Fitness blogger Lindsey, of the Instagram handle Lindsey Living Well, was trying to lose weight—but was going about it in a harmful way. She’d been restricting her calories, doing hours of cardio, and keeping her focus on maintaining a flat stomach. But no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t lose weight—and she didn’t have a ton of energy, either. It wasn’t until Lindsey began prioritizing muscle gain over weight loss that she started seeing results.
Lindsey uploaded side-by-side pictures of herself to her Instagram to showcase her fitness progress. In both pictures, Lindsey’s weight is the same. But her body had more muscle tone in the image on the right. “The girl on the left was doing whatever she could to keep a flat stomach,” Lindsey wrote in the caption. “Endless hours of cardio, restricting carbs and other food groups, limiting calories. Weight loss was her number one goal. And honestly, she felt awful.” (Worth noting: The USDA’s recommended calorie intake for women trying to maintain their weight is between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. And if you’re trying to lose weight, your calories shouldn’t dip below 1,200. This varies based on things like height, weight, and activity level. You should talk to a doctor if you’re interested in learning more about your individual needs.)
“FLASH FORWARD to the girl on the right,” Lindsey wrote. “Hi, that’s me—present day. That girl is lifting weights 3-4 times a week. Yes, I still do cardio. But my main goal is to gain muscle, not lose weight.” Lindsey revealed that she now keeps track of macronutrients, which are major dietary components that the human body needs to thrive (like carbohydrates, fats, and protein). She also stopped restricting her calorie intake based on arbitrary numbers, and she treats herself to the occasional donut. “I don’t care that I don’t weigh any less,” she wrote. “I don’t care if I have a fast metabolism. At the end of the day—if I’m not eating to fuel my body—it doesn’t matter if I’m skinny if I’m not healthy.”
And Lindsey is right—according to experts, under-eating really can take a toll on both your fitness goals and your overall health. “Over-restricting calories to lose weight can backfire,” Nikita Kapur, R.D., dietician at Compass Nutrition, previously told SELF. “If your body gets less calories then it needs to function, it can go into a conservation mode where it tries to hold on to as much energy as it can.” This can lead to weight gain—or weight maintenance—rather than weight loss.
Plus, your body need proper nutrients just to function. “Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy,” Robin Kaiden, R.D., nutritionist and personal trainer at Robin Barrie, previously told SELF. “If we don’t get sufficient carbs, our bodies will eventually use the protein in our muscles as an energy source.” And since muscle helps the body burn more calories at rest, under-eating can actually prevent muscle gain and weight loss.
“My point is, don’t fixate yourself and your fitness journey on some skinny bullshit (sorry for the language),” Lindsey wrote. “Do whatever routine works for you and helps you be your best, HEALTHY self. Healthy looks different on everyone. You got this.”
Thanks for sharing, Lindsey. And thanks for pointing out that health and fitness look different for everyone. Lindsey found success eating upping her daily caloric intake and lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean you have to do that, too. Talk to your doctor—and maybe a nutritionist and personal trainer—if you’re interested in learning more about what your body needs to thrive. Like Lindsey said, you got this.