Most people know that if you want to lose weight, you need to put your body into a calorie deficit. At the most basic level this means you need to burn more calories than you take in. With this in mind, many people make the HUGE mistake of cutting way back on calories so much that it actually lowers their metabolism. I’ve heard of people bringing their calorie intake down to 800 calories a day which frankly is absurd.
While cutting down on calories will work in the short term, in the long term you’re doing more damage than you know. When you deprive your body of the calories and nutrients it needs to function, your brain will eventually kick in to survival mode. It will lower your metabolism in an effort to prevent you from starving to death. The scientific term for this is adaptive thermogenesis which basically means your body adapts to burn fewer calories based on what you’re taking in. And here’s the kicker, once your metabolism slows down, it may not ever be restored to its normal function. A study published in The International Journal of Obesity found that low-calorie diets led to a 15% slow down in metabolism long term.
Here are a few other things a crash diet will do:
- Lead to imbalances in ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that control your hunger cues. This leads to severe hunger and food cravings that are nearly impossible to ignore and result in binge eating.
- Put you in a bad mood. An extreme diet will also throw off your mood balancing hormones. So, while you may lose some weight in the short term, you’ll also find yourself more agitated and irritable.
- Make you physically sick. Your body needs a certain number of calories to stay healthy and stave off illness. A severe calorie deficit weakens your immune system, leaving you exposed and more vulnerable to common illnesses and even more serious ones over time.
So, what should you do instead? Keep your calorie intake between 1,200 and 1,500 calories if you’re a woman and 1,500 and 1,800 if you’re a man. That should help you drop a healthy 1-2 pounds a week. Make those calories count. They should come mostly from whole foods like vegetables, fruits and lean meats. I’ve said this before and I stick by it – if it’s in a can, a bag or a box, don’t eat it.
Another risk that comes with dieting is muscle loss. This slows your metabolism even more since we know that muscle burns fat. So, you should always combine a healthy diet with regular workouts that include both cardio and strength training to keep your metabolism at a healthy level.
Want a nutrition plan that will help you safely drop weight? Ask about our Personalized Nutrition Services with Certified Nutritionist Linnea Laverty.