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Why does overfeeding work? (an alternate theory)

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    Hi Linda,

    I know you were asking David, but I just wanted to chime in. Yes, walking is a fantastic form of movement! Even if you’re not getting your heart rate where it needs to be to technically be considered “cardiovascular exercise”–it still provides a host of benefits. Also, if you are wanting to get your heart rate into a specific zone…You can easily do this on a treadmill, walking outside in an area with hills, or even walking on flat terrain alternating how fast you are moving. So many options!



    I know this is going to be hard to understand. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom about walking short distances, etc. The thing is, walking, without any running (and downhill is my favorite) does not do anything but tire me out.

    Part of this is the metabolic thing that I’ve been dealing with for most of my life. Because of under-responsive brain receptors (those that signal estrogen balance, sodium,calcium balance) my brain has had to use huge amounts of an amino acid (glutamate) to trigger the receptors (and make the homeostatic change necessary). Amino acid metabolism creates ammonia. The body can handle it under certain limits. My body has in the past created high enough levels that the brain has a hard time getting rid of it. That’s why I have the damage down the neck/shoulders/arms.

    Although my cortisol levels are high, that isn’t what’s doing the most damage.

    And so what I’ve found is that, unless it’s at least an hour of sustained aerobic activity (and running down is the icing on the cake for me), that ammonia doesn’t get burned out, breathed out, sweated out of my system, and I stay in the toxic cycle.

    So, no, just walking doesn’t do it for me.

    I know most people don’t like running. They don’t usually like running the same course. And they rarely like running downhill. I don’t know why it doesn’t even damage my knees or ankles since I’m slightly knock-kneed. But it doesn’t.

    David–You don’t have to sell me on the benefits of running. But there is also the idea that it can be training your metabolism to function slower.

    So I have needs to burn out the ammonia and I think that over the long run, I have deprived myself of full healing in all kinds of areas. Nothing heals totally.

    Although I don’t look like the typical long-distance runner (i.e. like a Holocaust survivor) I do have the skinny arms, inability to put ANY muscle on them or my lower calves. I still don’t know if this is heredity or life-long under-nourishment. Like everyone, I’ve had only the best intentions–to eat good foods (low fat, low sugar, lots of liquids).

    I can walk with my friend on her short walks (2 miles) and it might be alright. It’s more like socializing. But it doesn’t really give me the uplifting that running does.

    After 35 years of running I know about starting slow. And I know usually how fast I recuperate. I can feel it. I don’t push harder than I can handle. It’s sort of a lifestyle change that I have to contemplate.

    I suggested the handstands just because every so often, when I’m feeling good, I have this impulse to do handstands against the mountainside on one side of the road. I used to do it as a kid. But I’m too chicken now even to start it.

    I’ve tried hanging off the bed and using my arms. (Do I sound weird enough for you now??) It’s the kind of thing that I’ll know when I feel the energy. And I’ll probably be chicken until I feel that. It’s the only “strength-training (as Matt suggested) that I can even contemplate wanting to do.

    I’m not trying to be difficult–this is why these are hard decisions to make. And maybe why I’ve made wrong decisions in the past. But in the past, my “best” still wasn’t “normal”. My skin still doesn’t totally heal from anything. My energy hasn’t been reliable. Am I fooling myself to think that I can get to someplace I can’t remember being since I was…seven?? I’d like to think it’s possible. That’s the allure of this non-diet.


    • This reply was modified 10 years, 7 months ago by IsleWalker.
    • This reply was modified 10 years, 7 months ago by IsleWalker.

    Walking is great! You’re still using your muscles and getting your heart rate up a bit. I walked for several weeks before I felt ready for running, and it helped me build a strong base and reduce the likelihood of injury. That isn’t to say that running is necessary if its difficult or impossible in your case. Leighton gave some great ideas for when the walking starts to get too easy: increase or vary your pace, seek out some hills, or even just walk longer distances. On my regular running route, I often see an older couple that walk at a really good clip, and they seem to love it.


    @Islewalker- I just saw your reply after I posted mine. You make some interesting points and I’ll try to respond more thoroughly later today. If I write more now, my wife will give me the stink eye for holding up our run!


    <blockquote cite=”When I finished my overfeeding period (at which point I was eating 5-6k calories a day), I had almost no energy for exercise, and my appetite was bigger than ever. Unfortunately, all those calories deprived me of physical energy, rather than providing it. This is the opposite of my experience with running, which has increased my daily energy levels, even though I’m burning more calories than I consume.

    I recognize that overfeeding is helpful for many people at certain periods in their life, but it’s not a long-term solution. It can help a person through a health crisis, but if it’s kept up too long it leads to obesity and inactivity, which bring problems of their own. At least that was my experience.”

    This is exactly the problem I have with this youreatopia site that people are raving about.
    Raising metabolism and gaining healthy weigth AND energy,is not the same as stuffing yourself with a certain amount of calories while sitting on your ass.
    The time I looked over there at the forum,I saw so many people struggling with having no energy while eating majorly for quite some time,depression,jointpains etc…..and ofcourse it’s being called ‘part of the healing process and a good thing’. But I’m not buying that,in my opinion it’s not a good thing…..just like diets such as GAPS call everything negative die-off symptoms.
    The good thing about YE is that it can give you foodfreedom,but I think it’s especially important for people who need to gain to do it in a smart manner.



    I was just responding to a post from Linda, I was not necessarily suggesting that for you.

    I’m so sorry that you have been having a changeling time. I don’t think that what you mentioned is hard to understand, nor do I think that you are being difficult. You are just in a tough spot. (Although, of course, I’m not claiming to understand the specifics of what you are dealing with–I just meant that I think we have all lived long enough to acknowledge that the body is often full of crazy idiosyncrasies.)

    So, from what you are saying, it sounds like you need to move frequently and at a certain intensity. If running has been working for you, why change anything? Hell, running downhill can have a particularity positive effect on bone density. Maybe, you just need to eat a little more (or a lot more, without overfeeding) to support your runs? If you are feeling like you need a change, what about some interval work while running? Do you have access to a gym or any other cardio based exercise equipment at home? Do you have steps at home? Also, regarding resistance work, what about Pilates (on a spring based apparatus, not matwork) or Gyrotonic? (The last two suggestions are not inexpensive options.)

    I’m sorry if these are redundant suggestions for you. It sounds like you have been through the medical ringer. Please disregard this, if not helpful. You know what they say about opinions…

    All the best, Lora. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help!



    No, thanks for all the points you’ve made. This morning it feels like a big ado about nothing. Yes, I can still run, and yes, I think as long as I feed myself enough, especially at certain times, I think I can keep the energy up. I just had a pretty successful day and night of good heat and energy.

    I just have a logistics dilemma since it takes me 2 hours (as I poke along, do my own form of meditation, smell the roses) and then run down. It’s a protected area so you can drive there only with permits and full-sized cars (which we no longer have–just golf carts). My hubby used to at least drive me up to the gate in order to cut a mile out. That’s what I’ve done when I’ve been out of it for a while.

    Anyway, it’s not insurmountable. And I want to make sure I’m pretty reliably warm. I just need to keep eating more food later in the day.

    David has some valid points. I didn’t feel better eating all this food, although I was getting warmer. And I’m not sure that the particular nutrients that we all may need to have replenished–will get there very quickly with this approach. Maybe it will for some people.

    But I would have never allowed myself the “bad” foods, the volume if it weren’t for this “experiment”. ANd I learned some valuable things about my own metabolism. Maybe this is how everyone gets to their stop refeeding point? IDK.

    Thanks for the suggestions/encouragement. I think we all have to try things, see what works but pay attention to what feels good for us–both in food and exercise.

    I’m sorry to have hijacked your thread David! It’s good to see how other people solve their own questions. I still want to be a runner, just not necessarily a skinny-fat one!


    • This reply was modified 10 years, 7 months ago by IsleWalker.


    I thought about your post, but I don’t know if I can be very helpful because I don’t know anything about the ammonia issue that you mentioned. Also, it sounds like you have a lot more running experience than I do, so I’m not sure if my experience would be useful to you. I’d feel presumptuous if I tried to come across as the expert.

    However, I did note your problems with upper body strength and skinny arms and legs. That does sound like it could be a cortisol issue, or it could just be that you’re not eating enough protein to maintain muscle. Running can cause the breakdown of lean body mass if the runner doesn’t consume enough protein for rebuilding and carbohydrates for replenishing glycogen stores–since the body will convert muscle into glycogen if necessary. I’m cutting calories right now, so I monitor my strength in the gym to be sure I’m not losing muscle (and ideally, building it instead). If I find I can’t lift as much on a given day, I’ll increase calories a bit to rebuild. Otherwise, I figure that my calorie deficit is just leading to fat burn.

    I get what your saying about the refeeding being useful in changing your thinking about food. It did this for me too. I stopped thinking about “good” or “bad” foods and just ate what I wanted. I’ve maintained that philosophy and eat whatever I like, even now that I’m watching the quantity. I’m not even concerned about PUFAs or HFCS or pork, or whatever else remains as common othorexic hold-overs at this site. When I’m eating for personal preference, I get a pretty mixed diet and feel like it’s nourishing. The only exception is that I do make sure to eat enough protein. This is only important because I’m eating a hypocaloric diet and so protein needs to be a higher percentage of total calories than on a “normal” diet. When I’ve lost some more weight and begin eating for maintenance, I doubt I’ll even worry about protein, since it’s easy enough to get on a 3,000 calorie diet. Even white bread would get you 100 grams of protein if you ate 3,000 calories of it (not that I’d want to do that).


    I agree completely. I understand that eating disorders are very serious, and the first goal has to be regain a normal body weight, but in the long-term you don’t want to replace one extreme with another. It seems very common in American culture (and probably elsewhere), for people to veer back and forth between gluttony and starvation. Dieters will eat nothing but beans and kale for a few months, lose a bunch of weight, and then pig out on cake and pepsi and gain it all back. A moderate, sustainable diet–that is filling, satisfying, and tasty–seems like the only long-term solution that we can actually maintain. The goal shouldn’t always be to put out fires–with short-term, drastic solutions–but to find a way-of-eating that you actually enjoy and still allows you to achieve your goals.


    One more thing: Lora, I noticed that you said something about exercise lowering metabolism. I wondered what your source for that was. I could see that this might be true if you burned muscle by exercising without eating enough, or even if you burned fat (because fat also increase BMR slightly). But allowing for sufficient nutritional intake, exercise should increase muscle and bone mass, which would increase metabolism, since lean tissue increases metabolism at about five times the rate of fat. Also, exercise improves insulin sensitivity, which would help glucose get into the muscles rather than be converted to fat.


    Hi David-

    Yes, I got that idea from Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery book. He is talking about exercise and the idea of progress–which everyone seems to like. He talks about doing MAX effort for a short time but admits that most people don’t like the idea of pushing themselves to the max every day (as I don’t).

    “The most frequent mistake that people make, however, is keeping the intensity level the same but increasing the duration and increasing ENDURANCE not necessarily fitness, speed, power , or strength. This is a problem for many reasons. One is that your fitness doesn’t necessarily improve because you can go longer at the same low level of intensity. Secondly, making progress in the form of increased endurance leads to more and more and more training to infinity. That’s not practical for many people, nor is it particularly kind on the body to be out doing something like jogging for 10 or more miles several times a week. ”

    “From a metabolism standpoint, increasing endurance but not speed and power is even more backwards. Increasing endurance generally lowers basal energy production/metabolism. It brings about a set of adaptations that are really at odds with what most people want to achieve in terms of health, resting metabolism, and body composition. What slow, steady, long-duration exercise at a low to moderate intensity level does is encourage the body to become more efficient. While “efficient” is a word with a positive connotation, when it comes to our bodies, efficiency is more like an economy car, which, in order to save money on gas, has to sacrifice speed and power. ”

    He goes on to speculate that the best marathon runners and triatheletes are the one who can burn fewer calories per mile, thus not running into a depletion of energy reserves for hours. “Burning fewer calories per miles is about having a low metabolic rate, low temperatures, low muscle mass, low organ and bone weight, and so forth–being borderline emaciated basically.”

    All this description I felt applied to me. Although I early-on in my running realized that running more than 6 miles was damaging and down-right stupid for me, I’ve kept that 5-6 mile rate for all these years.

    I don’t LIKE feeling like I have to push myself, time myself, compete with someone else –while running (walking, more like now–except for down). And even though I haven’t increased my distance in years, I often try to walk/run more often, as I indicated earlier.

    I felt I wasn’t running when I was worn out. I felt I was eating what I needed and wanted. But I also knew there were lots of things in my metabolism that weren’t right.

    I would run when I felt good enough and the high I got from coming down carried me to want to do it again or more often. (Hence, the goal of 100 days in a row.)

    So this was where my quandary came from, knowing how I hate weight work and, really, pushing at all. I just didn’t have enough oomph to do that, but I enjoyed what exercise did for me.

    Even after being out of walking for months or years, once I started, I generally didn’t have any aches or pains when I got home. I wasn’t exhausted to the point that I wanted to lie down. But I was tired. But because my temps were up, I did whatever else I could (laundry, other chores) once I got home.

    And I didn’t feel that hungry. Sometimes I would crave fruits or protein. But in general, I had been eating less as the day went on. That was my wake-up call for this.

    Anyway–what Matt describes is, for some of us, a very real temptation. I don’t like “power work” –because I don’t have the energy to face it most times. But low-level I can do for a long time. But it just keeps me low level.

    When I do feel good, then I get the impulses to stand on my hands or do interval sprints. It is the ideal case, for me, when my health drives me to push. But I don’t WANT to design a program for myself that pushes me all the time. And now I understand why.

    Hope this answers your questions. This chapter in the book pointed out to me what I had been doing wrong. The answer, for me, to what to replace it with, is not as clear.

    I’m on a small island and a mile square town of 4,000. We don’t have all the exercise options that you mentioned. And I can’t afford them. So whatever I do has to be free and available to me. For me, I think, refeeding at the right times (later in day, more proteins–which I normally don’t crave) will solve that. I hope.




    It sounds like you live in a super beautiful area! If you are surrounded by warm water, is swimming something that you enjoy? Maybe, even going for a shorter run, and then finish with a little swim? Do you have a bicycle? You mentioned that you have damage down your neck/shoulders/arms, so I’m not sure if biking would be the best. Also, with what you are dealing with, can you take rest days? If you can, maybe just try taking a few more here and there. Just wanted to throw that out there.

    Hope you are having a great weekend!


    Now I wonder what Matt’s source was, since an anti-cardio bias is something I associate with the paleo movement and bodybuilding.

    I do agree that long distance running has the potential to make one a super skinny running machine, who’s very efficient at using calories. I’ve heard some long-distance runners complain that they can’t burn calories as fast as they used to. Part of this is that they’re better at running (i.e., they expend less effort) and the other part is that they’ve become very light. If I weighed 135 pounds at 5’9″, which is probably what I would need to weigh to be competitive as a marathoner, my BMR would drop by almost 1,000 calories. I don’t want to lose that much weight, because competitive running isn’t my goal and I want to be muscular, but it explains the lower metabolic rate of runners. It’s not an unhealthy reason to have a low BMR! Burning fewer calories is just the natural result of having a small body.

    What I don’t agree with is the statement that endurance doesn’t increase fitness. Endurance is a kind of fitness. Even runners who compete in short distances (as low as 800 meters) still incorporate long, easy runs into their training, because of the benefits I mentioned above (capillary growth, etc.), and some 5k runners may run as many as 80 miles a week. They run very fast in their races, but they still require the slow endurance exercise to build a strong cardiovascular base.

    None of this speaks to your own experience, but I wanted to answer the claim about the value of slow running. Personally, I value a mixture of work-outs, since I’m not a serious athlete who needs to achieve a specific goal, and I think that’s also true for the vast majority of casual runners. For a well-rounded physique, a mixture of resistance training and varied intensities during cardio is probably ideal. There have been times in the past where I focused on weight training to the exclusion of cardio, and I got strong but didn’t experience the other health benefits (including mental health) that I am right now.



    Yes, the water is relatively warm. I’m on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California.

    I do have a kayak. I’ve kayaked around the island (about 50 miles) a couple of times. It requires camping and some long 7-8 hour stretches. I was gonna do it every year and thought that it could be a good cross training fit for the upper half. But I had a pretty scary time one year with hurricanes coming up the back side of the island from Mexico and it scared me out of it.

    If I do kayaking just for my “daily” exercise, it is at least 3 hours by the time I haul the kayak down to the water, get to someplace that isn’t public swimming or beaches and get back, then haul the kayak back and hose it off. So it was another thing that I couldn’t find short treks doing. And it’s not really very strenuous (unless you’re in stormy weather, which I don’t intend to do.)

    I’m not really a water person (so why do I live on an island, you ask? Good question!)and the thought of going down to freezing water first thing in the morning when I am (or was) usually freezing cold anyway, just never appealed to me. But in really hot weather it’s great.

    THere are things I can do, even if it’s just little trips down to the beach to drag seaweed back for my garden. There are ways.

    The more I talk about this it’s clear that I just really need to focus on feeling “fully loaded” when I go and then reload heavily when I get back.

    Yes, I am having a good weekend. Thanks for all your help.




    When you say–
    “It’s not an unhealthy reason to have a low BMR! Burning fewer calories is just the natural result of having a small body.” –I don’t agree!

    Burning fewer calories can be the response for any body type. I am 5’10” and 150 feels like a healthy weight to me. But even at that, I think the combination of the stuff that’s going on with my brain (expends 25% of the calories we consume)and the long-term underfeeding and running definitely leads to an “efficient” BMR–but not necessarily a strong, muscular one.

    An “efficient” metabolism is useful –if I’m you’re stranded on a deserted island and have to live for 40 days! But in terms of eating whatever you want and having the energy to do whatever you want–an low metabolism doesn’t provide that, in my experience. I want to have that luxury of expending energy for things, going and doing, and still have enough left to do whatever else I want to do. Now I don’t.

    I do think that people who have a naturally muscular body (my daughter has one) don’t enjoy endurance things. She likes to run but only short distances, and often does sprints or weights while doing it.

    I think it doesn’t have to be the way running is–it’s just something to be careful of. You sound very…um, gung-ho right now.

    I don’t think Matt is biased against cardio. What he is proposing is using relatively small amounts of time, work to boost the “work” done in that time. The example he uses in the book is if you were a treadmill person (not many are anymore, but just by way of example) and you spent 15 minutes and burned 171 calories, then the goal should be keeping your time at 15 minutes but boosting your calories burned to, say, 352 in the next year.

    His point, focus on the hard part of the work. He even says that when he does “weight lifting” he decided that the most amount of work in a lift was the first 3 seconds or so. The rest of it was impelled by the impetus of the push. So he would just do those hardest 3 seconds, not even getting the weights to the fulcrum.

    As usual, it’s a radical example, but I get what he is aiming for.

    I get where you’re coming from. And if you are truly feeling more energetic, go for it. But feeling horribly stiff when you get home and forcing yourself to do running IMO takes the joy out of it. But if you feel stronger the next time, I guess you’re getting where you want to.



    Internet communication lacks the nuance of face-to-face conversation, so I hope you didn’t mean to sound patronizing when you said that I was “… um, gung ho.” In any case, enthusiasm and optimism aren’t bad qualities, and naturally I want to share my positive experiences with others. I have been chronically ill for most of my adult life–for approximately twelve years–and despite occasional short-term successes, I haven’t felt this healthy for this long since I was a teenager.

    I’m especially interested in sharing my experiences at this site, because I’ve gone through the same thing as many people here. I was convinced for years that the solution to my health problems was to find the right diet, to eliminate the right foods, to adhere to the right system. Overfeeding, while initially helpful with some issues, became for me another system that wasn’t leading to better health. Regular exercise, and a moderated (but normal) diet are working for me now, so I hope you can understand why I want to share that. My advice is completely conventional, but a lot of us have mostly experimented with unconventional solutions.

    I don’t know whether others will have the same experience as me, but I think it’s useful to read what other people have to say. I have read and benefited from reading thousands of personal experiences online, and now I want to share my own. I get particularly concerned when I read posts from people who are worried that their overfeeding/inactivity is just making them overweight and lethargic, and I don’t want them to think that that’s a requirement for feeling better–if they’re like me.

    I think I understand what you’re saying about the potential problems of having an efficient metabolism. I guess it depends on the person. I’ve known several endurance athletes who have tons of energy all the time, and who are extremely productive in their work and family life. If you asked them, they would say that the exercise increased their energy. However, I’ve also known a couple of distance runners who sleep a lot and seem chronically fatigued and over-trained. I don’t know what causes their problems, but undernourishment seems like a reasonable guess.

    I’m sorry that my experience wasn’t able to provide anything useful for you. I hope you find what you’re looking for.


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