#14 Low Calorie Diets for Weight Loss & Maintenance
The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast
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In Episode 14 of The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, Natalie Douglas and Kate Callaghan discuss the effectiveness of a low calorie diet for weight loss and weight maintenance.
- What is considered a low calorie diet
- The negative impacts of chronic low calorie diets
- How much should you be eating for weight maintenance, weight loss or weight gain?
- Is is all just calories in versus calories out?
- When should you/shouldn’t you count calories?
- What about macronutrients and the idea that calories don’t count at all?
- Our thoughts on the IIFYM diet
- The importance of meeting micronutrients for hormonal healing
Natalie K. Douglas 0:02
Hello and welcome to The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast. My name is Natalie Bourke, Holistic Dietitian and Nutritionist from HealthByWholeFoods.com.au and with me as always, I have Kate Callaghan, the Holistic Nutritionist from TheHolisticNutritionist.com. Kate, how are you?
Kate Callaghan 0:20
I’m good, thanks, Nat. How are you?
Natalie K. Douglas 0:22
I’m good. I actually am quite content in my little podcasting room, sipping my peppermint tea, and lately, I have been making a lot of gelatin gummies. But I still haven’t quite decided what texture I like the best. Like you know, how if you put more gelatin there, a bit more like gummy and if you put less then they’re more like squishy, and I’m trying to like get the right amount of squishiness for my lacking, but it’s proving to be very difficult, especially when I’m not a measuring person. I’m just like, that looks right and it’s never right.
Kate Callaghan 0:58
But I’m very much a measuring person. Have you seen my latest post on a Three Ingredient Gummies?
Natalie K. Douglas 1:02
Yeah, I did, I saw those and I was gonna make them and then I got distracted because there were, there were bananas in my fridge. And I was like, Oh, I’m gonna try to make banana cinnamon ones and they were actually fine.
I like cinnamon gummies, did they work?
Yeah, they do, it was actually really nice.
Kate Callaghan 1:16
I don’t think of banana as like a fruit they can turn into a gummy, but I guess it could.
Natalie K. Douglas 1:20
Well, I just blitzed it in the blender and then heated it on the sink. So it was kind of even tasted like caramelized banana and I was just like, Oh this is all kinds of amazing. And then I, then I ate the batch in like two days like sometimes it just happens.
Kate Callaghan 1:37
Yum. I like more. I like slightly more squishy ones.
Natalie K. Douglas 1:41
Yeah. So do I. What ratio do you use?
Kate Callaghan 1:45
So, I use two tablespoons of gelatin mixed in cold water first to bloom the gelatin and then I would use half a cup of fruit and half a cup of liquid or a whole cup of liquid.
Natalie K. Douglas
And so then I’d mix those two together.
Natalie K. Douglas 2:02
Yes, I did fine. I did something similar. But I think that I had slightly less liquid. And I need to increase that.
Kate Callaghan 2:09
Well, you don’t know how much you had because you didn’t measure it?.
Natalie K. Douglas 2:11
Oh true, but my best guesstimate, which is probably off because I’m not very good at guessing. But let’s pretend it’s somewhat accurate was I always about there.
Natalie K. Douglas
Actually, I don’t have an actual, like metric tablespoon measurement in my kitchen.
Kate Callaghan 2:25
What? I have two. I’ve got all sorts of measuring implements.
Natalie K. Douglas 2:31
Yeah, I did once upon a time. Anyway, that’s a lot of ranting. So today everybody, we’re actually going to be talking about low-calorie diets. And in particular, we’re going to talk about them in the context of, you know, general health or and weight loss and also hypothalamic amenorrhea situation since we do have quite a wide audience. And they’re probably the three main areas that people are wanting to hear about. So, Kate, I think we should jump right in considering I ranted for a very long time already. So I think maybe what we’ll start with is just talking about what the problem is with really low-calorie diets long term. So we’re talking about, you know, below 1200 calories for women. When we say low-calorie diet, or at least that’s what I refer to it as, it is still low calorie. They’re a bit more than that. And you’re very active, but I’m just trying to pick a number that I know a lot of people would be following like the standard recommendation, traditionally, is if you want to lose weight, and you’re a woman you should eat 1200 calories a day.
Kate Callaghan 3:51
Natalie K. Douglas 3:54
Kate Callaghan 4:00
Yes. Do you want to, do want to talk or you would like me to?
Natalie K. Douglas 4:02
I’m, I’m happy to start, so
Kate Callaghan 4:07
You can see how well scripted this is.
Natalie K. Douglas
Yeah. We don’t have scripts. Scripting is for, yeah, I don’t know, people who are organized actually.
We’re actually, just jealous, alright go.
Natalie K. Douglas 4:19
Yeah. So, I’m going to start with the point of calories in versus calories out. And just to create a bit of a context. And also the idea of other influencers. So the other camp of people who are like no calories don’t count at all. So this will make sense. And it will come all together. So let me explain first. So I’m, from my perspective, I’m not in the camp of people who think calories don’t count when it comes to things like fat loss, I actually think that they do play a significant role. However, that doesn’t mean that other factors don’t influence your ability to lose fat. And what I mean by this is that most people who are on a weight loss journey and who are counting calories do lose weight for a period of time, stop, pause for a period of time. But two things happen. And one, is they can no longer keep up with such minimal intake, especially if they’re, if they’re still eating quite highly palatable foods. And two, the body down-regulates its metabolism to a point at which you kind of hit a plateau and your thyroid starts to become underactive, and you often see issues with HPA axis dysregulation, or adrenal fatigue. And I think the point I’m trying to make in that is that the body can handle or does best on either gradual decreases in food intake and or periods of fat loss, intermitted with periods of eating at maintenance. So that’s in the context of someone that does need to lose weight, and he’s looking to lose weight. Obviously, the message is different when we’re talking to someone who is suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea and, you know, your key aim should be to convince your body that you’re actually not on the fret, you’re not, you’ll put you you want to release as much stress from your body as you can. Kate would would that be accurate? And would, and how do you approach that with your hypothalamic amenorrhea clients, if they come to you on a very low carbohydrate. I’m sorry, low-calorie diet?
Kate Callaghan 6:38
Well, it often will be low carb as well. So in terms of how I approach that, so most people and it’s not just amenorrhea clients who come to me who are under-eating often, it’s everyone, and I’m with you Nat, calories do matter to a certain extent. But so in one way they matter if you’re having too much, and you want to lose weight, yes, that’s the problem. But I think also with weight loss and amenorrhea, if you’re having too few, that’s going to be a problem. Can you keep that really bad kind of vibration noise, I’m sorry.
Natalie K. Douglas 7:11
I only heard it once but it’s gone.
Kate Callaghan 7:12
Sorry, that’s like construction across the road, my house is shaking.
Natalie K. Douglas 7:16
It’s okay. We’ve just got based on our, on our podcast now.
Kate Callaghan 7:21
Sorry, everyone. So one thing that I do like to alert people to and this is across the board, women mostly, men kind of bear on to it. If the, the concept of the resting metabolic rate. And this is basically your, the amount of calories that you require to pretty much lay in bed and do nothing for your basic organ systems to work. So for your heart to beat, for your lungs to breathe, for your brain to keep functioning, just these basic, basic human survival organs that you need to work. It sits about 1200 calories a day, 1200 to 1400 calories a day depending on height, weight, yada, yada, yada, all those things, but it varies around 1200 around that 1200 calorie mark. And so if we think about the recommendation of going on a low-calorie diet of 800 to 1200 calories per day, you’re dipping into those stores that are required for your basic organs to function, which as Nat said, if you’re doing this for an extended period of time, your body’s going to slow your all of your metabolism down, your brain will recognize that you’re in a famine, so to speak, and it’ll slow down the functioning of your thyroid gland and your thyroid gland will then slow down the functioning of everything in your body. And that’s when you start to hold on to excess weight. That’s when you start to see issues with your menstrual cycle with fertility, you’ll probably get an intolerance to cold, you might feel depressed, you’ll get fatigued, basically, everything just slowing down, shutting down. So we do need to keep in mind our basic human needs, like lying in bed, you don’t get up to have the toilet, not having sex.
Natalie K. Douglas
Oh, my God. She said sex.
It’s bedtime without any kind of fun. Although I find sleeping kind of fun. So, I’ve got to sleep.
Natalie K. Douglas 9:19
No, no offense, Aaron. Aaron is her husband, for anyone, I’m sure who that is.
Kate Callaghan 9:30
Just like to yell at random. So, calories, calories matter. So I’m, if you, there was a post that I put up a while ago, or maybe a week or two ago on Instagram, which was a bit of a rant, and it was pretty much a picture of my daughter’s lunch box. And she’s only 21 months. So she’s almost two, she’s not even two. And she eats more than most females that come to me. And she’s she’s teeny tiny and people like, Oh she’s growing and she’s active. She’s 10 freakin kilos, like, it doesn’t matter if she’s active or growing, she’s 10 kilos, you’re still going to need more than her. Like when you’re five to six times her weight, you’re going to need more than her for your body to function at its basic level of need. I mean, the I think I said in there the calorie requirements for a toddler, for her age between 1000 and 1400 calories per day. So that advice to follow 1200 calories per day to lose or maintain weight is just ridiculous and harmful. And it’s just
Natalie K. Douglas 10:41
And unsustainable, unsustainable from a, from a few perspectives. Actually, I think it’s unsustainable from the point that, you know, you can only, only count calories for so long before it starts to eat into a lot of other areas of your life, for example, like being on such a calorie-restrictive diet, it’s going to cause you a lot of stress. It’s also very common that people socially isolate themselves in the context of trying to stick to those kind of low numbers, because, you know, going out to dinner with your friends, how are you going to know how many calories are in that food? Or how are you going to not eat for the whole day just so you can fit in that dinner that you’ve been wanting to go to? And these are things that happen a lot. And these are, these are thoughts that I know a lot of women have. And I don’t think that that’s very healthy. Kate, just backtracking a bit. So if someone listening wants to know, a rough estimate of how many calories they need per day for maintenance, what would you advise that they they do? If they’re looking for a ballpark figure?
Kate Callaghan 11:55
For maintenance, I would, well, it’s always if you’re having issues with weight and you’re unsure, I would say get help from a professional, otherwise Google. No, kind of yes. So there are a couple of equations that you can actually plug your details into. I like to use something called the Schofield Equation, which is SCHOFIELD.
Natalie K. Douglas 12:26
It’s like Schofield if anyone is like me and sounds out words.
Kate Callaghan 12:31
Do you watch Family Guy?
Natalie K. Douglas
I used to, a lot.
Once this Stewie like, cool whip.
Natalie K. Douglas
Oh, yes, cool whip.
Cool whip, anyway, watch Family Guy. If you haven’t seen Family Guy. So Google, Schofield Equation, or Harris-Benedict equation, or Mifflin-St Jeor and we can probably put links, to those maybe.
Natalie K. Douglas
Yeah. I can do that.
Sorry, Nat, just giving you more work.
Natalie K. Douglas
And you can plug in all your details there. And so you put in, some have most of them have weight, some have height, and age, etc. You put in all your details, pop it through the calculator, I think there’s probably calculators online, that’ll do it for you using these equations. So there you go, get more tech-savvy than me.
Natalie K. Douglas
And just plug in your details into Google.
Natalie K. Douglas 13:18
Hi, I’m Kate, I’m from Winnetka.
Kate Callaghan 13:22
I’m pregnant, leave me alone.
Natalie K. Douglas
But make sure, had a busy day, back to back clients. Little bit of brain drain, but make sure you also put in your activity factor. So the equation that you’ll get will give you your resting metabolic rate so that will give you your, your organ needs. So you don’t want to go lower than that. That’s your absolute minimum, and then putting in your activity factor. And that’ll give you suggestions for what your activity factor should be. So you know, I think one is lying in bed.
Natalie K. Douglas 13:55
And be honest, like, and I don’t mean be honest, as in, like, I actually see people that are like, oh, I’ll just put one lower, just in case, No, like, look at it and see which one you think that you truly do fit into, and go in there. If you’re halfway between the two, then pick a number halfway between the two. So don’t, don’t underestimate because that’s just, there’s no point to the exercise then.
Kate Callaghan 14:21
Exactly, and, and so that’ll give you a ballpark figure. I mean, all of the equations have their issues, and nothing’s perfect, but it’s going to give you a ballpark figure. And so for maintenance, you want to stay at what it gives you, for weight loss, you might be looking at taking off a few hundred calories per day, for weight gain, you probably looking at putting on a few hundred calories onto your result for the day. So if you’re underweight, you’re probably going to be increasing your requirements, about 500 calories per day. On that note for you. So you said before Nat about going out to dinner, and people freak out, if they overeat at one meal, then you have to restrict or run or their diets just a failure, one meal is not going to do anything at all to your overall results. So to put on a half a kilo of weight, you would need to eat an extra 500 calories per day, roughly, roughly everyone’s different in terms of how they process calories and not all calories are created equal. But you know, so if you’re eating 3000 calories at that one meal. More power to you.
Natalie K. Douglas 15:37
Yes, please write to us how.
Kate Callaghan 15:41
Awesome work. But if unless you’re eating that level at that one single meal on top of your usual intake, so you know you’re having 5000 calories in that day, then you’re probably not going to put on weight. So don’t be telling yourself, I shouldn’t be eating this, I shouldn’t be eating this. This is going to right to my thighs, straight to my hips. So I have to go and run, I have to go and starve myself because you don’t and it’s not and just enjoy it. Shut up.
Natalie K. Douglas 16:07
Yeah, it does. It ruins the whole experience. And look, Kate, I think what would be helpful, which I’d like to address now is, let’s have a bit of a scenario of maybe we’ve got someone who is listening who is currently following a 1200 calorie diet, for example. And they want, they do need to lose weight and they wanting to lose weight, but they’re finding that it’s not working. And now they’re hearing us speak about Okay, so maybe I actually need to eat a bit more. So I see this a lot. And I think that, as tempting as it is to say to you that, hey, you’re eating 1200 calories a day, that’s nowhere near enough, you should just go and eat something like 1800 calories a day, I actually don’t think that that’s the right approach. I, if you, because your body has likely down-regulated its metabolism to kind of be able to run off such minimal fuel and the body does best with small gradual changes, you kind of want to coax the body into change and be gentle with it. And my approach to that would be to gradually increase your calories. So I would do maybe 100 calories to 200 calories a week. And until you’re at maintenance calories, whatever that comes out, fit for you. And then see that that for a little bit and you know, maybe for a couple of weeks, and then maybe you can look at cutting down by maybe 100 calories a day, or 200 calories a day to try and get that weight loss happening. But I wouldn’t do it for really long periods, I would, you know, do it for a month or so and then go back to maintenance calories for a bit and then try again. Because the body, as I said you can’t make the body under like put the body under that amount of stress or the stress of not eating enough for really long periods of time expect it to continue just losing and losing and losing you have to change something. So whether that means you know adding some resistance training to your, your day to you know, increase energy burn that way, or whether it means decreasing your calories slightly, but not too ridiculous, low amounts, like 1200 calories, not at all, just you know, a couple of hundred, as Kate said below, what is maintenance? I really do think that that’s the best strategy. And, you know, I, I think that it is important to have someone help you do that, because it also helps you not become quite obsessive, around calorie counting for really long periods of time. I don’t have a problem with clients monitoring their, their energy intake or, or food intake for particular purposes, or to get a good picture of what’s going on and what could be possibly causing a problem. And if you do not have any eating disorder tendencies or, you know, of that way inclined, or if you don’t need to lose weight, I think that it’s, it’s okay to do it if you, if you don’t fit into those categories, but it’s not something that I would want or do I think that people need to do long term, would you, would you agree Kate with, with that?
Kate Callaghan 19:46
Yeah, I would agree. And I would also say if you have been following a low-calorie diet for a while, it might pay to go and get your thyroid checked out because if you’ve been following a low calorie, especially low carb diet for a while there’s a chance for you to blown out your thyroid, and you might need a little extra support there. So go and get that tested preferably with an integrative doctor or a functional medicine doctor, they tend to have more functional, realistic, healthy ranges rather than ranges based on the sick people that go to the doctor.
Natalie K. Douglas 20:19
Yeah, I agree. And there is actually. Yeah, there is actually a podcast that we do on thyroid health, I believe. And there’s also I also have a post a blog post, which I’ll link to, which is on what to actually get tested when you go to see a doctor in terms of properly assessing thyroid function. So we’ll link to those and we won’t go too much more in-depth into that, I’m going to also bring up something else that’s a little bit controversial here. And that is, it’s just a very popular topic is, If It Fits in Your Macros. So, I, alright, so I’ll start by saying that another important part to the puzzle of weight loss if that’s your goal, and that’s a healthy goal for you is the type of food that we eat, or our macronutrient ratios and the impact that they have on appetite regulation, and therefore food intake. So as an example, eating a bowl of slow-cooked lamb with greens is going to be much more satiating than a bowl of pasta. Essentially, this is the mechanism of intuitive eating. So eating when we are hungry and stopping when we’re full. And that’s how most people naturally eat. However, we’re surrounded by highly palatable and highly pleasurable foods that surpass this message of, you know, you’ve taken in enough energy, and so we don’t need to eat anymore. So I believe that the reason why If It fits in Your Macros works really well for a lot of people because I won’t deny that, there are a lot of people that have had success using that approach. And I believe the reason why is because they are meticulously counting what they’re eating and they’re stopping at just one biscuit, for example. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m a fan of eating whatever you want, as long as it fits in your macros because there is more to having a healthy body than controlling your body fat percent or you know, your weight. And many foods that are traditionally eaten in, If It Fits in Your Macro diet are junk and have other negative health impacts. I also think it isn’t mentally healthy for some people to be micromanaging their food intake like that, as I said before, so I’m not really a fan nor a complete critic of the, the approach. I just think that context is everything. So just that that’s my thoughts on If It Fits Your Macros, because I know that a lot of people asked me my opinion on that and I thought I’d put it out there. Kate, do you have any thoughts on that? On If It Fits in Your Macros?
Kate Callaghan 23:07
I would agree. I think that comes back to the whole Quality Matters.
Natalie K. Douglas
So you know, we spent this a whole time looking at calories, but the quality of food really does matter as well. So don’t eat diet foods. Don’t, don’t just focus on the calories.
Natalie K. Douglas
Choose Whole Foods, choose fresh foods that are going to give you the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that you need as well. And this is kind of where I come into a bit of disagreement with some people who treat hypothalamic amenorrhea, especially, maybe some doctors who just say, just go and eat a pie and some chocolate. And I’m like, Um, no.
Natalie K. Douglas 23:49
That’s how I was treated like that’s not for that. But that’s how I was with going through anorexia. That’s how I was treated. And I think that’s absolutely ridiculous, as you said, because if anything, if these people are the most macronutrient deficient. And, you know, there are so many things that are in the context of hypothalamic amenorrhea, there are so many nutrients you need in order to get your hormones functioning back to normal, is that kind of your thinking, Kate?
Kate Callaghan 24:17
Yeah, so it’s, you know, with the macronutrients, Yes, we need carbs, we need fats, we need proteins, we need calories, but we need micronutrients. So we need those vitamins and those minerals, those antioxidants, here’s zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin D, iodine, all of them are essential for healthy reproductive function, healthy thyroid function, you know, vitamins, it basically means vital to life.
Natalie K. Douglas 24:42
Nice. Vital to life, you said that so nicely too.
Natalie K. Douglas
I like that. All we need is that gives you bass in the background, and you could say it again.
Kate Callaghan 24:52
So we do… Go to life. So we need these quality foods, not only for our physical health but for our mental and emotional health. So you know if we, if we’re eating good quality foods, if we have plenty of protein, then we’re going to have those building blocks not only for our hormones but also for the neurotransmitters in our brains as brain chemicals that are going to help keep us happy with the production of serotonin and come with the production of gather in dopamine. Whereas if you’re just eating, highly packaged and processed foods, just to get the calories in, you’re quickly going to find that your anxiety levels increase, you might feel depressed, and you more likely to fall off the wagon and go stop this, I’m going to go back to what I was doing before. And in terms of HA, I want you to stay on the track because you need to stay on the track to, to get your health back on back on track.
Natalie K. Douglas 25:40
Yeah. I’d agree.
I was going to say track.
Natalie K. Douglas
Many. I’d agree with that. I think it’s, it’s something that’s really important to point out. And also like eating a micro nutrient-dense diet. So one that has all these essential vitamins and minerals and fiber nutrients, makes it so much easier to just eat intuitively. And I think that’s, that’s really quite, that’s what food freedom is about is, is knowing you can trust the messages that your body’s telling you or sending you. And I think that’s the place where ultimately we should all be aiming. I don’t think that you know, it needs, we need to count calories for the rest of your life in order to maintain health and maintain weight. And I think that, that should be the very end goal. And I think, as Kate said before, in like investing some money into consulting with someone who can support you through such a process. And really empower you to make those choices and make sure you’re doing it in a healthy way is really, really helpful because for a lot of us, whether it’s the end of the spectrum of we need to lose weight, health or whether it’s the end of the spectrum, hey, we actually might need to put on some body fate, body fate, body fat for our health. Both of them are quite emotional processes and it’s, it’s hard to do it alone. And I would be completely lying if I said that I dealt with any of my health issues alone, despite my knowledge. And I know that there are many, many other health practitioners that would agree. And I think there’s no shame in reaching out and being like, Hey, I know generally what I should be doing but I need your help.
Kate Callaghan 27:33
Definitely, that’s so important. And I would add, I knew we’re just spoken about the importance of having a whole foods diet and minimizing packages and processed foods, I would say if you’re recovering from HA or needing to put on weight. As we said, it’s not, I wouldn’t recommend having packaged and processed foods all the time. But I think it’s important to be okay with having the odd not so perfect food here and there. So if you’re in party and everyone’s having cake, and if you, if you don’t have celiac disease, or if it’s a gluten-free cake, and you can do it, you’re not allergic to it, then I think you should feel okay to enjoy that piece of cake once in a while.
Natalie K. Douglas 28:14
Yeah, I completely agree.
Does that make sense?
Natalie K. Douglas
Yeah, it does. And I’m all for that. So, agreed. And I actually did really well to pull all that together in our short little podcast, don’t you?
Kate Callaghan 28:28
There’s a stuff that we should be saying after the podcast. Just patting ourselves on the back while you’re still listening?
Natalie K. Douglas 28:41
Feel free to agree or disagree. audience. That’s totally okay. Well, I’m proud of myself.
Kate Callaghan 28:44
I’m proud of us, Nat.
Natalie K. Douglas 28:47
Yay! All right, well, I think we will start to wrap it up there. I think we’ve given everyone some good things to go away with and we’re happy to address any follow-up questions you guys have from that. I know that was quite a lot of opinions and information. So feel free to let us know if there’s anything we didn’t address in that context or maybe outside that context that you want us to talk about and we will put some links in the show notes to a few of the things we mentioned, like the energy calculators and also the podcast on thyroid and the article on thyroid. And Kate, is there anything else that you want to mention before we go.
Kate Callaghan 29:29
And just a reminder that my book Holistic Nutrition: Eat Well, Train Smart and Be Kind to Your Body is widely available and it’s going to be launching into the states, the US of A at the end of this month, which is very exciting and then I think it’s also going to be on Amazon at the same time as it’s released. So for everyone else around the world, that means easier access for you as well. So check it out.
Natalie K. Douglas 29:53
That’s awesome, good stuff, and I can put a link to that as well. Alright, well, that’s all for us and we will see you in a couple of weeks time. Thank you everyone for listening and we’ll talk to you then. Bye, Kate.
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