some ideas on how to beat the system without changing anything but ultimately you're ready to take the blue pill because you don't need to fix something that ain't broken yet. Blue pill goes down.

The Red Pill:

Red pill goes down and we go search for what may be going on: The Truth. If you're reading this, it's either because you're curious and want to read on the subject or, likely, you have gone through a version of the cycle and now there may be some of the unintended consequences showing up.

So you took the red pill, what happens now?! The first thing is to see reality. Just like in the Matrix where Neo gets unplugged and gets to actually see for the first time, we're going to get unplugged from what we know or don't know and figure out what is going on with our nutrition starting with macros (macronutrients).

Here's the process:

  1. Figure out your macros.
  2. Make sure your macros are high-quality; get rid of empty calories
  3. Increase your calories if needed
  4. Learn to eyeball your food and listen to your body aka make it sustainable

Don't worry, I have a detailed version of the steps above so that know what to do when, be sure to read my blog on How to Reverse Diet.

Now that you're unplugged, just like in Neo's path, it's time to work really hard in order to address the situation. You have to remember that you're doing this for YOU. The goal is to become the fittest, healthiest, but also most sustainable YOU that you can be. 

Think about all the situations at work where they have donuts and cookies, all the drinks you have with your friends several times per week, and the cycles you've gone through because of a wedding party or a summer vacation in Greece. These are normal situations, just like there are normal people plugged into the Matrix. The issue is that these situations, just like the plugged people in the movie, will attempt everything they can to deviate you from addressing the situation. 

This is why sustainability is so important! If you can't follow a diet and training plan for a whole year before making any changes, then likely they're unsustainable and simply not for you; they are the Matrix trying to attack you.

This blog was inspired by the countless stories of people—including the Melissa from before who you probably didn't meet and who existed before this Melissa—who have done the 1K calorie diets, who are now paying the price for the imbalances, and who go from workout to workout and diet to diet making some progress and not being able to sustain it. 

If you'd like to unplug, please start by joining the Fitgurlmel App.

October 26, 2021 by Melissa Alcantara

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