Eating too few calories

Can Eating Too Few Calories Stall Your Metabolism?

If you’re like most people who want to lose weight, you want to lose it fast. So you may be tempted to make drastic changes in your diet to dramatically reduce the number of calories you consume. But what you may not know is that eating too few calories can actually backfire and sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

“It would make sense to stop eating , but it actually works in the opposite way,” says Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, Texas Dietetic Association media representative and public relations coordinator at the Austin Dietetic Association in Austin, Texas.

Calories and Your Health

The most effective way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you expend, creating a calorie deficit. But if your calorie intake dips too low, says Lummus, your body could go into starvation mode. “Your body will start to store fat because it thinks it is not going to get anything,” says Lummus. “You will be at a point where your body is kind of at a standstill.”

Lummus says that when your body goes into starvation mode, your metabolism slows to a crawl, burning calories as slowly as possible to conserve its energy stores. This is why people who cut their calories too much may reach a plateau and stop losing weight.

Eating too few calories can be the start of a vicious cycle that causes diet distress. When you cut your calories so low that your metabolism slows and you stop losing weight, you probably will become frustrated that your efforts are not paying off. This can lead you to overeat and ultimately gain weight.

“It is so hard to sustain cutting calories and eating too little. What typically happens is that the person will go in the opposite direction; they will just become too hungry and go into a binging mode,” says Lummus. “Because you are getting frustrated by not seeing any weight loss, you just sort of throw in the towel.”

In addition to sabotaging your weight-loss efforts, eating too few calories can also harm your health. When your body goes into starvation mode, you are at increased risk for the following:

  • Abnormally low blood pressure and slow heart rate
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Electrolyte imbalances, especially potassium deficiency
  • Gallstones
  • Hair loss
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Loss of menstrual periods in women
  • Soft hair growth over entire body
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anemia
  • Swelling in your joints
  • Brittle bones
  • Depression

Coming to Terms With Calories

Remember that calories are not your enemy. They are a vital part of a healthy and energetic life. “Your body needs a certain amount of calories just to sustain proper function,” says Lummus. This is why fad diets that force you to cut out too many calories leave you feeling lethargic, shaky, and ready to give up.

Instead of opting for a fad diet, find a reasonable eating and exercise plan that allows you to lose one-half to two pounds per week. There is evidence that people who lose weight at this rate — by making better nutrition choices, eating smaller portion sizes, and exercising — also have the best chance of keeping it off. Make a plan to adopt new healthful habits that you will be able to stick to indefinitely, and always allow yourself a little wiggle room for special occasions.

4 Signs You’re Eating Too Little When Trying to Lose Weight

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s pretty cut and dry, right? Cut as many calories from your diet as possible. Unfortunately, it’s possible to eat too little, which not only makes it harder for you to achieve a healthy weight, but can also cause other health problems.

The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Why do I want to lose weight?” This seems simple. It’s usually to fit into smaller clothes or to look better. But these reasons can cause you to make decisions that aren’t necessarily in your best health interest. Eating below your needs is just one example of that and, unfortunately, it can backfire big time.

Everyone has a set amount of calories, or energy, they need to simply be alive. Consistently eating less than this can cause your metabolism to slow down and your body to begin preserving what it can to survive. Hunger and feeling full aren’t the only indicators of whether you’re fueling your body appropriately. In fact, if you aren’t eating enough consistently, you may notice some of these other signs as well.



Our bodies are fueled by the foods we eat, so if we don’t eat enough, our energy levels can also wane. Whether you’re skipping meals or limiting the types of food you eat, eating too few calories also means you’re taking in too few nutrients. Research shows you need all the macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – for sustained energy. That said, vitamins and minerals are also essential in regulating the production of energy. When you skimp on calories, it becomes much more difficult to get all these important elements your body needs to function properly.




Feeling more irritable than normal can be another key indicator you aren’t supplying your body with enough fuel to get through the day. Skimping on carbohydrates can be particularly problematic when it comes to mood stabilization. Without enough carbs, your blood-sugar levels may dip too low because the body doesn’t have enough sugar, or glucose, to use as fuel.



To help preserve energy, your digestive tract may move food through your system more slowly when you restrict your intake below what your body needs for an extended period of time. This can cause constipation. In addition, not getting enough fiber regularly — which is challenging to do even when you do eat enough to meet your needs — can also increase the likelihood of constipation.



More isn’t necessarily better. You usually lose weight when you run a calorie deficit, but if you’re finding you just can’t lose those last few pounds, it’s possible you’re either training too hard, eating too little or some combination of the two. Smaller deficits (think 250–500 calories) are often all you need to see longer-term weight loss. Plus, this won’t trigger your body to go into self-preservation mode the same way, drastically restricting your intake often does. Although dropping your calories to significantly low levels may provide you with quick weight loss in the beginning, it can be detrimental to your health and set the stage for weight regain in the future.

Registered Dietitian Cortney Berling examines the ways in which active individuals eat less than their bodies require.

Eating Enough Is Just As Important As Eating Healthy

It’s been hammered into our heads for years now: if we want to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories and burn more of them through exercise. We’ve become so focused on creating this calorie deficit that we’ve forgotten what calories actually do: fuel our bodies. In an effort to maximize weight loss, many people (particularly women) eat as little as possible. And many of their trainers encourage this behavior, recommending women eat the fewest amount of calories their bodies need to survive.

But what about helping the body thrive? It may seem counterintuitive, but eating too little not only hinders your efforts at the gym, making it difficult to build strength and train effectively: under-eating can also prevent you from losing the weight you’re working so hard to banish.

Related: Two Common Mistakes That Can Lead to Under-Eating

How Under-Eating Impacts Weight Loss and Fitness

Despite the prevailing myth that weight loss boils down to a simple calories in–calories out formula, a variety of lifestyle factors and their ensuing hormonal responses affect the ways our bodies respond to exercise and food. Reducing your caloric intake by a few hundred calories each day can indeed lead to sustainable weight loss, but reducing it significantly and forcing your body to function on the bare minimum it needs to survive triggers a series of changes in the body, all aimed at preserving energy in a perceived time of famine.

Your body responds to extreme caloric restriction by doing whatever it can to ensure your survival, mostly by conserving energy and putting calories toward its most basic functions. To do this, the body resorts to burning fewer calories. The result? Your body holds on to fat no matter how much you exercise or how little you eat. What’s more, while in this survival mode your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which not only contributes to unhealthy belly fat but leads to leptin and insulin resistance, two hormones essential for regulating hunger, metabolism and fat storage.

This impacts your training in several ways. When the body feels it must prioritize essential functions (like regulating breathing, body temperature and blood pressure), it doesn’t feel that it’s safe to put resources toward things like rebuilding muscle tissue, which is the process that enables us to grow stronger. Training sessions therefore become harder when we’re underfed. Though we may feel like we’re performing with all we’ve got, we’re actually working at a severe energy disadvantage.

Without enough fuel, we can’t perform at our best. For weight lifters, this equates to an inability to lift at levels their bodies typically handle without any problem. In turn, this means they can’t create the necessary tears in muscle tissue that promote muscle growth and increase strength. For endurance athletes, it means they run out of gas more quickly while running or playing sports. Those microscopic muscle tears that all athletes generate need adequate fuel to heal. Even if you manage to push through a workout made difficult by a lack of fuel, your muscles can’t rebuild and your body may even resort to using the protein from your muscles themselves.

So how do you know if you’re eating enough for your activity level? The list below of common symptoms should give you a better idea.

Signs You Aren’t Eating Enough

Food is energy. As mentioned above, if you’re not eating enough calories, your body is going to use the ones it does have to support vital functions. This means there aren’t any left to do the things you love. If you’re dragging your feet at the gym every day, chances are you could benefit from more food.

2. Your Weight Hasn’t Changed

Have you been working out like crazy but aren’t seeing results? Your body could be in starvation mode, fighting to preserve as many calories as it can.

3. You’ve Hit a Training Plateau

If you’ve hit a ceiling in your weight training and haven’t seen an increase in months, it’s likely that you need to eat more, both to fuel your training and to repair your muscles.

4. You Aren’t Regular

Less than 5 percent of Americans consume enough fiber each day, despite generally eating more calories than necessary. If you are under-eating, the chances of your body getting enough fiber grow slimmer, which can easily lead to constipation. Another factor to consider is dehydration, which also contributes to slower bowels. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so if you’re trying to cut back on food, you may be ignoring your body’s signals for water in a misguided effort to stick to your diet.

5. Insomnia

Appropriate food intake allows for improved blood sugar control. The combination of consuming too few calories and over-exercising leaves your liver depleted of the glycogen stores it needs to keep your blood sugar stable, forcing your body to release stress hormones that eventually lead to the production of new glucose. When stress hormones are high, we have trouble falling–and staying–asleep.

Other common signs include constant hunger, irritability and mood swings, feeling cold all the time and experiencing irregular periods.

How to Determine Appropriate Calorie Intake

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many calories your body needs, particularly since your energy expenditure varies every day. The general rule of thumb is that you need 10 calories for every pound of bodyweight. (For example, a 140-pound woman needs 1,400 calories on a sedentary day.) However, this baseline estimate doesn’t include the additional calories needed for exercise or for everyday activities like walking and doing chores. While there are many bodyweight calculators available that can tell you what your ideal weight (and thus ideal calorie intake) should be for your age, gender and height, both fail to consider things like frame size and muscle mass.

You can use these rules to get started, but listening to your body and looking for the above clues–hunger, fatigue, weight loss, fitness plateaus, etc.—will serve as much more reliable indicators of your needs.

So, are you eating enough?

About the author: Cortney Berling is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Tri-City Medical Center, a full-service, acute-care hospital located in Oceanside, California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at The University of Cincinnati and completed her dietetic internship at The Cleveland Clinic. You can often find Cortney enjoying the San Diego weather where she spends most of her time running, playing beach volleyball, paddle boarding and hiking.


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Top 10 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

Weight Loss

Failing to see results despite your best efforts at losing weight? These 10 weight-loss blunders might just tell you why.

Failing to see results despite your best efforts at losing weight? These 10 weight-loss blunders might just tell you why.

If you’ve been adhering to a strict healthy eating and fitness plan for a while but are failing to see the results, it may be time to rethink your weight loss strategy. From dieting blunders to physical factors, any of these 10 reasons could be why you’re not losing weight.


You’re overcompensating

Whether a hard session at the gym or a long week of exercising military willpower against unhealthy foods, we all have a tendency to reward ourselves for hard work. However, treating yourself too much for work done can be counterproductive, and even undo the hard work you’re supposed to be rewarding.

We frequently overestimate the calories we burnt in exercise and underestimate those in our healthy diets, and rewarding yourself for this can increase the net calorie intake, halting your progress. It is important to carefully monitor what you’re eating and burning to ensure that you don’t unpick the hard work already done.

Keeping a log of calories eaten and burnt can be a beneficial way of ensuring you don’t overcompensate for work done, and as important as making sure you do reward yourself with satisfying and tasty foods, it is important that these treats are controlled and not abused.


You’re not getting enough sleep

You may think that cutting back on sleep to make time for a workout is great for your health and fitness, however not getting enough sleep could actually minimize the benefits of exercise and cause you to gain weight. Not only can sleep deprivation affect exercise performance and endurance, but it slows down your metabolism, increases appetite and makes you more likely to give into cravings. Not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, encouraging you to reach for the cupboards more, whilst decreasing the hormone leptin that stimulates fullness.

Not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite…

Sleep also provides the needed recovery from both exercise and day-to-day life, and without muscle and mind recovery, your willpower and motivation will decrease. Stress is also a significant factor in the progress of weight loss, when stressed the body is in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, increasing the levels of cortisol, an appetite stimulant. Getting adequate rest and recuperation through sleep, advised around eight hours, will reduce stress and help you control appetite.


You’re drinking too many sugary drinks

When working hard to keep up your exercise regime and eat cleanly, you can sometimes forget that fluids have an impact on calories. Picking up a tasty coffee on the way to work or embracing a weekend with a few alcoholic drinks can add greatly to your calorie intake without even realising it. Sugary drinks, particularly carbonated drinks, are the enemy to any diet as we generally don’t associate fluids with calories.

While we all know the main calorie culprit when it comes to our drinks is alcohol, you should also consider the calories in fruit juice, smoothies, soft drinks and many hot drinks.

Substituting these devious devils can be easily accomplished; fruit juices for no-sugar cordials, putting sweetener and fat-free milk in hot drinks, and sticking to lower calorie spirits such as gin and vodka, can all help when trying to avoid drinking your calories. It is worth remembering however, carbonated drinks, even diet ones, are detrimental to diets. Even sugar free or diet sodas will affect your body’s reaction and cravings for sugar, and so it is worth remembering that despite the ’zero’ calorie label, carbonated drinks are generally harmful to your waistline and should be given a wide berth.


You’re not exercising portion control

If you’re eating low fat, healthy meals but still not losing weight, it may be worth looking at your portion sizes. While you may think that you’re only eating three meals a day, with the increasing portion sizes many of us consume, you could actually be eating the equivalent of six or more standard serving sizes each day. It is worth remembering that although the food you’re eating may be healthy, it should still be eaten in moderation, as eating too much of anything will cause you to gain weight.

It is important to remember also a lot of typically health foods can stifle your weight loss due to their rich calorie or fat contents.

It is important to remember also a lot of typically health foods can stifle your weight loss due to their rich calorie or fat contents. For example, 100g of pumpkin seeds, a healthy and nutritious snack, has 610 calories compared to 100g of salted pringles, a relatively fattening and insubstantial snack, has only 524 calories. It would not be beneficial to replace seeds and nuts with crisps, as unhealthy snacks contain more fat which can be equally damaging to waistlines, but consuming large quantities of healthy foods could be what is stopping you from shifting those unwanted pounds.


You’re eating too little or skipping meals

While eating too much food is the most obvious cause of weight gain, eating too little can also hinder your ability to shift the pounds. Your body has a natural instinct to protect itself, so when it is not given an adequate amount of food and nutrients it will automatically go into starvation mode when deprived of such nutrition, causing the metabolism to slow down and the body to hoard food as fat. As a result, it will become much more difficult for you to lose weight.

Think of your body as an animal preparing for hibernation; when deprived of nutrients, the body will prepare for this shortage of food by storing any food eaten as fat. This is because when exhausted of its carbohydrate stores, its next option is to burn fat and protein. The body needs to reserve its muscle store and so will choose fat over protein as fuel.

When in starvation mode, the metabolism will slow and will store any food eaten as fats to ensure that more fats are available for fuel instead of muscle. It is therefore important to keep your metabolism high and provide your system with fuel to ensure the aversion of this ‘starvation mode’.


Your diet is too limited

Restricting yourself to fad diets or extreme dieting can be worse for the waistline that eating too much or too little, cutting out certain foods altogether or not sticking to a healthy diet regime can affect the rate of weight loss. The body performs most efficiently on a balanced diet, receiving all the needed nutrients and minerals it requires and so completely cutting certain areas from your diet will only hinder your progress as the body needs a variety of foods.

Cutting fatty foods and typically unhealthy foods are key to weight loss, but totally elimination areas of diets are counterproductive. Fad diets and overly restrictive diets also also unsustainable over an extended period of time, completely cutting carbs or fat may work for a short period of time but is essentially unfeasible as you can start craving certain foods which even those with unbreakable willpower will eventually give into.


You don’t vary your workouts

If you’ve fallen into a rut with your exercise routine, you may no longer be getting the most out of your workouts. Doing the same workouts day after day can not only affect your motivation and excitement with exercise, but can put your body into a sedimentary regime, not producing the benefits exercise should be giving.

When you workout your body will improve in its fitness and ability of whatever you are training, but if you don’t push yourself, increase your intensity or change workouts, your body’s effort and improvement will plateau. Exercise will become ineffective and the results will slowly begin to dissolve.

Both mentally and physically, increasing intensity and mixing up your routines can significantly change your results…

Both mentally and physically, increasing intensity and mixing up your routines can significantly change your results, particularly the combination of cardio and weight training can encourage the reduction of your waistline quicker. Weight training can not only increase muscle mass, but increase metabolic rate encouraging weight loss, studies have shown that people who combine cardio and resistance training lose weight quicker than cardio alone.


You have a medical condition

Many medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid problems and hormonal imbalances can cause you to gain weight and make it very difficult to lose excess pounds. Also, hidden food allergies or intolerances can make it difficult to lose weight.

Making sure you are entirely health and not carrying some hidden illness or intolerance can be a significant factor, contributing not only to weight but overall health. Furthermore, while your medical condition itself may not cause weight gain, the side effects of certain medications may pile on the weight, so make sure to speak to your doctor about this if you are struggling to lose weight.


You’re not drinking enough water

Water can affect weight for a number of reasons; firstly water is an effective tool in suppressing your appetite. Too often do our bodies misconstrue hunger for dehydration and so drinking a glass of water before a meal, snack or even when you feel hungry will help your body identify when it is actually hungry to dehydrated. Cold water can even speed up the metabolism and help curb the cravings for sugar and fizzy beverages, typical issues in many people’s diets.

Water also ensures the proper functioning of the kidneys and digestive system, as without enough water the body uses the liver as additional support, resulting in the storing instead of burning of fat. Water is important both for hydration in exercise but also the controlling of appetite and functioning of vital organs, aiding the process of weight loss.


You don’t eat breakfast

As the first meal of the day, breakfast is considered as an important part of your diet, restoring the fuel and nutrients burnt through the night, breakfast is important way to prepare your body for the day ahead. Although dragging yourself out of bed 15 minutes earlier to ensure you eat may sound uninviting, breakfast should be an essential part of your day. Eating a hearty meal after sleep is an efficient way to control hunger and ensure fatigue or temporary starvation does not occur, helping you resist overeating or eating fatty foods at lunch time.

But breakfast also has physiological benefits; keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level, lowering cholesterol and keeping saturated fat low. Many studies and health sites will sing of the benefits breakfast has upon weight loss and so is an important way to kick start your metabolism and keep you weight loss under control.

Simple ways that can help: Plan Ahead.

If losing weight is an important goal then you should invest the necessary time needed to plan your workouts and your food. Keeping a food and exercise journal can be an important element to any weight loss regime, as we can sometime underestimate what we eat, exercise or how many calories we consume.

Recording how much you’re consuming and burning can be an effective way of visualising what it is you’re doing that is hindering weight loss. Although they don’t have to be stringently accurate, journals can be an effective way to keep track of your intake, helping you keep to food limits and aims.

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By Alina Petre

People trying to lose weight often restrict the number of calories they eat.

However, restricting calories too severely can lead to a variety of health problems, including reduced fertility and weaker bones.

This article describes five potentially harmful effects of calorie restriction and helps you determine the calorie deficit that’s right for you.

Your Calorie Needs, Explained

A calorie is defined as the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by 1 C (1.8 F).

However, you’re more likely to think of calories as the unit of measurement for the amount of energy your body gets from the foods and beverages you consume.

Your body requires calories to function and uses them to sustain three main processes (1):

1. Basal metabolic rate (BMR): This refers to the number of calories needed to cover your basic functions, including the proper functioning of your brain, kidneys, heart, lungs and nervous system.

2. Digestion: Your body uses a certain number of calories to digest and metabolize the foods you eat. This is also known as the thermic effect of food (TEF).

3. Physical activity: This refers to the number of calories needed to fuel your everyday tasks and workouts.

Generally speaking, eating more calories than your body needs will cause you to gain weight, mostly in the form of body fat. Eating fewer calories than your body requires leads to weight loss (2, 3, 4).

This calorie balance concept, which is supported by strong scientific research, is why people wanting to lose weight often try to restrict their calorie intake (5, 6, 7).

However, restricting calories too much may harm your health in the following 5 ways.

1. It Can Lower Your Metabolism

Regularly eating fewer calories than your body needs can cause your metabolism to slow down.

Several studies show that low-calorie diets can decrease the number of calories the body burns by as much as 23 percent (8, 9, 10).

What’s more, this lower metabolism can persist long after the calorie-restricted diet is stopped (10).

In fact, researchers believe that this lower metabolism may partly explain why more than 80 percent of people regain weight once they go off their calorie-restricted diets (10).

One of the ways that calorie-restricted diets slow your metabolism is by causing muscle loss (11, 12, 13).

This loss of muscle mass is especially likely to occur if the calorie-restricted diet is low in protein and not combined with exercise (14, 15).

To prevent your weight loss diet from affecting your metabolism, make sure that you never eat fewer calories than are required to sustain your BMR.

Slightly increasing your protein intake and adding resistance exercises to your workout routine may also help (14, 15).

Summary: Severely restricting your calories can decrease your metabolism and cause you to lose muscle mass. This makes it more difficult to maintain your weight loss in the long term.

2. It Can Cause Fatigue and Nutrient Deficiencies

Regularly eating fewer calories than your body requires can cause fatigue and make it more challenging for you to meet your daily nutrient needs.

For instance, calorie-restricted diets may not provide sufficient amounts of iron, folate or vitamin B12. This can lead to anemia and extreme fatigue (16, 17, 18).

In addition, the number of carbs you eat may play a role in fatigue.

Some studies suggest that calorie-restricted diets with low amounts of carbs may cause feelings of fatigue in some individuals (19, 20, 21, 22).

However, other studies find that low-carb diets reduce fatigue. Therefore, this effect may depend on the individual (23, 24).

Calorie-restricted diets may limit other nutrients too, including:

  • Protein: Not eating enough protein-rich foods like meat, fish, dairy, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds may cause muscle loss, hair thinning and brittle nails (25).
  • Calcium: Not eating enough calcium-rich foods like dairy, leafy greens, calcium-set tofu and fortified milks may reduce bone strength and increase the risk of fractures (26).
  • Biotin and thiamine: A low intake of whole grains, legumes, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds may limit your intake of these two B vitamins, potentially resulting in muscle weakness, hair loss and scaly skin (27, 28).
  • Vitamin A: Not eating enough vitamin A-rich foods like organ meat, fish, dairy, leafy greens or orange-colored fruits and vegetables may weaken your immune system and lead to permanent eye damage (29).
  • Magnesium: An insufficient intake of magnesium-rich whole grains, nuts and leafy greens may cause fatigue, migraines, muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms (30).

To prevent fatigue and nutrient deficiencies, avoid overly restricting your calories and ensure you eat a variety of whole, minimally processed foods.

Summary: Restricting calories too severely can lead to fatigue. Maintaining this calorie restriction for too long can also lead to nutrient deficiencies.

3. It May Reduce Fertility

Restricting calories too dramatically can negatively affect fertility. This is especially true for women, as the ability to ovulate depends on hormone levels.

More specifically, an increase in estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels is needed in order for ovulation to occur (31, 32).

Interestingly, research has shown that LH levels partly depend on the number of calories available in a woman’s diet (31, 32).

Accordingly, studies show that reproductive function is suppressed in women who eat 22–42 percent fewer calories than are needed to maintain their weight (33).

An insufficient calorie intake may also reduce estrogen levels, which is thought to have lasting negative effects on bone and heart health (34, 35, 36).

Signs of reduced fertility may include irregular menstrual cycles or a lack of them. However, subtle menstrual disturbances may not have any symptoms, so they may require a more thorough medical examination to be diagnosed (37, 38).

Researchers believe that severe calorie restriction may also affect men’s reproductive function, but few studies exist on the topic (39).

Summary: Overly restricting calories may potentially reduce fertility, especially in women. More studies are needed to determine the effects of calorie restriction in men.

4. It Can Weaken Your Bones

Consuming too few calories can weaken your bones.

That’s because calorie restriction can reduce estrogen and testosterone levels. Low levels of these two reproductive hormones are thought to reduce bone formation and increase bone breakdown, resulting in weaker bones (40, 41, 42, 43).

In addition, calorie restriction — especially when combined with physical exercise — can increase stress hormone levels. This may also lead to bone loss (44).

Bone loss is especially troublesome because it is often irreversible and increases the risk of fractures (45, 46).

Summary: Restricting calories may disturb hormone levels, which may result in weaker bones and an increased risk of fractures.

5. It May Lower Your Immunity

Restricting calories may increase your risk of infections and illness.

This applies to viruses like the common cold and appears to be especially true when it’s combined with a high level of physical activity (47, 48).

For instance, one study compared athletes in disciplines that put a strong emphasis on body leanness, such as boxing, gymnastics or diving, to those in disciplines less focused on body weight.

The researchers reported that athletes in disciplines that required leanness made more frequent attempts to lose weight and were almost twice as likely to have been sick in the previous three months (47).

In another study, taekwondo athletes who were dieting to reduce their body weight in the week before a competition experienced reduced immunity and an increased risk of infection (48).

The effects of calorie restriction in non-exercising individuals are less clear and more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made (49).

Summary: Calorie restriction, especially when combined with strenuous physical activity, may lower your immune defenses.

How to Eat the Right Number of Calories

Calorie needs vary from person to person because they depend on factors such as age, sex, height, current weight and physical activity level.

Determining the number of calories that’s right for you will reduce your likelihood of developing the negative health consequences outlined above.

There are various ways to estimate your own calorie needs. The easiest method consists of three simple steps:

1. Determine your BMR: Use this online calculator to estimate the minimum number of calories your body requires per day. Aim to never consume fewer calories than this.

2. Estimate your daily requirement: Use this online calculator to estimate the number of calories you need to maintain your current body weight.

3. Determine your calorie needs for weight loss: If weight loss is your goal, aim for a daily calorie intake falling between the amount required to sustain your BMR and the amount needed to maintain your current body weight.

In addition, make sure you record what you eat in an online food journal like Cronometer, at least in the beginning of your weight loss process.

Tracking your diet will help you ensure that you continue to reach your daily recommended nutrient intakes.

Summary: Use the method above to estimate the daily calorie intake that’s right for you, in addition to an online diet journal to ensure your diet covers your nutrient needs.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to long-term weight loss, patience is key. It’s best to steer clear of diets that require you to severely restrict your calories.

Instead, opt for diets that are focused on diet quality and encourage you to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

Losing weight and saving money aren’t all that different. While the latter requires spending less, the former requires consuming fewer calories. But what some people don’t realize is that cutting too many calories can actually stall weight loss, says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

“Restricting calories too much almost always backfires,” Young cautions. And that’s because the body actually needs calories to burn calories. It’s a lot like when you want to light a fire. You need to throw kindling in the fireplace to ignite it, she says.

Think of food as your body’s kindling; it sparks your metabolism, making weight loss possible. When you’re eating enough, the body first uses food for fuel, then turns to the fat it’s been holding onto for energy, Young says. But restrict calories too severely, and your body goes into “starvation mode,” and starts to break down lean muscle tissue to reserve its energy stores. Ultimately, this can slow metabolism, making it tougher to lose weight.

Plus, it’s tough to stick to a super low-calorie diet. Not eating enough for breakfast, for example, will leave you famished, making it harder to skip that cinnamon bun in your morning meeting or lead you to overeat at lunch.

While calorie needs differ based on activity level, goals, and gender, most women should consume at least 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. Once you dip below that number, it becomes difficult for the body to perform basic biological functions that keep us healthy. Not sure if you’re hitting that number—or the number that’s right for you? Here are a few signs that you may not be eating enough to see the scale tip in your favor. (Psst! Did you know your body has six key fat-fighting hormones? See how to balance and boost them—and lose up to 40 pounds in the process—with The Hormone Fix.)

Please take careful note that in order to lose body fat, Calories Out MUST remain stable. Must. Must. But this is precisely what we know to be FALSE for at least the last 100 years. BMR may increase or decrease 30-40%. This was shown as early as 1917, when studies showed that a reduction of calorie intake by 30% is quickly met by a decrease in BMR by 30%.

Dr. Ancel Keys showed much the same effect in his famous Minnesota ‘starvation study’. Despite the title, subjects were given 1570 calories per day, more than most weight loss regimens being prescribed today. A drop in calories eaten by 40% is met with a 40% drop in BMR.

The reason for this is simple. Your body is very smart and does not want to die. If you do not alter your hormones (predominantly insulin), you won’t be able to access your fat stores. If you can’t get energy from body fat, then then you cannot run an energy deficit forever. If you are only taking in 1500 calories, you can only spend 1500 calories.

So BMR drops. We’ve known this for over a century. If you cut a few calories every day, your body will burn less calories and you will not lose fat. Weight loss plateaus and then you start to regain weight. So, counting calories, as a strategy for weight loss, has been proven over and over again to fail.

Strategies that lower insulin, however (low carb, intermittent fasting) are completely different. By lowering insulin, we tell our bodies that there is no food coming in. Therefore, the body switches from burning the calories from food, to burning the calories from our body fat. Our body wants to burn 2000 calories, but it just gets them from body fat instead of food. Instead of restricting energy (calories), our body is switching fuel sources, from food to stored food (body fat). But this can only happen if we correct the underlying hormonal problem of excessive insulin. So is ‘Calories In Calories Out’ totally useless? Well, not totally.

Is counting calories completely futile?

You may have heard of or received an email offer for the Nigerian Phishing (email fraud) scam. The story goes like this. A few years ago, some crooks would send out millions of emails to potential marks (victims). The emails would say that they were an exiled Nigerian prince that was forced to flee out of his home country. He had $10 kajillion dollars in the bank and offered to split it with you if you would only give him your banking information. In other scams, the crooks would ask for money. Send them $1000 dollars and then they could go to the bank, retrieve their $10 billion and give you $2 billion as a thank you. The scam became well known as a fraud and most people recognized it immediately so they simply deleted the email.

However, contrary to what you might expect, the scam did not disappear. I still receive these emails on a regular basis, and they even keep the Nigerian prince rather than change it to, for example, an Indonesian princess. Since almost everybody has heard of this scam, what was the point?

Crooks could immediately identify potential marks by sending out this particular scam. If the crooks made up a new scam, they would receive many replies to their email, but most of them would not be gullible enough to hand over actual cash. By keeping the Nigerian prince scam, they could immediately and efficiently identify the most gullible people who would hand over cash. In this way, the Nigerian prince scam is a great marker for gullibility.

The Calories In/ Calories Out (CICO) model performs the same task for me. The CICO model has been tested over and over again. Multiple trials have shown it to be a complete failure. If somebody vociferously defends the CICO paradigm, I can immediately and efficiently identify them as people who have not really understood what causes obesity, and have no serious grasp of the physiology behind weight gain. These are the people who keep parroting ‘A calorie is a calorie’, as if I had asked them ‘Is a calorie a calorie’? The question I ask is ‘Are all calories equally fattening’, to which they usually stare blankly at me, before replying ‘It’s all about calories’, as if the body had any actual method of measuring calories.

The CICO model is very useful because it efficiently flags people who are not all that knowledgable about obesity, and I can safely ignore them. There are many of these people out there, and not everybody is worth listening to.

Dr. Jason Fung

Chapter 5. A Calorie Is a Calorie, or Is It?

We’ve been talking a lot about calories. Why? Because the number of calories you eat and drink, and use up through daily activities, is closely associated with your weight. Does it matter what types of foods the calories come from? Yes and no.

When it comes to calories and managing your weight, the answer is no. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Choosing healthy foods is important, and we’ll address that in the next chapter, “Calories + Nutrients = Food.” But first you need to learn about calories: what a calorie is, how to count calories, and how to set your calorie goal. This information will help you assess how close you are to your calorie goal. Then, you will be able to choose the kind of changes that will get you on your way to a Healthier You.

We know that most people don’t like to count calories. It may feel like a daunting, overwhelming, and time-consuming task. We hear you. That is why A Healthier You is going to provide you with tools that will make it manageable for you to count calories and follow a healthy eating plan that you can make part of your everyday lifestyle.

What is a calorie? | How many calories do you eat each day?
Setting your calorie goal

What is a calorie?

A Calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of a liter of water 1 degree. Sure, it was hard to understand when your science teacher explained it. Relax. It is just a scientific way to measure energy. That said, what do you need to know about calories? Just a few things: Think about what you regularly eat, what your calorie needs are, and how to count calories. It takes approximately 3,500 calories below your calorie needs to lose a pound of body fat. It takes approximately 3,500 calories above your calorie needs to gain a pound.

At this point, you know how many excess calories it takes to gain a pound or deficit calories to lose a pound (3,500), and you know about how many calories you need (in “My Personal Profile”). You are already on the road to a Healthier You! The next thing you need to learn is how to count calories so you can determine how many you eat each day. At first, this may seem like too much trouble, but once you get familiar with portion size and the number of calories in your favorite foods, you’ll be able to estimate how many calories you eat each day, easily, without weighing your food and without taking too much of your valuable time.

Anthony is a 56-year-old man who is 5’10” and weighs 185 pounds. Anthony is a high school teacher and track coach who spends most of his day standing at work. Anthony does some light yard work when he returns home from work each day.

Using the BMI chart on page 12, Anthony determined that he has a BMI of 27. According to the BMI chart, he is overweight.

Next, using the definitions on page 15, Anthony determined his physical activity level. Because he does some physical activity while coaching and doing light yard work each day for at least 30 minutes, he is active.

Then, Anthony, using the calorie chart on page 16, determined his estimated calorie needs based on his age and current physical activity level. This is approximately 2,600 daily calories to maintain his current weight.

How many calories do you eat each day?

Calories count—and they come from both food and beverages. When eating packaged foods (for example, frozen, canned, and some prepared foods from the grocery store), counting your calories is easy—it’s on the Nutrition Facts label. When eating foods that do not have a Nutrition Facts label, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, or when eating at home or in restaurants, determining calories is more difficult. If you can’t count calories because there is no Nutrition Facts label, you should pay attention to portion size.

Use the Nutrition Facts label. Most packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label. An example of one is on the next page. You can use this tool to make smart food choices and to find out how many calories and nutrients you are actually eating. To use the label effectively to count calories, you need to check serving size, servings per container, and calories. Look at the serving size and the number of servings per container. How many servings are you consuming? If you are eating 2 servings, you are eating double the calories and the nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

Portion size is the amount of food eaten at one time. Serving size is the amount stated on the Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes, the portion size and serving size match; sometimes, they don’t. For example, if the label says that 1 serving size is 6 cookies and you eat 3, you’ve eaten ½ of a serving of cookies. More importantly, you have just reduced by half the calories listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Remember that the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label is not a recommended amount to eat; it’s a simple and easy way for letting you know the calories and nutrients in a certain amount of a food. If the label helps you be more aware of how much you eat or drink—all the better!

When eating foods without a Nutrition Facts label, pay attention to how your portion size compares to a recommended amount of food from each food group. In chapter 7, “Breaking It Down,” we’ll show you how to do this.

Some foods prepared at the grocery store and other foods such as produce items may not have food packaging that provides nutritional information, but this information can sometimes be obtained in the store by request. Many restaurants have nutrition information on the foods they serve available at the restaurant or on their Web site. As grocery stores increase the number of prepared products that have nutrition information, it will become easier for you to make lower-calorie choices to help you control your calories every day. Don’t be afraid to ask for nutrition information if you don’t see it displayed at the grocery store or on the menu when eating out.

On the sample Nutrition Facts label above, the serving size of this food is 1 cup, and there are 2 servings in this container. There are 260 calories per serving of this food. If you eat the entire container of this product, you will eat 2 servings. That means you need to double the calories (260 calories x 2 = 520 calories) to know how many calories you are eating. If you eat 2 servings, you will have eaten over 500 calories!

Now, you’ve learned how to use food packaging to help you figure out how many calories you are eating. In the following chapter, you will learn how to build healthy eating patterns using food groups. Estimating how many calories you are getting from these foods can be challenging at first. But since one of the best ways to manage your weight is to be aware of foods and beverages high in calories, being able to keep track of where your calories are coming from is an important skill that will help you for the rest of your life.

Setting your calorie goal

In chapter 4, “Where to Start,” you determined your Body Mass Index, or BMI, to assess whether you were underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. Staying at—or getting to—a healthy weight can help us in several ways. Not only might it help us feel better and look better, but science shows it plays an important role in reducing our risk of several types of chronic diseases that can definitely interfere with our hopes for a long, healthy life.

Excess body fat leads to a higher risk for premature death, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, lung problems, gout, arthritis, and certain kinds of cancers.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005

There is a right number of calories for you. This number depends on your age, gender, weight, activity level, and whether you’re trying to gain, maintain, or lose weight. In chapter 4, “Where to Start,” you estimated how many calories you need to maintain your weight at your current physical activity level.

If you are at a healthy weight (BMI between 19 and 24), then use the number of calories you estimated as your calorie needs based on your current physical activity level. This is the number you wrote down in “My Personal Profile.” In chapters 9 and 10, you will determine whether you are physically active enough to reduce your risk for developing a chronic disease or to maintain or achieve a healthy weight.

If you are obese, overweight, or have a high waist size and two or more risk factors, even modest weight loss (for example, 10 pounds) has health benefits. Preventing further weight gain is very important. Eating fewer calories while increasing physical activity are the keys to controlling body weight. Simply put, eat less, move more. If you need to lose weight, aim for slow, steady weight loss by decreasing calorie intake while maintaining an adequate intake of nutrients. Next are a couple of suggestions to get you on your way.

If you need to lose weight, a reduction of 500 or more calories each day from added sugar, fat, and alcohol is a good strategy. For example, drink water flavored with lemon or lime, seltzer water, or a diet soda instead of a sugar-sweetened beverage, or use a non-caloric sweetener instead of a sweetener with calories. Together these small changes can quickly add up to 500 calories! Later on, we will give you more details on how to do this.

for controlling calories:

On the Nutrition Facts label, when 1 serving of a single food item contains 400 or more calories, it’s high; and 40 calories is low.1

The packaging of a food can also contain other useful information for making your food selections. For example, sometimes, foods are labeled “calorie free,” “low calorie,” “reduced or lower in calories,” “light,” or “lite.” Here is a quick guide to what those words mean:

Calorie free = Less than 5 calories per serving.

Low calorie = 40 calories or less per serving.

Reduced calorie or lower in calories = At least 25 percent fewer calories than the regular version.

Light or lite = Half the fat or a third of the calories of the regular version.2

1 Based on 2,000 calories.
2 For example, if a regular cheesecake has 300 calories and 8 grams of fat per serving, then the “lite” version could have 200 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.


You’d be surprised at how often people (typically women) ask me if they’re eating enough.

They’ll run down the details of their current physical state, their current diet, their current workout, their current goals, and – last but not least – their current lack of progress in reaching those goals.

So it’ll go a little something like this:

Whenever I hear this, I instantly know exactly what this person is usually asking.

And that is… am I in starvation mode?

Is It Starvation Mode?

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, “starvation mode” is the term used to describe a state where a person is unable to lose weight because they aren’t eating enough calories. Instead, they’re eating an amount of calories that is low enough to cause their metabolic rate to slow down so much so that their body holds on to all of its fat stores, thus preventing any fat loss from taking place.

This, in a nutshell, is what starvation mode is.

Actually… let me rephrase that.

This, in a nutshell, is what people think starvation mode is.

In reality, of course, this concept of starvation mode is complete and utter bullshit.

The truth is, fat will be lost every single time a person creates a consistent caloric deficit. Always. 100% of the time. No matter how low their calorie intake is.

So if you think you’re consistently eating an amount that should put you into that required caloric deficit and cause you to lose weight… but you aren’t losing any weight… and you begin to wonder if the problem is that you’re just not eating enough… and therefore starvation mode has kicked in… and THIS is the reason for your lack weight loss… you’d be wrong.

That is a physiological impossibility.

You’re either eating more calories than you think you are (due to any combination of underestimating, under reporting, miscalculating, etc. etc. etc. additional details here), burning less calories than you think you are, or both… and no consistent deficit is present.


I cover this whole topic in tons of detail right here: The Starvation Mode Myth

But here’s where things get interesting.

Because, despite everything I just explained about this myth…

You Still Might Not Be Eating Enough To Lose Weight

Seriously. It’s true.

It’s just not for the reason you may have originally thought.

You see, even though there is no such thing as “not eating enough to lose weight” in the literal direct sense (i.e. the concept of starvation mode is horseshit, and a deficit will ALWAYS cause fat loss no matter how big it is and how low calories are… see that previously linked article for details), it is still definitely possible to not be eating enough to lose weight for other indirect reasons.

Let me show you the two biggest examples…

1. Health And Function

This is when a person is eating an amount of calories that is so low that they just aren’t able to consume the amount of macronutrients (primarily protein and fat) and micronutrients (various vitamins and minerals) that the human body requires to sustain health, function and potentially even life itself.

In case you may have forgotten, we don’t just eat food because it tastes yummy. We eat it because it contains the things our bodies need to keep us alive and functioning.

Stop giving it some of those things, or even just stop giving it the full amount it needs of some of those things… and bad things will gradually begin to happen.

Yeah, I’m talking “bad” in the “having an adverse effect on your health” kind of way.

Exactly what kind of adverse effect is impossible to say, as it depends on a variety of factors. But if you want an example, just take one look at the long list of problems associated with anorexia.

That’s the perfect place to start.

If you want more examples, pick any specific nutrient you want and look up the common problems associated with a deficiency in that nutrient. Then look up some more. And then more. And then combine it all together.

This is the reality of what can happen when you’re truly “not eating enough.”

Now, sure, the person in this scenario will still lose weight if they can manage to keep eating whatever stupidly low amount they’re eating (which explains why anorexics reach disturbingly skinny levels), but um… it’s going to take a significant negative toll on your health.

And as that toll becomes more and more significant, it’s going to become harder and harder for the person to lose weight as a result of the way-more-important impact it’s having on their ability to sustain health, function, and, if it goes on long enough… life.

This is an example of how “not eating enough” can indirectly prevent weight loss. And potentially prevent damn near everything else up to and including your ability to remain alive.

2. Optimal, Sustainable Fat Loss

Now for the second example.

Let’s pretend a person is indeed eating enough calories to allow for a sufficient amount of macro and micronutrients to be consumed for the purpose of sustaining life and function, and that no true nutrient deficiencies are present in that regard.

Basically, the person is eating enough of everything for their overall health to be just fine.


BUT, despite eating enough to support health and function, they’re still not eating enough to support optimal, sustainable fat loss.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean by “optimal fat loss.”

  • Consuming enough protein to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
  • Consuming enough carbs to (at least) maintain training performance and recovery (and sleep quality, overall sanity, etc.).
  • Consuming enough protein and fiber to control hunger as best as possible.
  • Consuming enough total calories to avoid having an excessively sized caloric deficit, thus minimizing the risk of muscle and performance loss.

Now, can a person in a deficit potentially still lose weight just fine without doing any of these things? Yup.

And can that person potentially still be eating enough to avoid nutrient deficiencies and health issues while doing it? Yup.

But, will this person be losing weight optimally?

As in, will a person who is losing more muscle mass than they need to be… or losing more strength than they need to be… or recovering worse from training than they need to be… or feeling a lot hungrier throughout the day than they need to be… or all of the above (and more)… truly be losing weight optimally?


So this person might be eating enough to lose weight and cover all of their core dietary bases in terms of overall health, but they will NOT be eating enough to cover all of the dietary bases that make fat loss happen as well as it could be happening.

Now let me give you an example of what I mean by “sustainable fat loss.”

Let’s pretend that some example person needs to eat 2500 calories per day to end up in a commonly-recommended moderate sized deficit of 20% below their maintenance level.

Now let’s pretend they decide to eat 1500 calories instead.

Are they eating enough to lose weight? In the literal sense? Yes, of course. Anything below their maintenance level – no matter how low they decide to go – will always be “enough” to lose weight, because the typical concept of starvation mode is quite possibly the dumbest diet myth of all time.

BUT, is it enough for this person to sustain their diet and continue losing weight in the long term?

You see, it’s going to be significantly harder for this example person to consistently eat 1500 calories per day than it would be for them to eat 2500 calories per day.

Yes, both calorie intakes will cause weight loss for them, but one will do it in a way that’s going to be much more mentally and physically demanding, and cause more issues with hormones (leptin, testosterone, cortisol, etc.), hunger, sleep quality, metabolic slowdown and so on, while also increasing the risk of muscle and strength loss.

All to the point where they may fail to sustain it all… and therefore end up going off of their intended diet… and over their intended calorie intake… and thus end up being unable to lose weight strictly as a result of attempting to eat an amount too low for them to actually sustain long term.

And in this scenario, we have ourselves a legit example of where 1500 calories does indeed qualify as “not eating enough to lose weight.”

Not in the literal direct “starvation mode” sense, but in the indirect “this person just isn’t going to be able to sustain it” sense.

And when it comes to successful long term weight loss, that’s the most important factor there is.

This is a topic I covered in much more detail when I discussed using a 1200 calorie diet for losing weight, as well as in my breakdown of why very low calorie diets don’t work.

So, Am I Not Eating Enough? Or Too Much?

It’s pretty simple.

If a bunch of weeks have passed and you aren’t losing any weight, you’re eating too much.

If you’re losing weight, but doing so in a way that causes macro or micronutrient deficiencies or really anything that adversely affects your physical or mental health and well being, you’re not eating enough.

If you’re losing weight, but doing so in a way that is making your fat loss results suboptimal and/or unnecessarily harder to do and sustain than it needs to be, you’re not eating enough.

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The question: “It’s hard to recognize when I’m satisfied, so I end up accidentally overdoing it. But I’ve heard that eating too few calories can actually make me gain weight, too. Is that true?”

The expert: Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., founder of Real Nutrition NYC

The answer: Skimping on your food intake can throw your body for a loop and contribute to weight gain, says Shapiro. “There are clients of mine who come in and aren’t seeing any progress. I tell them they aren’t eating enough, they increase their intake, and they start to lose weight.” The reasoning behind this counterintuitive process lies in your body’s aversion to being deprived of food. “When you’re not eating enough, you can send your body into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down because it doesn’t know where its next round of calories is coming from,” says Shapiro.

MORE: The 8 Top Weight-Loss Saboteurs, According to Nutritionists

People cite intermittent fasting, which involves alternating days of very minimal food intake with regular eating, as evidence that you can scale way back on calories and still lose weight. It may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best strategy for you. “With intermittent fasting, you avoid starvation mode because some days you are, in fact, giving your body enough,” says Shapiro. “But on the other days, you’re still severely restricting, which I don’t see it being healthy as a long-term option.”

The calorie deficit necessary to enter starvation mode depends on various factors and is different for each person—but your body will likely send you some major signals if it’s not getting enough food. “You may feel dizzy, always hit that afternoon slump, get headaches, and of course, feel hungry a lot of the time,” says Shapiro. “Generally, you’ll feel lethargic and like you’re not performing at your highest level.”

Shapiro says that one time many people tend to skimp on food is after a workout. “People often try to overwork themselves during exercise and then cut calories by not refueling after,” she says. But your body needs those nutrients to rebuild itself after an intense bout of sweating.

MORE: 7 Ways to Snack for Weight Loss

So what if you always find yourself feeling satiated at 1,100 calories a day—less than the 1,200-calorie minimum most experts recommend staying above, even for weight loss? Shapiro says to look at what those calories are made of: “If those 1,100 calories are full of enough fat and protein to get you throughout your day, then that’s enough for your body,” she says. “But it’s about feeling legitimately satisfied, not lying to yourself just so you eat less.” If you routinely feel satiated while taking in fewer calories than the norm, you shouldn’t push yourself to eat more just to reach a number, she says. As long as you’re medically healthy, listen to your body. It’ll tell you when it needs more sustenance.

Shapiro recommends looking beyond calories and focusing more on the composition of your meals. “There are lots of diets out there that put a limit on your calories,” she says. “Let’s say 1,600 calories a day. That makes it easy to work around it because you can have 1,600 calories of pizza, chips, and candy. The thing is, those are very different from 1,600 calories of chicken, avocado, and olive oil.” Your body burns foods more efficiently when they’re less processed. Focusing on healthy whole foods also helps you avoid the blood sugar spikes and crashes that come with lots of processed diet foods, while delivering slow-burning energy that can make you say sayonara to the dreaded afternoon slump. Sounds like a win-win! Check out some filling foods that will do your body good, and get ready to revamp your grocery list.

MORE: The Ingredient That’s Crucial For Weight Loss

Why Eating More Might Actually Be the Secret to Losing Weight

Photo: Hannes Eichinger / EyeEm / Getty Images

So you want to lose a few pounds. The first thing you might do? Reduce the amount you’re eating-especially cutting back on processed junk food. We’re looking at you, pizza, fries, wings, and loaded nachos.

It’s common knowledge that it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how much you’re eating when the goal is weight loss. But it’s also possible to take it too far. In some cases, not eating enough can seriously mess with weight-loss efforts, especially if you’ve already lost some weight and have hit a plateau. (FYI, science found the best workout to overcome your weight-loss plateau.)

Here’s when, why, and how eating more might actually help you lose weight, according to nutrition pros.

Eating too little can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

Let’s say you’re seriously undereating. At first, you might lose weight. But after a while? Your body starts to panic.

“When you are not supporting your body with enough calories or fuel, your metabolism actually drops, and you burn fewer calories,” explains Libby Parker, a registered dietitian. “This is an adaptive response to the body believing it is in famine and wanting to conserve energy (aka hold on to those calories).”

“I have had clients who were eating way too few calories and could not lose weight,” says Parker. “Once they allowed all foods in their diet (they had been cutting out foods like bread), and got their calorie intake up to the appropriate amount for them, they actually started to lose weight.” In other words, it’s not always as simple as “calories in, calories out.” That idea only applies when you’re providing enough fuel for your body. (Here’s why you seriously need to stop thinking of foods as “good” or “bad.”)

“Your body needs to be supported with not only enough calories to feel safe, and support energy needs, but also the right proportions of nutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and vitamins and minerals,” says Parker. (Not sure where to start? This is exactly how to cut calories to lose weight safely.)

The type of food matters.

On a similar note, another time when eating more can work in your favor is when you’re prioritizing high-quality whole foods over processed foods.

“It may seem crazy to say ‘eating more can sometimes be the key to losing weight,’ but when you are talking about the type of food you eat, then this might not be as insane as you think,” says Isabel Butler, a nutritionist for Spoon Guru.

“Often people forget that it is not always about the physical amount of food you are eating, but also the type of food.” For example, living on protein bars isn’t exactly the same as eating a well-balanced diet of voluminous fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. It might look like you’re eating more food in the second situation, but you’re actually giving your body more to work with that can be turned into fuel. (Related: Is It Bad to Eat a Protein Bar Every Day?)

You should consider eating more complex carbs and high-fiber foods, says Butler. Compared to simple carbohydrates and highly refined and processed foods, complex carbohydrates and fibrous foods take longer to digest so your body uses more energy (or calories) to break them down. “So, try increasing the amount of fruit, beans, grains, and vegetables in your diet,” she says.

You’re burning calories without even knowing it.

There are several ways your body burns energy. One is through your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body burns each day at rest. You can also burn energy through activity (such as sports and working out) and also through digesting your food.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the energy that you burn while doing everything that is not digesting, breathing, eating, or doing any sports-like activity, according to Jordan Mazur, a registered dietitian. “Some examples of NEAT activities include cooking, cleaning, fidgeting, yard work, or manual labor. It’s all of the small activities that you do outside of the gym that can help you burn more calories in the long run,” he explains. Even gesticulating counts as NEAT, so people who talk with their hands might have that one-up on more reserved speakers. (P.S. Apparently fidgeting also has heart-health benefits.)

In fact, people with more NEAT in their daily lives tend to be leaner. “When you look at people who are ‘naturally lean,’ it might not be that they have a ‘fast metabolism’; it might just be that they are just more active individuals,” Mazur points out.

So what does that have to do with eating more? Science says that people who eat more likely move more, and therefore burn more calories. “Research suggests that when subjects were provided too few calories, their NEAT scores dropped,” says Kristin Koskinen, a registered dietitian. “This is in contrast to subjects who were deliberately overfed calories, who saw a resulting increase in NEAT.” The mechanism behind NEAT isn’t known, but it’s thought to be a combination of conscious efforts to move more because you have more energy (e.g., choosing to take the stairs) and moving more in unconscious ways, like fidgeting and gesticulating.

Now, before you get *too* excited, whether that increased activity nets out to increased weight loss is highly individual. Some people may experience weight gain when they increase their calories and NEAT if that extra NEAT doesn’t quite compensate for the calorie increase, especially if they’re already eating plenty. But if you’re feeling super lethargic and you’re eating a very low amount of calories, it might be worth considering increasing your calories and prioritizing movement.

Regardless, trying to incorporate more NEAT into your day can promote weight loss-provided you have an adequate calorie intake to fuel it. “NEAT itself can be beneficial for an individual who is overweight and sedentary,” says Mazur. “Increasing daily activities, like parking at the back of the parking lot, choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, or doing yard work instead of hiring a landscaper can help someone be more active, increase NEAT, and burn more calories.”

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