Encinitas ● La Jolla ● Spring Valley
WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW YOUR RMR
If you are a chronic dieter - and these days the majority of people are chronic dieters (whether they realize it or not) - you need to know why restricting calories too severely is damaging to your body and counterproductive.
If you feel like you are restricting calories but not losing weight, the information in this article will help you understand why restricting calories below your resting metabolic rate (RMR) can actually work against you.
Your body is a complicated "machine" and meeting its needs with high quality "fuel" is important for health and performance. The quality of the food you provide your body - especially the quality of the calories you eat to meet your RMR - is important to your health.
• Define "metabolism" and "resting metabolic rate" or RMR
• Explain the importance of knowing your resting metabolic rate (RMR) in weight management
• Tell you how to estimate your own personal RMR
• Explain the critical importance of meeting your RMR requirements with wholesome food
WHAT IS METABOLISM?
Even when you are sitting at rest your body is not resting. Your heart is beating, you are breathing and your body is carrying out other functions that you are unaware of entirely. Your body may be making blood cells, your kidneys may be eliminating wastes and your liver may be clearing toxic substances from your body. Your brain is burning calories as it acts as the master control center coordinating all of these activities. This is work that your body must do to keep you functioning. This work involves making new cells or tissues, breaking down old cells or tissues, or repairing and maintaining existing cells and tissues. All of this work is collectively referred to as your metabolism. It should not be surprising that this work requires energy. You are burning calories even when you sit quietly at rest.
WHAT IS "RESTING METABOLIC RATE"?
The rate at which your body burns calories when you are
comfortably resting is called your "resting metabolic rate" or RMR
There is only one way to know for certain if you have a slow metabolism and that is to measure it. Regardless of which system is used, the rate at which your body uses oxygen while at rest is measured. Without going into the technical details, measuring your rate of oxygen consumption allows calculation of your RMR. Your RMR is the number of calories you burn over time. If we know your RMR, we can easily calculate the number of calories you burn over an entire day if you were to remain at rest.
WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW YOUR RMR
When you cut calories to BELOW your RMR, your body fights back. Restricting calories
below your RMR is like asking your car's engine to run on too little gas. If your car is sitting in the driveway with the engine on, it is burning gas as it sits there. If you put the car in drive and step on the gas, it burns gas at a faster rate. What happens if you choke off the supply of gas to your engine? It sputters and eventually stalls. The same is true for your metabolism.
If you are eating an insufficient amount of food to meet your RMR, you will not be eating
enough to maintain your body's functions properly. You can do this for a day or even two days
without consequences. But chronic restriction of calories below the RMR is not unusual
among dieters. This type of severe restriction can go on for an extended period of time (weeks
or months), but NOT WITHOUT PAYING A PRICE. That price may be your health.
When you restrict calories too severely, your body is forced to make tradeoffs. Your body will struggle to preserve the highest priority bodily functions. Brain and heart function will be a very high priority whereas reproductive function and bone will be sacrificed.
You think you are restricting calories but if your restriction is too severe, your body will do everything it can to conserve calories. A familiar example of restricting calories too severely is the athlete or ballerina or model that is always trying to cut weight. But many people practice severe calorie restriction, not just models or athletes.
Here is what happens to a female who restricts calories too severely for an extended period:
• She experiences fatigue and becomes listless
• She may sleep more
• She finds it more difficult to exercise or work
• She damages her immune system which means she gets sick more often and for longer
• She skips her menstrual periods for months or even years because her endocrine system is
thrown into disarray
• She loses her reproductive capacity (she will be unable to conceive or carry a baby)
• If she is dieting while pregnant, she may damage her baby's development
• She loses muscle tissue as her body breaks down muscle in its desperate search for calories
• She loses heart muscle in addition to skeletal muscle
• Her bones become thinner and she may experience broken bones if she falls
• Her hair becomes brittle and may start to fall out
• Her eyes become dull
• She develops skin problems
• She has bad breath because she is burning ketones
• She starts to experience mood changes
• She develops psychological changes that can develop into dementia, anorexia or bulimia
• She can eventually starve to death
THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY… AND THERE IS.
Severe calorie restriction is totally unnecessary and counterproductive.
The alternative is to take the long view and be willing to LOSE WEIGHT SLOWLY by restricting
calories only modestly. THE UPSIDE – YOU WON’T HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
You need to know your RMR and avoid restricting calories below your RMR.
Here is what you need to know:
1. Your RMR makes up the major portion of your daily calorie needs
2. You should protect your body's RMR as you do a high performance automobile. You need to
eat enough calories to meet your RMR each day.
3. A racecar requires high-test fuel for optimal performance. Similarly, your body requires
wholesome food in adequate amounts to protect your RMR
4. Building healthy muscle and bone by eating the right foods and exercising will actually
INCREASE your RMR and help you manage your weight
5. Protecting your RMR will pay you dividends because you will feel better and be more vigorous
and active - which allows you to burn more calories.
6. To increase your metabolism:
a. Exercise daily
b. Build your muscles through strength training
c. Build bone by doing "weight bearing" exercise like walking or dancing (or any other
exercise or sport that you perform while up on your feet)
If calorie restriction is too severe, the fatigue that results will undermine your exercise regimen. You will not have the energy you need to exercise. You may actually rest more or sleep more - which leads to an overall reduction in calories burned.
Here is a typical scenario:
John burns 2000 calories per day of which 1600 calories per day is his RMR requirement.
John wants to lose 1.5 pounds per week, so he cuts his calorie intake by 750 calories. This
leaves John with 1250 calories - some of which is from nutrient poor soda and "junk food."
The 1250 calories he allows himself is well below the 1600 calories he needs to support his
This drastic reduction in calories and poor quality food causes John to feel fatigued and he
sleeps a lot - in fact he starts sleeping late and does not want to go for his daily workout in the
After a week or two of feeding his body only 1250 calories a day, John is surprised and
frustrated that his weight loss is not the 1 ½ pounds per week he expected. It is scarcely ½
pound per week! This is because to conserve calories, his RMR has decreased drastically and
he is exercising less and sleeping more.
Food is more than Calories - USE WHOLESOME FOOD TO MEET YOUR RMR
Food is one of the great mysteries as well as one of the great pleasures of life. Food contains much more than vitamins and minerals and energy (calories). It contains many, many compounds that play an important role in protecting your health and well-being. Only a tiny fraction of those compounds have been identified and every year many more important compounds in food are found. Few have been studied adequately. We are just at the beginning of understanding how special compounds in fish and vegetables protect against cancer, how dietary fiber protects against cancer and heart disease, and how many other valuable compounds found only in food protect your health. Think of wholesome food as your health insurance policy.
No vitamin-mineral pill is a substitute for good wholesome food.
EAT HEALTHY FOOD TO MEET YOUR RMR
Many of the special compounds found in food are important to keep your metabolism running
optimally. To protect your health and maintain your metabolism, you should plan to meet your
RMR requirements with wholesome foods. A wholesome food is a good source of protein,
vitamins, minerals and many other things your body needs. Sodas, candy, desserts, chips, should
not be used to meet your RMR.
Food is more than Calories - USE WHOLESOME FOOD TO MEET YOUR RMR
Food is one of the great mysteries as well as one of the great pleasures of life. Food contains much more than vitamins and minerals and energy (calories). It contains many, many compounds that play an important role in protecting your health and well-being. Think of wholesome food as your health insurance policy. Many of the special compounds found in food are important to keep your metabolism running optimally. To protect your health and maintain your metabolism, you should plan to meet your RMR requirements with wholesome foods.
A wholesome food is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and many other things your body needs. Sodas, candy, desserts, chips, should not be used to meet your RMR. Hippocrates, the great Greek physician and the father of medicine said, “one man’s food is another’s poison.” You can learn even more about what type of whole foods YOU should eat based on YOUR Metabolic Type.
Here are some of the general foods we recommend you eat to meet your RMR requirements:
• Plenty of veggies. Choose plenty of dark, leafy greens and other highly colored vegetables each
day. Learn how to eat vegetables raw or properly cooked so they are not over-cooked. Frozen
veggies can be as nutritious as fresh. Canned vegetables are OK too. Aim to cover at least half
your plate at lunch and dinner with veggies.
• Aim for whole grain breads, pasta, cereals and other products BUT IN GENERAL LIMIT
THE GRAINS – TRY TO USE ROOT VEGETABLES. Aim for at least 6 servings a day but
remember that for these foods, a serving is only 1 ounce.
• Choose 2 or 3 servings of fruit each day - Don't get carried away with your portion sizes. One
medium-sized apple is one serving. For weight management, avoid juice and choose fruit
instead because fruit is more filling than juice. One half cup of berries or cut up fruit
(pineapple chunks, melon pieces) counts as one serving. One half banana counts as one
• If you tolerate dairy, aim for 2 or 3 servings of low fat or nonfat dairy products a day. A milk
or yogurt serving is one cup. A regular cheese serving is ½ ounce (for regular cheese) and 1
ounce for low fat cheese.
• For protein, choose only fish, poultry, eggs, LEAN meats, beans, and legumes. You MUST
have at least 1 serving at every meal. One egg is one serving. One half cup of beans or legumes
is one serving. 2-3 ounces of meat, fish or poultry is one serving. Avoid fried foods and use
herbs, garlic, onions, salt, pepper and other spices to add flavor.
You are not always sitting at rest. Sometimes you are running, walking, playing, doing physical
labor, and doing many other activities. From the perspective of your body, this is all EXTRA work
over and above the work your body must do when you are resting. When you are active, your
metabolic rate moves up above your resting level because you are burning more calories. Some of
the work your body does is very subtle and you are hardly aware of it. When you are too hot or too
cold, your body has to do work to warm you or cool you. So temperature control causes your
metabolic rate to increase. When you eat food, your body does work so your metabolic rate
increases. When you digest food your metabolic rate increases as you digest and absorb food. At
the end of the day, your total calories burned are determined by your resting metabolism (your
RMR) PLUS all of the calories your body burns to do the extra work you performed throughout
the entire day. Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure covers the total number of calories you
need for the entire day.
Restricting calories too severely causes your RMR to decrease. The more severe the restriction, the more drastic the drop in your RMR. Restricting calories too severely is counterproductive because your body will fight back by decreasing RMR. Not only should you avoid restricting calories below your RMR, you should take care to make sure you eat wholesome food to meet your RMR. ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) ON RMR TEST RESULTS
What is the maintain goal?
When we estimate your MAINTAIN daily calorie goal, we are estimating the calories needed to
cover your resting metabolic needs, PLUS all of the extra calories you need to perform your day's
activities as described above.
How many calories do I have to restrict to lose one pound a week?
The rule of thumb is to create an "energy deficit" of 3500 calories in order to lose one pound. If
you spread that energy deficit over an entire week, that comes to a deficit of 500 calories per day.
If you subtract 500 calories from your MAINTAIN daily calorie goal and it restricts you below
your RMR, you need to back off on your restriction. That is why you need to test to know your
What do I do to lose one pound per week without restricting calories below my RMR?
If you still want to aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day, you can use an exercise strategy to
boost your deficit. The rule of thumb is to walk one mile to burn 100 calories. So you can create a
500-calorie deficit by restricting your food intake by 250 calories and you can walk off the other
250 calories (by walking an extra two and a half miles per day - which is about 5000 steps). The
beauty of this combined approach is that the restriction is milder plus you reap the health benefits of exercise as you lose weight.
BEWARE OF ESTIMATING – ESPECIALLY FOR:
People in these special situations require more calories each day - sometimes many more calories each day:
• Children and teens who are growing
• Women who are pregnant
• Women who are breastfeeding a baby
• People suffering from severe illness, injury or trauma
• People with a fever
For example, these are conditions that increase calorie needs each day.
• If you undergo a severe injury or surgery, your calorie needs can double.
• Pregnancy and breastfeeding also cause a significant increase in calorie needs.
• Children and teens that are growing need more calories.
o A child or teen who is in a rapid growth spurt may need to eat many extra calories
for a period of time and may also need to sleep more than usual to conserve calories
needed for growth.
• Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding may need to eat many extra calories for a
period of time and may also need to sleep more than usual to conserve calories needed for