Low-Calorie Diet: How Low is Too Low?

Low-Calorie Diet: How Low is Too Low?

For a lot of people who are trying to lose weight, it’s all about consuming fewer calories. However, like many things in life, achieving weight loss through calorie cutting needs balance. Drastically reducing calories for extended periods can actually hinder weight loss efforts and even lead to health issues.

The Relationship Between Calories and Weight Loss

Calories are a unit of energy, and this energy serves multiple purposes in our bodies. People consume calories and then the body uses those calories for metabolism, biological processes, digestion and maintaining organ function. Anything left from this is used to fuel day to day activities like walking, running, etc.

The problem is when we consume more calories than what our body needs. Excess calories are stored as fat or glycogen in the body.

If you are always consuming more calories than what can be utilized by your body, you end up gaining weight in the form of fat.

What Exactly is a Low-Calorie Diet?

The concept of a low-calorie diet doesn’t need to be complicated. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, a nutritionist based in New York City, describes it as “a diet that contains fewer calories than what you typically consume.”

For weight maintenance, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend a range of 1,600–2,400 calories for women and 2,200–3,000 calories for men. Any intake below these numbers can be considered a low-calorie diet.

However, certain popular diet plans push users to extremely low levels. For instance, the HCG diet supplies as low as 500 calories per day, while the Master Cleanse offers a range of 600-1,200 calories.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of a Low-Calorie Diet for Weight Loss

A low-calorie diet is a straightforward and research-validated approach to weight loss, with numerous journals, calculators, apps, and resources available to track progress. Moreover, a standard lower-calorie eating plan typically does not restrict specific foods or dictate strict mealtimes, providing flexibility as an alternative to more regimented diets.

However, adopting a slash-and-burn approach to calories can have downsides. Diligently tracking numbers and portion sizes can become unhealthy for some individuals and lead to disordered eating patterns. If you have a history of an eating disorder or a problematic relationship with food, it’s advisable to approach calorie counting cautiously and seek assistance from a therapist or registered dietitian.

Regardless of your mental health history, sustaining an extremely low-calorie diet may not be viable in the long run. Research published in the April 2018 issue of Obesity Science and Practice supports this notion, highlighting the association between improved mental health and successful weight loss.

The Dangers of Severely Restricting Calories

Calories are essential for our survival, and if our bodies sense a deprivation of calories, they enter a mode known as “starvation mode.” This mechanism opposes the desired outcome of weight loss.

Drastically cutting back on calories can lower metabolic rate, meaning you burn fewer calories. If you significantly reduce your caloric intake, it can hinder weight loss progress.

To avoid weight loss plateaus, Dr. Spiegel recommends aiming for a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing more weight than that may result in the loss of body fluid and muscle mass.

Recognizing Signs of Inadequate Caloric Intake

While a slim body may be desirable, the signs of malnutrition are far from attractive. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following symptoms may indicate that you’re not consuming enough calories:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Constant hunger
  • Irritability
  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
  • Hair loss or brittle hair
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety, depression, or mood swings
  • Feeling cold all the time

If you’re considering a calorie-restricted diet to lose weight, it is crucial to approach it safely. It’s better to stick to the required daily calorie consumption and simply lead an active lifestyle by working out. Getting a gym membership at The Little Gym and joining fitness group classes seems a lot more fun than depriving yourself of good food.

Here are signs you’re getting very low calories:

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