Nutrition & Dieting/Too few calories


QUESTION: "I'm 54, 159 lbs (want to be 149) Female, 5'9" and have been dieting since high school.  I always could lose 5-10 lbs quickly by cutting down to 700-800 calories a day. To maintain my weight I probably didn't eat more than 1200-1500 a day, without realizing it. I've read that my metabolism is probably off because of this and I was in starvation mode. I started eating more calories (around 1500-1600) to get back to "normal" and have gained another 2 lbs this week.I walk 3 miles, 3 days a week and do aerobics on some days. How do I get this 10 lbs off? Please advise! Thank you, Lisa
PS. I take thyroid meds, and I'm a health food nut, no packaged anything, all natural, very little red meat or white foods (potatoes), organic, low salt, trying to watch sugar but it's so hard, I love fruit! My weakness is bread (muffins)which I try to cut down on.  I count calories daily. Thanks again!"

ANSWER: Hi Lisa,

Glad to see you're eating clean, but the 700-800 calories really is not the way to go. I advise people to never go below 1200-1600. Remember your body can burn upwards of 1200 calories a day just maintaining life functions.

What you do when you drop calories too low is kill your metabolism. The thing you need to do is expand more than you take it. You do this not by taking in less, but expending more.
There is no reason you can't lose and maintain weight on 2000-2100 per day, possibly 1800 on the extreme low.

The walking and aerobics are great. However you should really consider adding in some resistance training. Think of it like this. Burning calories is burning energy. What uses more energy...Running up a hill or pushing a car up a hill?
Weight training can actually burn far more calories than aerobic exercise.

Nobody says you need to be a bodybuilder. You can lift moderate weight in the 8-12 rep range.
If you don't have access to weights or a gym then improvise. Use homemade weights (a gallon is about 8 pounds) or bodyweight.
Try to do some type resistance training 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes each session.

This will not only burn more calories but will help strengthen and build muscle tone. Again don't let weight training scare you. Women don't normally bulk like men, in fact its pretty damn hard to get bulky even as a man.
I urge you to look up IFBB Pro Amanda Latona. She is a great example. Just keep in mind she is a professional model and athlete, my point is just to show you that even intense weight training does not take away from femininity.

Some other things to consider are different forms of cardio

HIIT cardio (High Intensity Interval Training) alternates high and low bouts of activity. This is proven to burn more fat than steady state cardio in a shorter time frame.
For example on a treadmill you might do a 5 min warm up at 2 MPH. Then for 60 seconds run at 5 MPH, then walk at 3 MPH for 90 seconds. Alternate like this for about 10 rounds.
A typical HIIT workout is 20-25 minutes versus 30-45 steady state.
You really don't need or want to do more than 25 minutes of HIIT.

Tabata- This is a rather new system out of Japan. Tabata is similar to HIIT but lasts, get this...4 minutes. The thing is you probably can't do more than the 4 min. In fact Dr. Tabata says if you can do more, you're doing it wrong.
In tabata you do an activity (example jump rope) for 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds. A Tabata workout lasts 8 rounds.

Consider adding cardio in after resistance. Do 30 minutes resistance training then follow that with 20 minutes of HIIT.

As for your meals, how many do you eat per day? In a near perfect world you should eat 5-6 times a day every 3 hours. Eat 3 main meals with 2 or 3 snacks.
Every meal should contain protein.

Also watch your starch intake. Reserve most of your starch (bread, pasta, rice) for breakfast and before workouts.
Otherwise stick with fibrous carbs like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, etc.
Just remember, corn is a grain not a vegetable and carrots are more on the starchy side.

Finally try alternating your caloric intake.
Maybe Monday you eat 2000 calories, Tuesday 1900, Wednesday 1800, Thursday back to 2000. This method keeps your metabolism always on the defense.

And allow your self a cheat meal once a week. It helps your sanity and believe it or not can help jump start your metabolism. Read my article on cheating at in the nutrition section. Its called "Cheaters win"

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for all of your suggestions. I've done the HIIT and liked doing it until my knees started to hurt (jumping jacks). Any other low impact ways to do HIIT? Love the idea of Tabata but then again, low impact exercise idea's?On the resistance training, I do have 2.5, 5, and 10 lb weights and have been  trying to focus on the backs of my arms and some overhead reps for balance (with a workout CD, Sharron Mann)but what do I do for my legs? I have an exercise bike and I've been doing leg lifts in a chair, is that considered resistance? When counting calories do I need to subtract the amount of calories burned and how would I know what burns what? Thanks again for helping me!

There are lots of cardio options that are easy on the legs.
Have you ever tried boxing? Nobody says be Laila Ali but you can do Tabatas shadow boxing. Throw random punches.

Or another favorite of mine, walk while punching a dumbbell. To do this take each step as you punch out. If you step forward with your right, you punch right. Try to do this alternating sides.

Other things you can do with tabata or HIIT include low weight explosive moves like a snatch

when it comes to legs though, are you hurting because or injury or non use? If you're not used to much leg exercise it will be sore for a while but you adjust.
It helps though to do exercises to strengthen the legs. Squats are great. You can do dumbbell squats. Do 3 sets of 8 holding maybe 8-10 pounds in each hand.

For the backs of your arms concentrate in moves like tricep pressdowns and overhead triceps extensions.

But anything you do where you push or pull against a force is resistance. Be it lighting a dumbbell or bodyweight squats or pushups.

When counting your calories, ok let me just say I am not a fan of this. I think people get too fixed on a number. But generally yes you would subtract what you burn in exercise or just day to day activity. There is an actual formula to this but I can't calculate it without some more data from you.
Unfortunately you can't really pinpoint the calories burned from a workout because we're all different. When certain workouts boast "burn 1000 calories" that's just a general estimate.
It is really a lot od trial and error unless you get scientific with it and few people will or need to go that far.  

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Tim Santoro


I can answer questions regarding the following. Confusion about basic nutrition, explain how to improve diet, when and how to eat better, eating for weight loss, eating for health, eating for fitness. I will answer questions about nutritional and workout supplements. I will not endorse any fad diets, however I can explain the draw backs to them and explain why they are the wrong way to go. I will not give advice relating to medications and/or their interactions with food and supplements.


I have earned certifications in Fitness Training and Fitness Nutrition from ISSA. I also self taught and stay current on the fitness industry. I lost 70 pounds training my self.


SFN- Specialist in Fitness Nutrition from ISSA CFT-n Certified Fitness Trainer from ISSA

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