Eating the Food and Metabolism…A Continuing Saga

November 21, 2013 | Comments: 10 Comments

Categories: Motivation, Nutrition, Science, Wellness

I’ve written about the fact that I’ve started eating more calories here  and here. After my weight stayed stable for a while, I continued to eat about 1900-2000 calories most days. I’ve been wildly excited with every side effect of eating more food from not being cold all of the time, to having periods that are regular and practically devoid of PMS, to increased strength in every lift. There has been one thing that I haven’t been too excited about; the fat gain. The weight on the scale is not relevant to me if when I look in the mirror and there are muscles to show for that weight. Right now, that isn’t the case. I weigh 126 pounds, up from the 115 I started at and down from the 129 I peaked at. The important thing to know is that while I was initially gaining weight, my body fat percentage was staying the same at about 25%. So I gained weight, but most of it was muscle. Awesome! That was back in June when I weighed 121. Now in November (exactly one year since the dinner reservation that started all of this) my body fat is 28%. That was a bummer number to see since I’ve been pretty consistently training 3-5 days per week, lifting heavy twice per week and doing HIIT twice per week. According to all of the calorie calculators I tried, I should be recomping or losing weight, not gaining.

 

I have always suspected that there was something wonky with my metabolism, but I was pretty certain that I had messed it up even more from the years of restrictive eating and over-training, so I made an appointment at the OHSU Human Performance Lab to have my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) tested.  It’s a pretty easy test. You put on this neoprene mask that is hooked up to a computer and lie down, maybe nap. While you are lying there breathing into the mask,  the amount of oxygen you consume over 30 minutes is tracked and averaged. The amount of oxygen consumed is directly related to how many calories you are burning.

 

RMR is the number of calories a body burns by just being alive. It is dependent on age, sex, muscle mass and weight. If you were to wake up in the morning and not move for the rest of the day, your RMR is the amount of calories you would need to sustain your current weight while  just lying in bed. According to the information I received from the testing lab this morning, “RMR comprises approximately 75% of total calories burned per day for normal healthy individuals.” That is to say, all of the moving around we do in the day gets added on to our RMR to determine our total calories burned in a 24 hour period. The more you move, the more you burn. There are several different formulas used to determine RMR and they will all return a number within about 200 calories of each other. The quickest formula is just 10 times body weight, so if we go by that one I should have an RMR of about 1260. According to the formula that the OHSU lab used, I should  have an RMR of 1311. Not even close. The test showed it to be 779, about 500 calories or 40% lower than it should be for a “normal healthy individual.” That sucks in a big way.

 

This explains why I’ve continued to gain weight. I’ve been using 1200-1300 calories as an RMR for determining my calorie needs, when in fact I should have been using about 780. It also explains why I had those poppin’ back muscles when I was eating 1600-1700 calories per day. I had gained some muscle and my body fat was about the same. I was really hoping that I could continue to see strength and muscle mass gains while eating a little more (1800-2000) because food is awesome, but the only way that can happen with an RMR of 780 would be for me to increase my activity levels. I’m already pretty active, so I’m not certain that I’m up for that.

 

Normally a doctor would prescribe increased exercise including weight lifting if a patient wanted to increase their RMR. I already do that, so I asked the doctor if there was anything beside building more muscle, which burns an extra 30-70 calories per day per pound, that would help me increase that number. After hearing about the history of obesity in my family, and my current food and exercise schedule he concluded that in addition to having possibly depressed my metabolism through calorie restriction, that I was born with a lower metabolism and that I have genes that would have been great 1,000 years ago. He said that it isn’t fair and that there probably isn’t a lot I can do at this point to increase my RMR.

 

OHSU RMR 2

 

 

 

The yellow line is my predicted oxygen consumption.

My actual oxygen consumption as reported is an average of the bottom three lines.

Click for a bigger picture.

 

 

 

 

While that is a disappointing conclusion, at least it is a hard number I can work with. I just got back from the lab a couple of hours ago, so I haven’t figured out what exactly will be my next move. I’m really happy with my energy levels and everything else that has accompanied my increased calorie intake, but with the extra body fat, there are certain types of exercises that are not as easy as they were only months ago. Maybe I’ll go have my VO2max tested to see how many calories I actually burn while working out. That would be another interesting piece of data to add to all of this. I can tell you one thing I will NOT do. I will not restrict calories back to the 1200-1400 range ever again. If I have to hold on to a little extra fat to be happy, warm, have energy, and not be a general grump, then that is exactly what I will do. My emotional health is way more important than how I look.

12/3/13 UPDATED TO ADD:

I went and had a second test this morning at a different facility and the results were very similar. This one only tested for 15 minutes in stead of the 30 minute the OHSU test took, but the results are comparable. This test brought back and RMR of 835. It’s the number in the big orange box.

 

IMG_1043

 

 

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10 responses to “Eating the Food and Metabolism…A Continuing Saga”

  1. Sharon Rose says:

    Great information, and I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion! We can’t change the past or our genes, just have to work with where we are now. Well done!

  2. Matt Boyd says:

    Wow, I can’t believe you got your RMR tested. The first thing I thought when I saw that incredibly low number was “family history”. With respect to your closing . . . “If I have to hold on to a little extra fat to be happy, warm, have energy, and not be a general grump, then that is exactly what I will do. My emotional health is way more important than how I look.” You know how I feel about how you look! 🙂 You are awesome 🙂

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      Thanks, Matt 🙂 I kept thinking that something had to be wrong. I’ve decided that I’m going to have a second test to confirm this ridiculously low number.

  3. Andrea says:

    Brandie,
    You don’t know who I am – I only “know” you from belonging to ETF on Facebook and reading your posts there. I am a doctor, and after reading about your recent RMR testing (x2), I went and showed your results to a colleague who is an endocrinologist. I asked him “is this possible” because I couldn’t believe it. He said, no- this is a typical “air leak” problem. Apparently, you don’t keep a strong seal around the mouthpiece in your mouth so some of the C02 you exhale escapes into the air instead of going back into the machine to be counted. He says the other “tip off” to the error is in your own documented data: you were close to starving at 1400 cal/day, and lost weight quickly when you raised your intake to 1800/day. No one with a real RMR of 780 would lose weight on 1800 unless they were running marathons every day (it’s HARD to burn 1000 cal/day). The endocrinoloigst says that if you care enough, to get your RMR retested with a “scuba mouthpiece” on the plastic hose you breathe into (it has an internal silicone portion that extends past the edges of your mouth- you hold it in place with your teeth).

    I hope the above is some comfort to you, and allows you to go back to eating at least 1800 cal/day without fear of regain.

    • Brandie Sylfae says:

      Thank you for your input! It’s awesome that you cared enough or was just interested enough that you took this data to a specialist. I have no desire to be a special-freaking-snowflake metabolically speaking.

      A couple of points, though. Both of these tests were performed with a mask that covered my face, not a mouthpiece in my mouth. I thought that the first one might have had a leakage problem, so I made sure to hold the second mask to my face pretty tightly. There totally may have been a leak in the first one, but I feel like during the second test I was really careful to prevent any leakage. Still, my face may just not be the right shape for a mask. I’d be interested in what you think with this new information.

      Second, I lost weight at 1500-1600 calories. At 1800-2000, I just kept gaining. At 129 pounds I made the appointment to get my RMR tested because I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t at least stabilizing. On the testing days I weighed 126. Seriously, if this different interpretation of the data means anything to you, I would love to read your thoughts.

      Fun thing, since I’ve had these tests I’ve averaged 1600-1700 calories per day and haven’t lost a pound, but I have recomped a bit. Also, had one really crappy lifting day because I didn’t eat enough before hand. Lesson re-learned :/

      Again, thank you for your input and your time. You didn’t have to talk to someone about me, but you did and that is pretty cool. Lastly, I want to eat as much food as possible at all times! I love food! I get no satisfaction from controlling portions or from counting calories. I just want to be as healthy as possible and as strong as possible while still eating a cupcake once in a while. Which is good since I had a lovely cupcake just last night.

  4. Andrea says:

    Brandie, your post was -for me- extremely relevant. I’ve been struggling for months with essentially the exact same scenario you described for yourself a year ago (eating 1200-1400 cal/day in a desperate attempt to lose those last few pounds, and actually having a slow weight creep upward). I had just found the Amber’s GoKaleo site and the ETF group, but was (am) very skeptical that I can go from gaining weight on 1300 cal/day to losing weight on (say) 1800 cal/day simply by eating more food. I was convinced that while those TDEE calculators might be true for many folks, they were wildly overestimating my TDEE, and was looking around for someplace that would measure my RMR, right when you posted your RMR analysis. So, imagine my shock (and horror) when you demonstrated what I have feared all along- that some people have RMRs that are hundreds of calories below average, making it impossible for me to “eat the food” and still lose weight. THAT (rather selfish and limited) perspective was what led me to take your analysis to my endocrinologist friend.

    I haven’t been able to ask him about the mask scenario (he’s on hospital duty this week and on vacation the next), so I don’t know if that makes it unlikely that the results are invalid. And certainly, the repeat test is compelling – unless both places used the same device. However, (and I swear I’m not trying to be argumentative, just a doctor checking the facts), you wrote on your post of Jan 3rd: “… I raised my calorie intake by 100 calories week until I reached 1800 calories. Because this was for science, I didn’t change anything else. During the month of not eating, I dropped my workouts to four times per week, so I kept that schedule. I ate the same foods, just more. I lost two pounds and 3% body fat in no time. ” And then this from May: “I’m eating between 1800 and 2200 calories depending on my hunger which is usually dependent on how intense my workout was that day… When I started, I was 115 pounds and 25% body fat, so I have gained five pounds (seven if you count the two I lost at first) but I’m at essentially the same body fat. That means I’ve gained a bit of muscle since I started eating more food.”

    So, it seems that somewhere between May and November, something changed. I am SURE it can’t be your RMR though- that is pretty much constant. Either you’re less active than in the spring, or (more likely) you’re mis-estimating your calorie intake, which isn’t hard to do, especially at higher calorie levels. I know that when I stop weighing and measuring food, I almost invariably get portion creep after a few weeks. And if I don’t log every bite, I start to engage in “dissociative eating” – I take one handful of almonds and eat them consciously, but then go back to the bag twice more without being fully aware of doing so. I fooled myself for MONTHS about eating at a deficit when I was really eating at my TDEE; only meticulous food logging got me back on track (and then I started binging instead :>( But enough about me – I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, and I don’t mean to imply that my issues and yours are the same. Just saying that there may be other explanations for your weight gain than an abnormally low RMR. I really hope you won’t take anything I’ve said as a criticism, or implying that you are doing something wrong. I think that your insights, your pursuit of science (and your clear love of Faerie) are all great. I very much hope you succeed in solving your conundrum and get back to the body fat % you are aiming for.

  5. Darryl says:

    Brandie, this post changed my perspective on nutrition, this is the most integral view I have come accross. thanks for sharing

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