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Eating under BMR - pros and cons

thhq
Mar 25 2008 14:05
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I've read several strings here in which it is strongly argued that you should eat your BMR.  I didn't, and I can't say that I suffered any bad effects.  But everyone is different.....

Last year I steadily ate under my BMR for 4 months.  I lost weight at an average rate of 2 lbs/week while maintaining a total deficit of 500-1000 calories per day, day in and day out.  Half of the deficit came from eating under BMR.  I didn't notice very many negative effects from doing this, though at times I did get to borderline hypoglycemia (80 mg/L blood sugar range - never below).  The weight I lost was mainly fat, mostly visceral midsection and chest - I dropped about 6" size in both areas.  I've lost some upper body strength (possibly some atrophy, but partly because I don't exercise upper body), but my legs are in better shape than they've been in 30 years, and I have much better endurance.  My out-of-control blood sugar and liver function are now normal. My HDL is high and total cholesterol normal.  All things considered I believe that eating below BMR did me more good than harm because it facilitated needed weight loss.

I don't think I could do the same thing today, nor would it be a good idea.  Going from obese to borderline overweight it was relatively easy, maybe because I was eating the BMR of my target weight.  But at this point I find it very hard to undereat my BMR without feeling starved.  In the later part of my dieting phase I felt this.  I had to generate my caloric deficits almost entirely with exercise, and believe that I would have to do the same to lose another 10 lbs. 

In sum, for me, eating under BMR to combat obesity appears to have been mostly beneficial.  But it's not something I would attempt at normal weight.
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The people who scream loudest that you must eat your BMR all run away when asked for the scientific proof of that.  And that is because they can't provide any.  BMR is a GUIDELINE, not a hard and fast rule because weight loss is an inexact science.  It is based on averages and the most common method of determining BMR is the Harris-Benedict method, which has known deficiencies.

Here is why I believe that eating below your BMR is okay.

The argument people make is that you have to eat your BMR because that is the amount of calories required to keep your organs working properly.  The problem with that is that fat isn't a major organ and BMR is based on your total weight (including fat) and not on lean body mass, which includes all of your organs, bones, etc.  I believe that the minimum number of calories you need to consume to keep your organs working should be based on lean body mass (the vital organs).  It could be argued that since to be healthy, you need some percentage of body fat, you should add a healthy percentage of body fat and calculate based on that number.  Guess what.  That is probably your target weight, so calculating BMR based on your target weight and using that as the starting point for your caloric intake should be a better way to determine minimum calories required than BMR based on your current weight.

When I offer people advice, I usually recommend that they just calculate their BMR based on their current weight and use that as a starting point.  From there, adjust up or down depending on whether you are losing or not, and don't be afraid to gain a couple of pounds if you get it wrong.  The only caveat to that is that for extremely obese people (like me when I started), the Harris-Benedict calculation overestimates the number of calories required, so I let people know that.

I have lost over 100 pounds eating under my BMR, so the people who claim that you will go into "starvation mode" if you do that are full of it.  The thing that I do that a lot of people don't is to see my doctor every couple of months.  He is monitoring my weight loss plan and my progress to verify that I am not hurting myself by consuming below BMR.

Pros - initially you lose weight

Cons - eventually you starve to death

AMEN Techdog!!!

~H~

I partially agree with techdog.  If someone is very overweight and has alot to lose, eating below their bmr might not hurt them.  But as people get closer to a healthier weight, it becomes harder and harder to do.....and in alot of people, as they get closer to a healthy weight, eating below bmr can stall weight loss.

Bottom line is that this is all a numbers game and none of the numbers are ever going to be dead-on accurate.....but the numbers provide a good jumping off point so that people can experiment with what works the best for them.

It's kind of like how we say that a woman should never eat below 1200 calories.  What we fail to mention is that 1200 is just a guideline.  There can be exceptions to every rule.  Some (not many) can get away with eating less, and most actually need more.

Original Post by techdog:

The people who scream loudest that you must eat your BMR all run away when asked for the scientific proof of that.  And that is because they can't provide any.  BMR is a GUIDELINE, not a hard and fast rule because weight loss is an inexact science.  It is based on averages and the most common method of determining BMR is the Harris-Benedict method, which has known deficiencies.

Here is why I believe that eating below your BMR is okay.

The argument people make is that you have to eat your BMR because that is the amount of calories required to keep your organs working properly.  The problem with that is that fat isn't a major organ and BMR is based on your total weight (including fat) and not on lean body mass, which includes all of your organs, bones, etc.  I believe that the minimum number of calories you need to consume to keep your organs working should be based on lean body mass (the vital organs).  It could be argued that since to be healthy, you need some percentage of body fat, you should add a healthy percentage of body fat and calculate based on that number.  Guess what.  That is probably your target weight, so calculating BMR based on your target weight and using that as the starting point for your caloric intake should be a better way to determine minimum calories required than BMR based on your current weight.  Do you have any scientific proof of this or are you not living up to the standards you want to hold others to?

When I offer people advice, I usually recommend that they just calculate their BMR based on their current weight and use that as a starting point.  From there, adjust up or down depending on whether you are losing or not, and don't be afraid to gain a couple of pounds if you get it wrong. Which is basically the same thing that people who don't recommend eating below their BMR say.  The only caveat to that is that for extremely obese people (like me when I started), the Harris-Benedict calculation overestimates the number of calories required, so I let people know that. I agree

I have lost over 100 pounds eating under my BMR eating below your actual BMR or your estimated BMR?, so the people who claim that you will go into "starvation mode" if you do that are full of it.  The thing that I do that a lot of people don't is to see my doctor every couple of months.  He is monitoring my weight loss plan and my progress to verify that I am not hurting myself by consuming below BMR.

 

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I certainly ate under my BMR, but that was to ensure any miscalculations in calorie counting would still allow me eat right. I still lost weight, and it was fat weight. I think that ultimately weight loss is unique to every individual, and unless you have your own personal trainer/nutritionist, the BMR is just a good starting point and then you should adjust accordingly.

thhq
Mar 26 2008 00:51
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minie1, yes, eventually you would starve to death eating below your BMR. But my problem when I was obese was not from starving to death. My problem was being high risk for stroke, heart attack and diabetes. Now that the weight is lost those risks are greatly reduced. I could have eaten my BMR and lost weight more gradually, but I didn't, and I fail to see the downside. I may have atrophied my upper body musculature a little, but I certainly didn't starve to death.

I haven't eaten below my BMR for months. I wish I still could. In order to maintain the weight loss with above-BMR eating, I have to keep up the exercise.

floggingsully: To answer your points.

I clearly stated that what I wrote was my beliefs, not scientific fact, unlike most of the "don't eat below your BMR" crowd, who usually make unsupported statements like.

"If you eat below your BMR, you will go into starvation mode."

"Never eat below your BMR."

They don't qualify their statements at all and don't state their source, just state that you should never eat below your BMR. Weight loss is not that exact of a science. This is what I object to. For those people who suggest using BMR as a guideline and point out the deficiencies in the most common BMR calculation, I have no problem with that. It is the people who make statements like those above, which ignore the errors in the BMR system that I object to. I don't count you among those people. The people I am talking about who quote the BMR rule DON'T say basically the same thing as I do about BMR. They state unequivocally that you shouldn't eat below your BMR, ever. This is an unsupportable statement.

As for whether I am talking actual BMR or estimated BMR, I am talking estimated BMR, which is what the majority (I will not say all of them) of people who quote the unqualified "don't eat below your BMR" rule are using (they are pointing people to online BMR calculators, which only give estimates.) But irregardless, IN MY CASE, not only have I lost weight safely (as confirmed by my physician) eating below my BMR, but I have gained lean body mass while significantly reducing my body fat percentage as measured by a body fat analysis (both caliper test done by my doctor and BIA (what Tanita scales use) at the gym).

If you SUGGEST BMR as a guideline for minimum calorie consumption and clearly explain the deficiencies in the BMR calculations, then I applaud you for your stance. But there are people here who make unqualified statements that eating below your BMR is bad, like happyteacher for one, that I object to.

If you read what I usually advise, I almost always suggest that if you are going to ignore BMR as a minimum, that you should check with your doctor or a nutritionist before doing so for extended periods and have them monitor your progress regularly.

Original Post by minie13:

Pros - initially you lose weight

Cons - eventually you starve to death

Here is a perfect example of the unqualified statement I am talking about.  No mention of the known deficiencies in the BMR calculations and no mention that the BMR calculators online are just estimates.  Just a bald statement that eating below your BMR will starve you to death.

Original Post by mochi-chan:

I think that ultimately weight loss is unique to every individual, and unless you have your own personal trainer/nutritionist, the BMR is just a good starting point and then you should adjust accordingly.

And here is an example of what I believe is a more sensible suggestion.  Using BMR as a starting point unless you are working with someone trained in nutrition, although I would have qualified personal trainer by saying certified personal trainer.

Original Post by peaches0405:

I partially agree with techdog. If someone is very overweight and has alot to lose, eating below their bmr might not hurt them. But as people get closer to a healthier weight, it becomes harder and harder to do.....and in alot of people, as they get closer to a healthy weight, eating below bmr can stall weight loss.

Bottom line is that this is all a numbers game and none of the numbers are ever going to be dead-on accurate.....but the numbers provide a good jumping off point so that people can experiment with what works the best for them.

It's kind of like how we say that a woman should never eat below 1200 calories. What we fail to mention is that 1200 is just a guideline. There can be exceptions to every rule. Some (not many) can get away with eating less, and most actually need more.

And another good example of what I think is sound advice.  The numbers thrown around here are just guidelines and what works for some won't work for all because weight loss is an inexact science.

I'm on the fence about this argument. BMR is the amount of energy/calories the body needs to sustain life, breathing, organ function at rest.  It consumes about 60-70% of your caloric intake.  We all know that there is scientific proof of that. So while not providing "scientific proof" of eating below your BMR is dangerous because I just don't have the time to research this, its like calling the red crayon blue.  It seems it would be a given for me however, I eat below my bmr at times. 

By the way Mochi-chan, BMI is a silly little number that dr's had to come up with to classify the obviously obese america.  However they did not take into account that a Man who weights 210 and is 5'9" and 10% body fat is not overweight nor is the woman who is 5'4" and weighs 155 with 8% body fat.  Can't always go by BMI.

Consult your doctor.  If your doctor feels that the health problems you have from being overweight outweigh the potential health risks from a very low calorie diet, then your doctor will advise you to that effect.

There is absolutely no argument on this site that some people can under a doctor's supervision throw out the rule book.  For the vast majority of people who are not under a doctor's supervision, eating a minimum of 1200F/1500M +300teen +%exercise so that you maintain up to a 1,000 calorie deficit per day allows them to lose weight while side stepping the health risks of a very low calorie diet.

And that is exactly what I have been saying.  I am not advocating a very low calorie diet for anyone not under a doctor's supervision or even just eating below their BMR for that matter.  I just object to people who only tell people half of the story about BMR instead of telling people the whole story so that they can make an informed decision, including the known deficiencies in BMR calculations based on Harris-Benedict.

If people would stop spouting these "rules" without the backing evidence or without telling the whole story, then I truly believe that there would be far less confusion regarding determination of calorie requirements.

I'm new here and still trying to figure the process out. The first week I ate about 1500-1800 calories a day. I lost 9 pounds. My pants were falling off. I hadn't really looked much into the "rules". My BMR is 2300 and this week I decided to try the "eat your BMR" way and that is tough to do for me. I never ate much before. I just ate very unhealthy things to begin with and had no exercise. I felt great last week and feel like a blob this week. This whole BMR thing has had me really confused.

This may be one of the benefits of a plan like Weight Watchers Online's Core Plan, which guides you to eat as much of the "core" foods as you want to feel satisfied.  You don't have to count calories or even Weight Watcher's "points" for these foods.

The core food list included lean meat & legumes, healthy oils & nuts, whole grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, all fruits and vegetables, and lower fat dairy products.  I've always eaten pretty healthfully (just with too many sweets on top!), and found the core foods list just a little more strict than what I was used to any how.

I liked the idea of the core approach very much because it promoted a healthy diet without having to bother with BMR, calories, Points, etc.

I found that if I ate a variety of foods from the core food list, I could eat plenty, not be hungry, and would get full before it was even possible to consider overeating.

I'm on CC+ now because it's free, and because I recognize that I have the intelligence and knowledge to know what it means to eat healthfully, it's just that I want to continue keeping record to maintain good habits.

 

 

Honesty, one of the main things i have learned since i started eating healthy and exercise is that you need to listen to your body. There is so much information out there on how you need to do this, and do this, or don't do that.. you need to find out what works for your body.

If that means eating your BMR, eat it. If that means eating below your BMR, do it. You can't listen to what exactly everyone does because everyone is different and their bodies work different ways.

Do what makes you happy, healthy, and successful.

I think it may be more important to adhere to the BMR rule the closer you get to an ideal weight. Overall, I think the "Eat Your BMR" crowd is mostly speaking to people who are undereating and therefore stalling, weightloss-wise, and need to re-up slowed metabolisms.

And, there may also be something to basing the BMR on lean mass, not total weight. I HAVE seen calculators that take into account %body fat in coming up with a BMR. The more fat, the lower the BMR. So if you know your body fat is high, eating less than your BMR may not be off base.

Also, the Harris-Bendict (sp?) calculation notorious gives high BMRs. There's another formula (owen-mifflin, I think, I forget) that gives a lower and statistically more accurate number.

1) my endocrinologist told me to eat about 1200 cals to lose xtra fat. it is less than my bmr.

the doctor deals with fat people, metabolisms, calories, hormones and such for a living, does scientific studies etc. i strongly believe she knows what she is doing. i believe her more than some people on the internet:) my bmr is about 1680 (had it measued by a special machine several years ago, so it might be 100 more or less but nor 1200) (i am not under her supervision for weight loss-she told it to me at a checkup about 2 years ago and i only have seen her once after that, and was not on a diet then)

2) i have lost weigh 10 years ago by eating less than BMR, and never went into any problem

3) lots of people say weight loss stalls because of starvation mode. but people who eat their BMR often stall too.

some believe upping their calories will change that, ususlly they gain weight after upping their intake, and then say like "it will change"etc, i never heard of anyone eating over their bmr, stalling, upping, and then becoming thin.

i want to be thin. and healthy.

4) i do not think people die from eating 1200 calories (and unless the calories were from french fries and chocolate, i also do not hear about people having health problems because of that)

5) tons of people who do not count cals and eat normal, not too fatty foods in smaller amounts, are healthy and full of energy-i strongly believe they might eat less than, say, 1600 cals every day

6) again-i believe what i see, and what i hear from a doctor.

Original Post by jakshops:

I think it may be more important to adhere to the BMR rule the closer you get to an ideal weight. Overall, I think the "Eat Your BMR" crowd is mostly speaking to people who are undereating and therefore stalling, weightloss-wise, and need to re-up slowed metabolisms.

And, there may also be something to basing the BMR on lean mass, not total weight. I HAVE seen calculators that take into account %body fat in coming up with a BMR. The more fat, the lower the BMR. So if you know your body fat is high, eating less than your BMR may not be off base.

Also, the Harris-Bendict (sp?) calculation notorious gives high BMRs. There's another formula (owen-mifflin, I think, I forget) that gives a lower and statistically more accurate number.

I did some more reading and found a website that calculates BMR based on 4 different formulas, specifically, Harris-Benedict (HB BMR), Weight adjusted Harris-Benedict (WAHB BMR), Owen (Owen BMR), and finally Mifflin-St Jeor (MSJ BMR). Here are some results for me at several different weights (my weight when I started losing weight, my current weight, my target weight, and finally, what BMI tells me would be a healthy weight).

Weight     HB BMR     WAHB BMR     Owen BMR     MSJ BMR

370 lbs     3066         2293             2594             2694

265 lbs     2409         2128             2108             2217

210 lbs     2066         2046             1853             1967

205 lbs     2034         2032             1829             1944

As you can see, the differences in the numbers at the higher weights is quite dramatic (almost a 800 calorie per day difference in the extreme case and almost 400 a day between HB and MSJ, which is the statistically most accurate equation) and as the weight gets closer to "normal" or "ideal", the differences decrease. This is why I disagree with the people who blindly spout the "eat your BMR" party line. They don't accept the fact that for very overweight people, that BMR is such an inexact number, especially the Harris-Benedict formula number, that while it might be a convenient place to start, that it is not the hard and fast rule that some people try to make it.

Another interesting point about these numbers is that if you look at how the weight adjusted HB BMR is calculated, it is very similar to what I said earlier about using your target weight to get BMR instead of your current weight. Not exactly the same, but close.

If anyone is interested, here is the website I used to calculate these numbers.

 

http://www.korr.com/products/predictive_eqns. htm

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