Yes. But not how you’ve been taught. Go figure, right?
Thinking about losing weight, thinking about what we need to do to change our bodies, analyzing + criticizing our bodies, comparing our bodies to other women, counting calories, it all takes up so. much. head. space.
It's high time that we began examining this way of being, along with its impact on our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and even relational health as women.
I think one of the paramount ways we can do this is to understand our female physiology - aka how our hormones work, and how to get them to optimal performance + levels. Today, we'll be looking into how this plays into everything we've been told about weight loss and calorie restriction (often times in the form of intermittent fasting).
I’m sure you’ve heard that to lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit. The whole calories in versus calories out spiel? That your intake of calories needs to be lower than the amount of calories you burn. Yeah, we're all too familiar with it.
I concede that this definitely makes sense logically; but for the female physiology, this equation actually doesn’t add up to weight loss or sustainable “results”.
Because the female physiology requires safety.
As a woman, if your nervous system is in survival mode (aka the opposite feeling of "safe") and you’re running on cortisol versus actual food (this is what happens when we intermittent fast pre-menopause, go long periods without eating and/or do fasted workouts), you’re creating the scenario where your body will store versus burn fat.
One way we can signal being in survival mode to our body?
Not giving her enough calories and/or the proper nutrients she needs to thrive.
According to Dr. Stacy Sims, one of the foremost researchers and experts on optimal hormone performance for females, most women are:
❌ afraid to eat,
❌ in a state of constantly trying to lose weight,
❌ or unknowingly under fueling because they don’t realize how much energy + nutrition they need.
In a recent research review - where researchers reviewed 42 studies published between 2013 and 2020, they found that women athletes are more susceptible to iron, calcium, and vitamin D deficiencies than their male peers, and that most women were deficient in calories, vitamins, protein + minerals necessary for optimal performance and 30-70% were energy deficient (under nourished / not eating enough).
The term for being energy deficient is called a low energy availability (LEA) state.
And being in this state actually perpetuates eating less (which remember, isn't good for the female physiology because it signals stress versus safety).
You see, stress is an appetite suppressant. As women, we experience this as waking up in the morning and “not feeling hungry” and/or working throughout the whole day without eating (and consequently, also “not feeling hungry”).
For women, being in an LEA state and/or intermittent fasting is detrimental for our hormones - especially for for active women pre-menopause. Note: for postmenopausal women, intentional, cycled intermittent fasting is supported, but all the information regarding eating enough calories within this blog post still applies to you!
LEA also down regulates your hunger and thirst hormones, while also causing you to put on belly fat, reduce lean muscle mass, increase brain fog and making adaptations to training a lot harder // impossible. It increases your risk for low bone density and injuries like stress fractures, as well as mood disorders and, of course, poor performance and recovery.
So if you’re struggling to lose weight and/or have been restricting your food for years, it's time to switch things up and start loving on your body instead.
It might seem counterintuitive (and 100% counter-culture to all you've been told), but if you're tired of being on the poor results struggle bus, I highly encourage you to try:
Bumping up the amount of food you’re eating; stop restricting calories and start nourishing your body.
Focusing on high-quality (grass-fed or pasture-raised) animal + plant protein, vegetables, fats, greens and whole grains.
Use a plate composition that's 20-25% protein, 50-60% vegetables (fiber), 15-20% whole grains or starchy vegetables (like yam, squashes + potatoes), unlimited greens and 1-2 Tbsp. health fats.
Eating specifically to balance your blood sugar (learn how to do this here).
Fueling for what you’re doing - life + exercise. The average resting metabolic rate needs are 1300-1400 calories - aka the amount you need when you're literally doing nothing but lying around, which doesn't include the amount your need for life and exercise.
Eat before you workout (15-20g protein) and fuel with a meal afterwards (use the plate composition above). This is important to do even if you're not hungry (as exercise can blunt hunger as it's an acute, intentional stressor).
Eliminate or vastly decrease the amount of alcohol you're drinking. Sorry ladies, nightly glass(es) of wine are ruining your metabolism, along with gut, brain + hormone health.
- - -
For reference, according to Dr. Stacy Sims, on a moderate training day - where you do a HIIT or challenging strength training session, or 1-2 hours of cardio, a 140 lbs. woman would need:
Carbohydrate: 3-4 grams per kg of body weight
Protein: 2-2.3 grams per kg of body weight
Fat: 1.2 grams per kg of body weight
That's about 2300-2500 calories on the majority of her training days / 1900-2000 on non-training days.
In my experience, most women are hovering closer to 1200-1500, thus signaling stress to her body + creating the landscape for fat storage and muscle wasting. 😳 Oh Goddess, help us!
PS: I don’t count calories (you probably don’t need to either), and the numbers above are merely to demonstrate the vast difference in what most women *need* versus what we’ve been told, and/or what we're currently doing.
Long story short?
Don’t fear your hunger. Experiment with eating more to *nourish* your amazing body and see what happens.
I know it might seem scary at first. It goes against everything you've been told about weight loss. I've been there.
If you're feeling this way, do me a favor: close your eyes, and do some 4-7-8 breathing with me (video here). Then, in the silence after, I want you to tune into your heart and belly space. Take a moment to think about what you've been doing (likely calorie restriction and/or intermittent fasting) and if it's actually working, I think you'll find that the idea of fueling your body with nourishing, whole foods and loving up on her sounds really, really good, doesn't it? Close by putting your hands on your belly and saying a prayer of gratitude for this body of yours that is always working for you.
And if you're in the state where you're currently not hungry in the morning or throughout the day (which means you're not eating breakfast, possibly skipping lunch or snacking throughout the day but not eating any real, high-quality food), know that this is your body running on stress hormones. While it might feel "good" or even "productive" right now, it will come back to bite you in the ass. You're creating an energy deficit that your body will fight to manage for as long as it can, but ultimately will likely lead to hormone dysfunction (particularly thyroid - the master of your metabolism + energy) and increased inflammation, with decreased immunity.
It also must be said that I'm not just talking about mindlessly eating more or taking this as a green light to eat junk or highly-processed foods. Let me be clear - this looks like filling your plate with nutrient-dense, whole food of the highest quality (see infographic below) that you're cooking at home, the vast majority of the time. It also means acute attention to balancing your blood sugar with every bite you take. So I'm not talking about the stuff that comes in packages (pawned off as "healthy" but that's really still highly processed junk), is made by a restaurant and/or the take-and-go section of the grocery store (yes, even the "healthy" grocery stores are using seed oils + low-quality proteins).
Your belly space is the the energetic center that holds your intuition (your "gut feelings"), and so it also makes sense that when we've ruled as dictator over this space for years - tuning out her needs (hunger) and overriding her signals (indigestion, IBS, constipation, bloating, gut dysfunction, leaky gut) that we likely also have a hard time tuning in to our intuition, setting boundaries over our time + energy and honoring our own needs + desires.
So don't be surprised, as you begin to build trust and love back for this space, as you begin to listen + nourish, if these other areas start to transform as well. Everything is connected, and the more you get to know how your body works and honor her wisdom, it ripples out into all areas of your life.