When You Should Stop Trying to Lose Weight

A lot of women feel that they need to lose weight most of the time. I have definitely been one of those women.

Since I was 14, I have probably been on some sort of diet or calorie restriction. I can remember one time where I was not.  I did it the wrong way, and gained about 3 pounds, which left me unhappy with how I looked. So back to restricting I went. Mostly, I think this was because restricting is all that I have known. Now I know that I *could* lose the weight I want if I really pushed myself to my limits and made my main focus weight loss.

However, I also want to enjoy life.

Being tired all the time, have no sex drive, not care about anything. Just go to work, workout (if I even have the energy) and sleep. That’s not life. After getting back to working out consistently I am happier with my body and have decided that it is time to increase my calories.

Another thing that I have decided to do is to give up my goal weight. This has become a challenge just to see the number. I don’t want to judge my body on what the scale says anymore, I want to judge my body on what it can do if treated right. Ditching this goal weight is one of the final steps that I need to take to finally (after 19 years) be free of the eating disorder mentality.

One thing that I have realized is that I don't necessarily want to "lose weight" as much as I want to achieve a desired look. I want to look smaller, but still be strong and capable of doing things. I don't want to be weak and small. I'm sure that a lot of you can agree with this mindset.

The Diet (1)

So when should you stop focusing on losing weight?

When you have been in caloric deficit for too long or yo-yo dieting

Being in caloric deficit temporarily (about 12 weeks) can be good at times. But when you are perpetually in a caloric deficit, your body starts to get used to it. It adapts to the lower food intake and slows down to accommodate. Your body will no longer respond to what should be caloric deficit and in turn require even more cutting of calories, leaving you hungrier.

The same goes for yo-yo dieting. Your body needs a break from the stress of restriction/ binging that yo-yo diets places on it. Taking time to heal and get back to what it considers normal is good. Reduce the stress on your body and you may see unintended changes.

Now you may be wondering what is considered a caloric deficit or yo-yo dieting? If you have been eating 10-12 x body weight or lower, you have been eating in a caloric deficit.

When your lean, but don’t have a lot of muscle mass (“skinny fat”)

When you are lean, your body doesn’t have much weight to lose. You may want to “tone up” or have a “tight stomach”. Losing more weight will not accomplish this. You want to focus more on your body composition than on the scale weight. Implementing a strength training program is going to be your best option. The scale may increase or stay the same, but your body measurements will most likely shrink. This is because, pounds for pound, muscle takes up less space than fat. It will also give you some muscle to “tone” against.

For most women, a body fat of ~20% (men ~12%) is considered pretty lean. When you start getting lower than this, you are reaching a point of diminishing returns. Trying to restrict and increase cardio all you want, but your body is just going to say that enough is enough.

Steps to take to Quit the Dieting Cycle and Focus on Your Desired Look:

As we all already have an idea of what we want to look like, I'm just going to skip the step of telling you to figure out what you want to look like. Also,

Step 1: Find out what my maintenance calories should look like

The first step to finding out what your calories should look like is to calculate your calorie for maintenance. A typical maintenance calorie range will be 13-15x bodyweight. Once you have this number, and you get over you’re excitement or fear of eating this much, you need to… you can check out my post on how to calculate your calories and macros here.

Step 2: Pull yourself out of a caloric deficit

Once you know how many calories that you should be eating for maintenance of your weight, you have two options to get there:
  • you can slowly increase my calories up from current to maintenance or
  • you can go all in.
Choosing to go slowly is the preferred way to reduce any fat gain that would accumulate from the increase in calories. If you have been severely restricting calories, or restricting food groups (carbs/fats) you may want to very slowly increase your limits every week. I am talking about 10-20g carbs and 3-5g fats every week to reduce fat gain and allow your body to catch up to what you are doing.

The second option would be to all of a sudden increase your calories, your body will respond as if you are binging. It will feel like it is holding onto all of the extra calories that you are eating, because..  well.. it is. Your body has accommodated to the lowered number of calories. It has slowed things like digestion (which means you are absorbing more from your foods), it has reduced the energy usage throughout the day (you don’t fidget as much as you used to, right?). When you start to put a bunch more calories in, your body is still operating as if it were receiving lower calories and will absorb more of the increase due to slow digestion.

Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to adding calories back.

Step 3: Protein

Now that you are increasing your calories, you want to make sure that you are getting enough protein to support the muscle mass that you do have and the muscle that you may gain. Aim to eat about 0.7-1.0 grams per pounds of bodyweight per day of protein. So for me, I am sitting at 110 pounds, I would want to eat between 77-110 grams of protein per day. More protein than 1.5 gram/pound of body has not been shown to increase muscle growth. It has been associated with satiety, but carbs still win when it comes to feeling full.

Step 4: Lift Heavy Things

Ok, I know what you’re going to tell me now that you’ve read up to here.. you want me to increase my calories, eat more protein, and now lift weights? Aren’t I going to gain a ton of muscle and be bulky? That’s exactly why I was on a diet in the first place! Well now, hear me out....

Lifting weights and eating sufficient protein does increase muscle mass. BUT most women do not have the natural testosterone levels to grow big bulky muscles that you picture yourself growing in your head. Also, women that do have bulky muscles or more defined muscles than you idealize have either been working out and lifting progressively heavier weights for years and/or have been taking supplements to increase muscle size (hint: it’s not just protein).
To get a more toned look, you are going to want to lift weights.
Decently heavy weights, I might add. This muscle mass than you will gain will not only burn more calories (a.k.a fat) while at rest, but it will also shape your body and give you “feminine curves”.
Try to aim for at least 3 days of weight lifting per week.

If you want to add in some cardio, go for it, but do not add in more than you are currently doing. That will only stress your body out more. The goal is to stop worrying about what the scale says and start to enjoy the things that your body can do when you feed it right and take care of it.