It seems odd (yet somehow believable) when nutritionists, personal trainers, and calorie calculators tell short girls who are active to eat around 1000 calories per day.
As a short girl myself who works out often, let me tell you why this sucks:
1000 cal is hard to adhere to
It’s hard to get enough protein, carbs, or fats on such a small amount of food. If we just simple look at protein alone… a petite girl needs about
1g of protein per pound of body weight
so if she weighs 120 pounds, she needs 120g protein. And since 1g protein is 4 calories we can find the total number of protein calories by
120g protein x 4 = 480 calories
That’s already nearly half of her calories!
So that means almost half of her intake has to be strictly protein. But guess what… some of her protein sources already contain fats like eggs and dark meat. So that makes the remaining window for carbs and fats even smaller and we all know that carbs and fats are super easy to rack up. Yes…It’s possible to get all your protein and your fat requirement in those 1000 calories, BUT you’re probably not going to be able to have carbs without spilling over. There would be no room for a banana or even a rice cake and that’s a whole category of nutrients that you’re body will be deprived of. So in terms of sustainability, it becomes really really hard to maintain a 1200 calorie diet.
What tends to happen to the women who try to eat 1000 calories per day is that they might do really well for a day or two, maybe even the work week and then all goes to hell on the weekend because they had a glass of wine or a cookie and before they know it they binged and suddenly their intake is so much higher that their average across the week get brought up back to maintenance and fat loss occurs because they weren’t in a deficit even though they practically starved themselves most of the week. It’s not rewarding, is it? The other thing that happens is that she sticks with it for a while but feels so restricted and deprived and her body starts showing negative signs like always being cold, headaches, low energy, low libido, not having a period (all of which have happened to me) and that’s draining of itself, not body wants to live like that! It isn’t fun.
Your workouts are going to feel awful.
I remember how terrible I felt weeks leading up to my competitions. My coach had me at 1000 calories and just picking up the 5lb dumbbells felt like 100lbs. My strength was complete shit and all I felt sooooo weak. I looked shredded but only because I was half-ammaciated. There were no carbs filling out my muscle, it was simply skin on muscle and it looks like death if you are tan, have a suit and globs of makeup on your face to hide the bags under your eyes. Anyway… My workouts were awful but not because the workouts themselves were difficult but because I had no energy and no strength to perform them. So if you’re trying to build muscle and alter the shape of your body composition, you need good quality training sessions to stimulate muscle growth so that you can also burn body fat.
So here’s the thing…
The reason a calorie calculator has set your calories so low is because you probably told the calculator that you’re active and that you want to achieve weight loss. Which is all true but being honest with the calorie calculator is the biggest mistake a petite could make. Now I know you’re thinking wait what? lie to the calculator? crazy right?! well I prefer to think of it as being smarter than a calculator. See, the calculator creates a huge deficit for people who say they are active and want to lose weight. Without the activity and goal piece of the equation, the calculator is simply finding your maintenance level of calories – which is the calories your body neither loses or gains weight. HOWEVER, the calorie calculator doesn’t know how many calories you are currently averaging. Here’s an example. If you are currently eating 1400 calories and the calorie calculator – without the activity and weight los goal – tells you to eat 1600 calories, you would be in a calorie surplus. Which is opposite of what you wanna do. BUT 1600 might be where you want to eventually be….
You might be like “okay.. Can those couple hundred calories even make a difference?” The answer is YES! Those extra couple hundred calories can make ALL the difference or petites. Since our window of calories is so small, any increase or decrease of calories is going to have such a significant impact.
If you’re familiar with my coaching style, you know that I’m a firm believer in starting my clients very close to where their calories are currently at or also known as their maintenance calories. So if I have a client come to me eating 2500 calories and wanting to lose weight, she might begin my program at 2400 calories – even though a calorie calculator might tell her to eat 1000 calories. If I have a client who is currently eating 1200 calories and wants to build muscle I start her at 1200 calories – even though a calorie calculator might tell her to eat 1800 calories. From there, I make small adjustments to her macros weekly to progress her calories in the direction of her goal. Based on her speed of progress, I might be more or less aggressive. It all depends on her body.
The reason for those small adjustments is again because our window for calories is small so there is no need to do these giant 500 calorie deficit jumps like the average person does. (just FYI those big deficit methods never really works for them either, they just keep being dumb). These small adjustments help to make being in deficit more realistic and enjoyable because you don’t feel like you’re being massively restricted. You just feel like “oh I’m just making a tini weenie sacrifice here” and once you’re successful with that, you make another small sacrifice. Honestly, if you are doing it right, these sacrifices are hardly even noticeable!
So “How do you know if the calories you are eating is appropriate for your height?” Simply put: biofeedback. Biofeedback is the signs and signals our body gives us to prove whether or not something is working for us. It’s like when you take medicine for a cold. If your cold goes away, your body gave you feedback that the medicine was effective. If your body develops side effects and or the cold doesn’t go away, your body fave you feedback that the medicine wasn’t effective. Learning to listen to your body about calories is a little harder and takes more time because there are so many variables and moving parts. For example, if you always meet your calories but one day you don’t meet your fat goal and find that you had trouble going to the bathroom the next day, its not that your calories were wrong for you.. its that your fats were off. It’s so easy to miss the reading on things like that but the more you practice, the better you get. But overall it’s pretty simple, good signs means you’re calories are appropriate, Bad signs means something needs to be adjusted.
Based on everything I’ve said so far and my experience with working with hundreds of petite women, most of my petite clients eat about 1200-1600 calories per day. of course there are outliers so if you don’t fall into that space don’t automatically assume you’re doing something wrong. I also require them to have infrequent higher calorie days to refeed their bodies throughout my program to prevent their metabolisms from slowing down – not that it would on 1200-1600 calories but because I want their bodies to know what to do with the extra calories when they do come because lets be honest, we can’t live a life to the fullest if we never ever eat over 1600 calories.
Case in point: don’t obsess over what the calorie calculator said. It’s just a guess at best. Instead, follow my funsized framework by check out the following resources: