When Your Menopause Calorie Deficit Backfires | #454

Episode #454 Your menopause calorie deficit backfires when you have inadequate energy reserves to fuel your daily activities and your exercise.

Are you someone who does more exercise if what you’re doing isn’t working?

Are you someone who starts exercising more without increasing your food intake?

Could you be underestimating your caloric needs?

In a world where overweight and obesity is a real epidemic, that may seem like a very strange question. And if you’re a woman in menopause struggling to lose weight you may also be thinking that eating the fewest calories wins the game.

You’d be wrong.

Menopause Calorie Deficit vs Energy Deficit

This episode isn’t about diets, or nutrition, but it is about why your exercise isn’t working in relationship to your diet. Because if on one hand we’re talking about exercise that will boost your metabolism then we can’t have a complete conversation without talking about how you’re going to feed that elevated metabolism.

You don’t have to be a marathoner or a triathlete to qualify as an athlete. The International Council on Active Aging has always qualified an active older adult intentionally exercising to better themselves as an “athlete.” Exercise 3-5 times a week and you’re there.

So if you’re listening, you’re within ear shot, you’re probably going to want to hear this.

Situations that could result in too little recovery to support your hormones:

Exercising more without changing nutrition at all.

Exercising more without recovering between (with a combination of rest between sessions, sleep, low stress, as well as nutrition).

Eating less without changing your exercise.

Nutrition here refers to all things food.

Your calories

while a calorie deficit is usually necessary for weight loss it is trumped by hormones. So, if you’ve got an unrealistic gap between energy expended from exercise + your resting metabolic rate and your food intake, your body will go into stress mode. Chronically stressed? Your body stores fat.

Your protein

if you’re seeking weight loss, more protein is required to preserve lean muscle. If you lose weight that is muscle, long term you will have significantly slowed your metabolism such that weight regain is very likely.

Quality food

micronutrient dense foods are your best friend. It takes more than protein alone. Eating the rainbow, and yes, eating carbs is required to gain muscle! So, if you’re going too low on carbs and you’re exercising that might help you shed water weight for Saturday night. It will backfire long term since your exercise is only fighting a battle against losing muscle, you won’t win it and you definitely can’t gain lean muscle without some carbohydrates.

Feeling Tired?

Significantly few calories combined with an increase in exercise creates a fuel deficit for your body. The amount of fuel it burns will slow. Your body will be telling you it’s tired, in effort to get you to do less. In menopause calorie deficit is a bit trickier, especially if you’re trying to intermittent fast, or do keto AND exercise.

Experiencing a great deal of fatigue? Check with your calorie intake vs your calorie output.

Sometimes in the middle of a program, one of our students might say that they suddenly have started to experience fatigue.

My first question is what is your diet like? Are you getting adequate protein, and timing your protein and carbohydrates correctly? You’ve been a more active person for 8 weeks. Have you begun to eat like an active person?

There are all kinds of reasons for fatigue.

Sometimes, fatigue is your body’s way of telling you that there is or was or is a severe energy deficiency.

Said another way, every time you eat too little you message your body to burn less. When you eat more you message your body to burn more.

In either case that can go wrong.

If we all at like it was Thanksgiving every day we’d be in trouble when the activity of the day is usually on TV.

If you’ve been a chronic dieter, you already know what it’s like to be on a diet to lose weight, and then find when you return to a normal eating schedule you gain the weight back, if not more.

Generally, weight loss that occurs with certain activity and diet, can only be sustained by doing more activity and less food. But since neither are possible long term without illness, or injury, or both, there’s got to be a better way.

What is it?

Finding your Goldilocks of activity, the Goldilocks of eating, the Goldilocks of sleep to support your optimal body functioning.

How much do you need?

I hate to count. But I’ll give you an idea, and how apps are useful. That’s just to spot check.

Your resting metabolism is just what it takes to live, breath, function, no exercise.

That’s probably around 1200-1300 kcals if you’re a medium size woman. A large-sized woman requires more.

Some women are barely getting that.

Let’s not forget that your brain needs fuel too. So, if you think you’re sitting all day, so you don’t need food, make sure you factor in whether you’re lying around watching movies and getting massages or you’re running a business. Big difference in your energy needs.

If you’re an active woman, you need more calories to fuel that performance. 

If you’re doing a 20-minute HIIT, and a strength training session, then you go out and play golf, garden, or clean the house all day you need significantly more calories.

A Menopause Calorie Deficit Gone Extreme

Using a client’s FitBit to track activity recently she hadn’t realized that during summer days playing golf, working out, walking, she had 3000-5000 kcals burned.

Instead of a reasonable 300-500 kcal deficit that won’t throw your hormones (cortisol, insulin to start) under the bus, her deficit was closer to 2000-2500. You’ll never lose weight doing that, or if you do it will be muscle-wasting. Muscles require both protein and carbs and a large deficit just won’t get them enough of what they need.

Rest, Reduce, But Don’t Starve

On your rest and recovery days, provided you’ve completely recovered from challenging days, you can consume less, it makes sense. But not dramatically less. You don’t want to play the game, “I haven’t exercised therefore I shouldn’t eat.”That’s an absolute nightmare.

I guarantee you that if you have either a 2500 or an 800-calorie deficit you’ll hear in a minute, your body can in no way be getting what it needs for muscle, bone, and tissue health. It’s showing up everywhere, you’re just ignoring it.

Another client was tracking calories and proudly reported she was keeping her calories at 1100 until she lost a few pounds. Here’s what’s oh, so wrong with that. As I mentioned earlier, when you eat less, you message your body to burn less. So, you’re more tired, and intuitively you think it’s the exercise making you tired.

“I just don’t know why I was so tired,” I’ll hear.

Discounting Menopause Calorie Deficit

Women often don’t think about the fact that they haven’t eaten much has anything to do with their fatigue. Especially, if it’s something they’ve gotten away with previously. But it has so much to do with it.

Your body slows. It wants to put out less energy and effort. If you ever were “successful” losing weight on a diet like that, do you realize that you’d have to eat less than 1100 to sustain the weight loss? Yes, and exercise more.. and very quickly again.. it’s just not possible.

So, the answer?

Strength training, and body composition instead of the scale. If you’re skinny in menopause, chances are you are also going to be frail and fractured at 80. You want to be strong. Strong you.

  • Yes, you can like the reflection in the mirror.
  • Yes, you can enjoy shopping for clothes.
  • Yes, you can command attention when you walk in a room.

None of that comes from skinny.

A reasonable calorie deficit, with regular meals, especially near your exercise so you optimize your muscle protein synthesis is the answer. You’ll feel better. You’ll want to do more, not less. You’ll also want to go sleeveless or carry your own darn dog food bag.

A reasonable calorie deficit doesn’t disrupt your hormones. It puts your body into a fat burning state that comes from expending more energy during exercise. And you also get to enjoy food again instead of thinking of it as the enemy.

Skinny Jeans from a Calorie Deficit?

I’m not suggesting that you give up your skinny jeans, unless your thighs like mine are more muscular and made for something different. I’ve never been able to find jeans that fit my waste without a gap and hug my hips. I’ve found about 2 pair in my life and guess what? I hung onto them so long they’re back in style.

I am suggesting that if you have to starve to fit in your skinny jeans, life could be so much more fun.

Other episodes you might like:

Intermittent Fasting for Active Menopause Women?

How Under-Recovery Kills Muscle Tone in Menopause

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