You’ve heard the advice time and time again: If you’re trying to lose weight, you should take in fewer calories. But what some people may not realize is there’s such a thing as eating too little for weight loss. It’s true, says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University—cutting too many calories can actually slow down the weight loss process.
“Restricting calories too much almost always backfires,” Young says. There’s a reason for that: The body actually needs calories to burn calories. She points out that it’s a lot like when you want to light a fire. You need to throw kindling in the fireplace to ignite it.
It’s important to think of food as a delicious, well-deserved pleasure, but it’s also your body’s kindling; it sparks your metabolism, making it possible to slim down. 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 when you restrict calories too severely, your body goes into “starvation mode,” and then it starts to break down lean muscle tissue to hang onto its energy stores. Ultimately, this can slow metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, eating too few calories also increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which not only can make it harder to shed pounds—it’s unhealthy in a number of ways. Plus, overall, it’s tough to stick to a super low-calorie diet, because that’s not what keeps a body running well. All of that explains why it’s possible to not eat enough for weight loss. Eating this way also saps so much of the pleasure out of your meals as well!
Each person’s calorie needs are different, based on their activity level, goals, and gender, but overall guidance for women is to consume 2000 calories daily to maintain their weight, according to the NIH, and eat 1500 calories to lose up to a pound a week. Once you dip too low in the amount of calories you take in, it becomes difficult for your body to perform the basic biological functions that keep you healthy and energized. If you’re not certain that you’re hitting the number that’s right for you, here are …….