Move More, Eat Less (is Bogus)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Move More, Eat Less

It seems like common sense:

Move more + Eat less= Weight loss, health and/or the prevention of unwanted weight gain.

Am I right, or am I right?


Not quite.

For years, we’ve been told by Weight Watchers testimonials, nutrition text books, Special K commercials, diet soda ads, group exercise instructors and FitBit tools that the “secret” to keeping healthy and fit is to simply move more and eat less:

Calories in equals calories out.

  • Want a 400-calorie slice of pizza? As long as you are on the treadmill the next morning to sweat it out, it doesn’t matter.
  • Trying to shed unwanted body fat? As long as you’re sticking to a 1200 calorie diet, you should see results.
  • Don’t want to put on extra pounds during the holidays? Earn your pumpkin pie with an intense bootcamp workout or Turkey Trot.

So when I tell clients, “You’ve been lied to,” they are often shocked.

How could it be?!

Just like telling the people who once believed that the world is flat that the world is actually round, most folks scratch their heads and still don’t believe it.

Have you ever fallen for any of the following myths?

  • Eat 1200 calories per day to lose weight
  • Burn more than you eat (to prevent weight gain and lose weight)
  • Eat low fat meals
  • Stick to lean meats, whole grains and fresh fruits and veggies
  • Choose the low calorie option—it’s healthier

If so, you’re not alone.

Here’s 5 reasons why the “move more, eat less” philosophy is bogus, and what matters more instead:

Chronic Undereating

It’s a phenomenon I’ve written about before: Not eating enough.

When we don’t fuel our bod with enough fuel for all it’s metabolic and cellular processes, our body goes into slooooowwwww-mo mode.

Not knowing when you’re going to feed it its next meal or snack, it holds on to what it can as a reserve for energy and fuel, as a means for survival.

And when your body is in “survival mode” (i.e. stressed), the last thing it wants to focus on is being fit and healthy (and thriving).

Chronic under-eating does the opposite of what you want your body to do, and often times, I see clients who are frustrated with their lack of “results” in the gym, the scale or their own well-being:

“I am eating 1200 calories or less every day, but I keep gaining weight!” Or, “I am eating less than I used to…but my metabolism seems to be slower,” they say.

Yes. It happens: Diets fail.

It’s not because you have a lack of willpower, but instead, it’s because your body is not thriving.  It’s stressed.

As a defense mechanism, it throws your cortisol (stress hormone) out of balance, which, in turn, makes your body hold on to everything it’s got to fight for dear life.

Does this mean your metabolism shuts down?

Of course not.

Instead, here’s what happening:

Say you were eating 2000 calories at one time, and then you gradually decreased that number to 1200 calories.

Since your body is now getting less, your metabolism burns less (because there is less to burn).

Simple math.

While a drastic reduction in calories may help you see “initial” results this is often short lived, and eventually, your bod (and metabolism) slows down naturally.

In addition, low calorie intake leads to your body looking elsewhere for energy: Namely muscle. When your body isn’t given enough energy to survive, it will start drawing energy from your muscles because they cost a big caloric buck to maintain. 

Check out this post for more info on reasons why calorie counting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

Bottom line: Undereating=a body fighting itself to hold on.

Chronic Cardio

Same story, different scenario.

Just like your body is stressed when you’re not eating enough, if you are constantly spinning your wheels on a cardio machine or running trail, thinking you’re doing your body a favor, think again.

Chronic cardio (running yourself into the ground) is not getting you anywhere.

The popular wisdom of Jane Fonda and Jazzercise adherents has created a posse of overtrained, stressed-out, “it’s not a workout unless I am sweating bullets” exercise-aholics.

Common reasons why all that working out is not getting you anywhere include:

  • Hypothyroidism (impaired metabolic function)
  • Adrenal stress
  • Dysfunctional gut health

I call this the “hamster on a wheel syndrome.”  You can keep going and going and going on your hamster wheel, without getting anywhere.

Like you, I used to think that vigorous endurance and cardio activity was a main crux to staying healthy and fit –the more you can do, the better.

Enter: Run down. No muscle. Stress fractures. Drained energy. No libido. Hormonal imbalances. GI distress.

The upsides?

I got my high from a run, an hour on the Stairmaster or back-to-back workouts.

What I didn’t realize?

My body was fighting itself.

Chronic cardio places oxidative stress on your body, generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, promotes overproduction of insulin (associated with blood sugar highs and lows) and depletes your nutrient and mineral status.

Gut Health Gaps

The “move more, eat less” dogma fails to address your digestion and the food quality of the foods you eat.

Sure, that Happy Meal cheeseburger is less than 300 calories, but what kind of nutrients is it giving your body?

100 calories of a mini-Snickers bar has the same amount of calories as 100 calories of chicken breast, but which one delivers the more useable (and absorbable) energy.

No, this doesn’t mean just eat broccoli, carrots and dry chicken breast either for “better digestion.”

But more important than calorie-counting, is the nutrient density of your food.

If you are not digesting your food, your body will have no idea what to do with the calories you eat—regardless of how many you eat. You could be eating 1200 calories every day and actually gaining weight if your gut is not healthy. Or you could be eating 2500 calories per day and have a digestive system that runs like a machine, and getting the most out of every unit of energy your food provides. Health (and a healthy metabolism) start in the gut.

The Bottom Line? Calories don’t matter as much as we make them out to be. And eating less calories or burning MORE calories is not the solution for “losing weight”, getting healthy or boosting your metabolism.

Mindset Mayhem

In the Minnesota starvation experiment 36 healthy men where placed on a very low 1570 calorie starvation diet (which is equal to about 1200 calories for women).

What happened?

The formerly healthy men became obsessed with food—thinking about food, dreaming about food, talking about food. Unbeknownst to them, all they were doing was responding with a natural “survival mechanism” of the body (when our body is hungry, it makes us think about food).

Hence: The obsessive thoughts that happen when you deprive it of good eats.


“Just try harder.”

Ever give yourself a “talking to”—a pep talk?

If only you ate a little more cleaner, or worked out a little longer, then you’d see the results you want to see.

Reality check: Your results (or lack thereof) when it comes to food and fitness are not always related to will power.

As mentioned above, adrenal health, hormonal health, gut health and thyroid health can all take a hit when your bod is not getting what it needs (or more demands are placed on it then it can keep up with).

Feel stuck?

Consider addressing what’s going on “under the hood” before resorting to cut more calories, or workout a little bit longer.

Book a free consult with Thrive today to get to digging. 

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