Metabolic Damage And Why I’m Not Worrying About The Scale Anymore

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What is “metabolic damage?” That may be what you’re asking right now. I get it.

Metabolic damage is a term used to describe a series of metabolic adaptations to dieting. In particular, adaptations which drive caloric requirements well below typical maintenance levels for a given body weight.

Some people don’t think it’s a real thing. I tend to disagree.


Because I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from metabolic damage right now.

How do you know?

While I’m a vocal advocate for recording your diet and I’m not a hypocrite, I did screw up one place. I forgot that “tracking” means more than just writing stuff down.

What I failed to do was actually pay attention to much of anything beyond that day’s journal.

Recently, I realized I was having to cut calories pretty low to see the scale budge. Yesterday, I decided to crunch some numbers.

It seems my average calories per day was just 1,144.7 calories.

In that time, I’ve lost 4.8 pounds. When I calculated maintenance calories based on the weight lost (assuming each pound represents 3,500 calories), I didn’t like what I saw. My maintenance level was 1,335.6 calories.

What should I be looking at? Try 2,241 calories per day at a minimum. Now, that’s with a bare minimum of training, which is less than I actually do. It should probably be much higher.

Are there other possibilities?

In a lot of people’s minds, if you’re taking in 1,200 calories and not losing weight as an almost 200 lbs male, the problem is that you’re not tracking for crap.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not perfect. There are probably mistakes being made on my part. However, I find it virtually impossible to imagine a 900 calorie mistake even being possible.

It’s also possible that I just have a stupidly slow metabolism. However, as someone who was almost unnaturally lean for most of my life up until I got married, I doubt it.

Then again, I also am older now than I was. It’s also possible that my metabolism slowed. However, I also happen to recall that much of that slow-down is overstated as a cause for obesity. That means it’s unlikely it accounts for even a significant portion of those 900 calories.

Honestly, even if you take all of those into account, it still doesn’t tally up to that big of a discrepancy.

Is it real?

There’s a lot of debate in not just the fitness community, but amongst evidence-based training minds in general. Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum has voiced some opinions that indicates he’s skeptical of it.

However, Dr. Layne Norton is a believer in it.

The difference between the two is that while Feigenbaum is a medical doctor who treats patients while using other people’s research, Norton actually does research.

In particular, he’s looked into metabolic adaptation.

Further, Norton’s made reference to a rodent study where they drastically cut the mice’s calories, forced them to lose weight, then ramped their calories right back up. The mice gained more weight than they lost.

He also works with a lot of metabolically damaged athletes in his coaching practice, so I’m inclined to listen to Norton on this. Nothing against Feigenbaum. I enjoy his content on YouTube, but I’m siding with Norton on this.

If you don’t, I’d love to hear your take on the caloric discrepancy mentioned above.

Is it really that bad?

Well, I feel fine. I’m not having visible symptoms of much of anything, but a lot of those potential problems won’t show up right away. Hopefully, I can curb this before I see them.

Basically, I’m kind of in starvation mode. My body is basically being malnourished while living in a western nation. That’s…not good.

So yeah, it’s pretty that bad.

Luckily, it’s also not lifethreatening at the moment. It can’t be allowed to go on, but it’s not something that will land me in the hospital next week.

Is this an eating disorder?

I don’t think so. Why? Because I’m actually eating.

The most likely disorder with a caloric intake like this is anorexia nervosa, but that’s not really right. I’m eating plenty of food. More importantly, I’m not trying to starve myself. Not really.

So no, I don’t think this is an eating disorder. If it is, though, it’s not advanced enough that I need serious help.

So how did this happen?

Honestly, I think part of the problem stems from a weight loss effort from almost a decade back. That time, I lost 40 lbs. I was aggressive with my weight loss, but then things fell apart. I put all that weight back on, plus 25 percent more.

Because of that weight loss, though, I believe my metabolism was already slowed down significantly. This was why I put on 50 lbs after losing 40 lbs.

Then, I go to lose weight this time around and I had to cut my calories until I saw the scale move. Then I kept adjusting when I thought it was needed, but there was something I didn’t do.

I didn’t really pay enough attention to what the average really was. You see, I’d eat a lot one day, then cut way back the next. My thinking was that my average calories would still be good to go.

It wasn’t.

So what now?

Now I have to fix myself. I’m suffering from metabolic damage, and I have to try and repair that.

Luckily, I’ve watched enough of Layne Norton on YouTube to have an idea of what to do.

Right now, my plan is to up my calorie intake by 50 calories per day. It’s not enough to do a whole lot, but that’s kind of the point. It’s barely a drop in the bucket…this week.

Next week, I’ll add another 50. Then the week after, another.

The idea is to keep doing that for as long as I can get away with it. In theory, I shouldn’t really see the scale creep up. If I do, I back of just a smidge and see if it will hold.

What happens if it turns out that even that causes me to gain weight?

Well… *shrug*

Look, I’m not eating enough calories. That’s definitely not a good thing, so it’s time to step back and recognize that it’s a problem. I knew my calories were low, but I didn’t know how low. I was thinking that I wanted to get my weight down some more before I worried about any of that.

Now, I don’t really think I can. If I keep going, I may hit my goal weight and be only taking in a few hundred calories per day. That’s very unhealthy.

As of this moment, I’m actually bumping weight loss down on my priority list. While it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, I can’t do it if getting there is an even bigger health risk.

The goal is going to be to get my calories up to something approaching a reasonable maintenance level. I’ll probably not sweat being dead on what the numbers supposedly say. Those are averages and variations aren’t unusual. What I do want is something close to sane.

So, I’ll be eating more food each day and trying to shift things around so I don’t feel like I’m gorging myself. That’ll probably mean more protein supplementation, too, but that’s OK.

Right now, my priority is my health. It’s repairing this metabolic damage so I can finish my weight loss safely and sanely.

This isn’t easy to talk about

I’m going to be honest, I’m still not sure I want to be writing this. It’s personal and it points out my own stupidity. I screwed up and now I’m talking about it in front of everyone.

Yeah, root canals sound like more fun.

But one of the things I try to do is be as transparent as possible here. I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert and never screw up when I made a colossal one like this.

Instead, I’d rather air my issues for everyone to see so I can maintain my integrity. That way, if I say something, you can at least believe that I’m not lying to you. I might be wrong, but if I’ll talk about this openly, I’m not going to BS you about anything else.

So, bear with me. This is likely to be…interesting.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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