Can we eat less than our basal metabolism?
Basal metabolism is the quantity of energy required by the body to perform vital activities such as breathing or building tissue. It is the minimal amount of calories required by the organism1. What can happen if you consume less calories than you basal metabolism?
First, you need to know that your body is programmed to survive. There were times when food wasn’t as plentiful as it is today. It is during these times of starvation that the body learned to adapt to food shortages. Since then, the body can survive even with less calories. Here is how it works:
- When the body starts to feel deprived, it does exactly the same thing as electronic devices anticipating a power failure: it goes on “sleep mode”, and finds a way to spend less calories to perform the same tasks2.
- The body will get the missing calories in fat and muscle reserves. But since muscle is the body tissue that uses the most energy1, losing muscle mass automatically makes you spend less energy during the day.
- Between 7 to 10 % of your energy expenditure during the day comes from digesting foods1. Once again, eating less means you will spend less calories every day.
In addition, the body learns from its mistakes. When it is underfed for a certain amount of time and you decide to return to normal eating, the body restores its reserves in prediction of the next famine. This is the point at which you run the most risk of regaining all the lost weight… and maybe even more!
In short, what you need to remember is to always eat as much calories as your basal metabolism spends or more, and avoid playing yo-yo with your bodyweight! To know what your basal metabolism value is, read the article Estimating Your Basal Metabolism. Body analysis by bio-impedance is an even more precise way to learn about your basal metabolism. This test is available at all Nautilus Plus centers. Ask about it at your local center!
By Vanessa Martin
1. Dubost, Mireille. 2006. La nutrition. 3e éd. Montréal : Les Éditions de la Chenelière. 367 p.
2. Tremblay, Angelo. 2010. Prenez le contrôle de votre appétit et de votre poids. Montréal : Les Éditions de l’Homme. P. 13-41.