Calorie Restriction: Friend or Foe?

Here’s a typical scenario: a husband and wife decide together to get serious about eating better and make a pact to stop eating junk food. What happens?

Practically overnight, the husband goes down several notches on his belt and the wife, despite being the stricter of the two, has little to show for her efforts. Why do women have a tougher time losing fat than men?

I don’t have all the answers but I’ve worked enough years as a personal trainer and health coach to have some idea why women struggle to lose fat. It isn’t just due to their physiology; in fact, it’s more often than not due to bad information that leads them to make the wrong choices regarding food and exercise which slow down their metabolisms. In “Female Fat Loss: Friends and Foes” on Thursday January 21st at 7:00pm, I’m going to talk about a few of these choices in detail, such as the choice to severely restrict calories and under-eat.

Most of the women that I’ve worked with who have wanted to lose fat have tried severely restricting their calories. Diets pulled from women’s magazines skewed their perceptions: 1,200 calories was the typical target. It’s true that if you want to lose fat then you have to make sure that you don’t over-eat; however, you also have to make sure that you don’t under-eat and 1,200 calories is definitely under-eating for the vast majority of women. The problem with under-eating is that it slows down your metabolism. Specifically, what happens is that your thyroid gland stops producing as much T3, a hormone critical in keeping your metabolism up and running. Not only that, it starts producing something called reverse T3, a hormone that, as the name suggests, has the opposite effect. Reverse T3 competes with whatever T3 you have. Too much reverse T3 means that you simply won’t burn as many calories no matter what youre doing. This is something that I think a lot of women miss. They might have some inkling that severely restricting calories will cause them to burn less calories during their workouts so they try to compensate by working out longer and harder. But it’s more than that. They’ll burn less calories all day long which makes losing fat far from easy. Moreover, the longer they under-eat, the harder it will be to rehabilitate their metabolism.

Severe calories restriction works against your effort to lose fat by tampering with another hormone: cortisol. “Severe calorie restriction” is another way of saying “starvation” and your body doesn’t like that very much. It’s stressful. So your body releases more of its stress hormone, cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol is counterproductive for fat loss because it raises your blood sugar. When that happens, your body releases insulin to lower your blood sugar. That’s a good thing in the short-term but not in the long-term because insulin is also responsible for repackaging that sugar as fat and storing it in your fat cells. This explains how you could actually be storing more fat while starving yourself. Isn’t that ironic?

By now you’re probably asking yourself what you’re supposed to do if you want to lose fat. There are better ways than severely restricting calories. Losing fat isn’t just about how much you eat – it’s about what you eat and when you eat it. It isn’t just about how much you exercise – it’s about the type and level of exertion.

Kirsten will dig deeper into this subject at her Thursday Evening Lecture “Female Fat Loss: Friends and Foes” Thursday January 21st, 2015 at 7:00pm.


Kirsten Gallagher  canfitpro PRO TRAINER, HWL, RTS®, MAT™ Developer, S.E.E. Results More info at: www.kirstengallagher.com