Are You Cutting Calories Too Much?

One common myth behind dieting is that the more calories we cut from our diets, the more weight we’ll lose. This makes sense, in theory. Fat is composed of calories, and therefore the best way to remove it is to limit calorie intake. But does cutting calories actually work?

Given the choice between losing weight quickly or losing weight slowly, most people would probably opt for a quick fix.  And that’s understandable.  Once you’ve decided to get rid of excess fat, you simply want it gone – and the sooner, the better.  But when quick weight loss results from a drastic cut in your calorie intake, it also comes at a price.

Part of the problem with cutting calories too much is that it’s simply too difficult to do it for very long.  Then, you give up and end up right back where you started.  That leaves you frustrated, and even more convinced that you “just can’t lose weight!”

Keep in mind that it’s possible to cut calories too much. A 2010 paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that if you do, you could end up slowing your metabolism by as much as 20 percent. When your calorie intake is too low, your body reacts to the deficit by using less energy to perform all of its functions. This helps protect you during starvation, but is rather inconvenient when you’re trying to lose weight. A metabolic slowdown compromises your rate of weight loss; you may not gain weight, but weight loss could stall.

Going on a “diet” can also raise your stress levels, showed a 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. The stress increases your production of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol induces cravings for high-calorie foods and possibly encourages your body to retain fat.

It can be hard to meet your nutrient needs.  When you cut back on your calorie intake, every calorie needs to be nutrient-packed in order for you to meet your body’s needs.  Your daily needs for vitamins, minerals, carbs, protein and healthy fats must be met, and that can be hard to do if you don’t have enough calories to work with.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Cut Calories Too Much

  • You may get too hungry. You shouldn’t suffer unendurable hunger while you’re trying to lose weight – but that often happens if you don’t eat enough calories.  And when you get overly hungry, everything looks tempting – and you’re more likely to cheat.
  • Your physical energy can suffer. It’s important that you provide your muscles with the fuel they need. When you cut your calories too much, you might not have the energy to work out – which is so important for your overall health and to help you meet your weight loss goal.
  • Your mental energy can suffer. When you don’t take in enough calories, your brain might not get the fuel it needs – leaving you feeling tired and unfocused.  That can lead to sugar cravings and unwanted calories.  Or, you might lean too heavily on caffeine to keep you going, which could disrupt your sleep at night.
  • You risk losing muscle mass. Your body needs the right amount of protein to support a number of important body functions – which includes building and maintaining your muscle mass. When you don’t take in enough calories, the protein you eat might get burned for fuel, rather than being used to perform more important functions in your body.  As a result, you risk losing muscle mass.
  • You won’t establish long-term healthy eating habits. I’ve often said that the healthy eating and exercise habits that you establish while you’re losing weight are the very same habits that will help you maintain your healthy weight once you’ve reached your goal. Cutting calories drastically is difficult and restrictive – and it’s not an eating pattern you can (or should) continue for very long.

Are You Cutting Calories Too Much?”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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