Am I eating too little on this diet? Or exercising too much?
January 21, 2014 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I've been really good about sticking to my diet in 2014, but now I'm worried that I may be eating too little and worry I'm burning muscle instead of fat.

I'm a 31 year old female. I'm 5'6 and I started at 158 lbs at the beginning of the year and now I'm down to 154. My goal is 143.

I've been religiously recording everything I eat and wearing my fit bit. My goal is to eat between 1,100-1,300 calories a day. Taking into account cheat days, on average I am eating a little over 1,300 calories a day. I'm eating approximately 50% carbs, 30% carbs & 20% protein. I also am having a glass or 2 of wine about 3 or 4 times a week (I record everything I drink in My Fitness Pal). I'm mostly eating non-processed foods I make at home, however I eat a lean cuisine for lunch about 3 times a week. Other than that not a whole lot of processed food.

According to my Fit Bit I am burning on average a little over 1,900 calories a day. Although my Fit Bit won't necessarily take into account all forms of exercise so it may be higher than this.

I am also doing Jillian Michael's 30 day Shred on average 5 days a week (25 minutes of circuit training) and on average I am walking 3 miles a day.

While bizarrely I haven't been particularly hungry or had a lot of cravings, I haven't been sleeping well and have been somewhat low energy. Although, I have also been getting over a cold and work has been super stressful. My workouts have been so-so and some days I've barely been able to finish. My lack of sleep and pretty much constant anxiety riddled dreams are really what has me thinking I'm doing something wrong. However, I am prone to anxiety and nightmares in general. So the dreams and anxiety may have nothing to do with my diet.

I intend to stay on this diet, maybe with some brief breaks, for probably at least the next 1-2 months. After initially losing 2 lbs quickly (probably due to water weight), I've been losing about a 1 lb a week, maybe a little more.

I realize starvation mode is a myth, but as far as I know burning muscle instead of fat isn't and obviously I want to be burning fat. I haven't felt horrible, but I also feel more tired, anxious and slightly depressed. The trouble sleeping and bad dreams are really my primary issue though. Am I eating too little? Or not enough protein? Exercising too much?

I'm really trying to commit 100% to this diet so get the weight off as quickly as is reasonable and healthy to do so and so I'm trying to avoid doing anything to slow down my progress to less than 1 lb a week.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can you clarify those 50% and 30% numbers? Because right now they both say carbs. I'm assuming you meant carbs and fat, but I'm not sure which number is which.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:47 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need more protein, lady. Also, if you really are doing Jillian Michaels upwards of 5x a week AND walking 3 miles every day you might need slightly more calories. That sluggish feeling and occasional inability to finish your workouts sounds like you aren't giving your body enough fuel.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm also curious about the 50%/30% macronutrients, but right off the bat I'd say you need to be eating a lot more protein.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, you want to ramp down the cardio and up the strength training if you want to preserve muscle while reducing fat. I'm not all that familiar with the "30 Day Shred" program, but you might want to reduce that to two or three times a week, and add in two or three days of "pure" strength training: not circuits, not cardio mixed with weights, but just strength training. You can do body weight training (push-ups and the like, or try the beginners' routine on Nerd Fitness) or dumbbells or barbells or whatever, but think heavier weights, fewer reps (if you can lift it 25 times, you need a heavier weight). This will help build strength and preserve muscle without bulking you up.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

From what you say you're drinking between three and eight glasses of wine per week, meaning that between 4 and 11% of your total caloric intake is coming from wine alone. I am all for the occasional indulgence, but when you limit yourself to so few calories, it becomes paramount that the calories you do ingest be dense with nutrients. You need a lot more produce and protein and less alcohol.
posted by telegraph at 4:04 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do you know what your maintenance number of calories is? 1300 seems low to me, especially with that much exercise, but it depends on your metabolism. Also, non-processed food is good, but are you eating a lot of vegetables and fruits or is it mostly meat/grains/fat? Low energy sometimes means lack of nutrients, especially on a low calorie diet. The lost sleep is probably the most important factor, though - do what you can to improve that, maybe go to a sleep clinic.

Also agree with cutting back on the wine - nothing wrong with a treat, but those are calories that could be spent getting nutrients into your body to help you feel better and finish your workouts. I bet you'd feel better if you channeled some of those calories into extra protein and green vegetables.
posted by randomnity at 4:38 PM on January 21, 2014

My lack of sleep and pretty much constant anxiety riddled dreams are really what has me thinking I'm doing something wrong.

Try cutting out the alcohol. Booze can really mess with your sleep pattern, especially when your booze-to-food ratio increases.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

While bizarrely I haven't been particularly hungry or had a lot of cravings, I haven't been sleeping well and have been somewhat low energy. Although, I have also been getting over a cold and work has been super stressful. My workouts have been so-so and some days I've barely been able to finish.

That description leads me to believe that you need to eat more. Getting over a cold = needs more energy. Stressful situations = needs more energy. Not getting enough sleep = needs more energy.

So yes. You need to eat more, particularly protein. Lean protein won't add a huge number of calories and it'll help you out with all those problems.

Congrats on finding a routine that works for you! Sounds like you've done the hard part already.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good lord, woman, nthing that you need a lot of protein to support all that exercise. (Congrats on your dedication! Get your diet balanced out right and you're going to have no trouble at all with your goal.)
posted by desuetude at 11:01 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sleeping well and low energy are hints that you're not feeding your body's needs properly. And if you want to retain muscle while losing weight, the two best things to do are a) eat more protein and b) lift weights. (I am not a nutritionist; I have lost 80 pounds over the past year and a half eating 35% of my calories from protein and have retained most of my lean body mass).
posted by bedhead at 6:56 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

MyFitnessPal is structured such that you’re supposed to eat back your exercise calories. Your deficit is built into your calorie goal. With only 11 lbs. to lose, your goal should be set to lose .5 lb. per week:

I use MFP’s protein & fiber goals as minimums, and ignore the rest. Everybody’s different, and it will take trial & error to find what works for you. What you’re doing right now is clearly not working for you.
posted by editorgrrl at 9:45 AM on January 22, 2014

“Eating back your exercise calories” means going to and connecting your MFP & Fitbit accounts. If you burn more calories than the activity level you set in your MFP profile, then you will be given more calories to eat. If you burn fewer calories and you enabled negative calorie adjustments, then you will lose calories. But MFP will never lower your calories below 1,200.

As you pointed out, Fitbit only tracks step based activity like walking & running. Non-step exercise (like circuit training) should be logged either in Fitbit or in MFP. The choice is yours. If you choose MFP, you’ll be asked for start & end times so MFP can override your step data during that time.

Feel free to friend me on MFP (that goes for any & all MeFits), and/or join the MeFite Cheering Squad.
posted by editorgrrl at 10:02 AM on January 22, 2014

(If you do the 'eating back exercise calories' thing, be aware that my fitness pal wildly overestimates calories burned from exercise. People who do this typically suggest eating back 1/3 to 1/2 what MFP says you have burned.)
posted by kadia_a at 2:28 PM on January 22, 2014

I wasn't losing much weight on MFP until I got a Fitbit and linked my accounts. I log all my non-step exercise in Fitbit (never in MFP), and eat back my calorie adjustments. And I'm losing!
posted by editorgrrl at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2014

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