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How Not Eating Enough Can Hurt Your Weight Loss Goals

Why Eating Too Few Calories Hurts Your Efforts At Weight Loss…

By: Kyle Kamp, RDN, LD of Valley to Peak Nutrition


Eating less. 

Isn't this one of our greatest fears in starting a transformation challenge or any nutrition plan for that matter?  We hate the idea of not feeling full and we absolutely hate not being able to have what we want, when we want it. 

You may even be familiar with the story: person X is convinced 2021 in his year!  His renewed effort to lose weight by restricting calories - and not just a little.  He figures a big drop will really turn up the heat and bring the results he wants.  He doesn't see much by way of results in the first week- at least not as fast as he wants. He decides restricting calories more and adding in cardiovascular exercise the way McDonald’s employees add salt to fries fresh out of the fryer is the recipe he needs.   He’s two weeks in and still hasn’t seen the scale move. 

Defeated, our friend decides he’ll never be able to lose weight and that his diet didn’t work for him.  He abandons his efforts of weight loss and agonizes over how he "just can't seem to lose weight and never will be able to".

Eating Low Calories and Not Losing Weight.  This doesn’t make sense...

For starters, let's go ahead and clear the air: if you’re not losing weight (and we’re assuming you have no medical conditions that would affect metabolism), it’s because you’re still eating a calorie surplus over an extended period of time.  It’s not because you’re in “starvation mode” or some other random “metabolic downshift” some guy at the gym tried to sell you on.

Calorie intake and weight gain associated with a surplus are best viewed over a 30-day average rather than through the lens of a single day's intake.  You may have done great for three days, but binged on day four, five, and six.  The 7-day average tells us you’re still above the amount needed for weight loss.  If you did great on 7-days, then we look further out; 30-days, 60-days, and so on.

It’s only logically that a calorie deficit would have to bring about weight loss; right?  Think of a crew who’s been lost at sea for an extended period of time or someone in a third-world country who’s had no choice but to maintain a low-calorie intake for an extended period of time.  Does the sea-weary crew come back looking like they’ve just pushed away from a Vegas buffet?  No.  They’re emaciated and made of very little more than skin, bones, and hair.  We shouldn’t (outside of a medical condition) expect any different response for ourselves.   

The problem is that most crash diets give you so few calories that they’re unrealistic to follow for an extended period of time and unlike our foodless sea-wary crew in the example above- we have (and take advantage of) the ability to remedy the problem. 

I’m Still Lost...Give me an example.

Meet John.  John just started a diet and has been surviving on boiled chicken and “negative-calorie foods” (not a thing, by the way) like celery for the better part of 4 days.

Take a look at the plan John has laid out for himself:

Estimated Needs for Weight Loss According to a Dietitian:

1800 calories


Franks Estimation:

"I'm not really too sure"



Actual Intake


Day One

900 calories

"Feeling good!  The plain oatmeal will take some getting used to, but I'll get there!"

Day Two

600 calories

"Phew!  Barely made it through that boiled chicken, but I'll be seeing progress soon!"

Day Three

3200 calories


Day Four

500 calories

"Back on the wagon!"

Day Five

4,000 calories


Day Six

3,500 calories

"forget it"

Day Seven

4,500 calories


Average Seven Day Intake:

2450kcal or 136% of estimated weight loss needs



What John sees and what's actually happening are two different things.  John sees "I'm eating a low-calorie diet!" and "man, following a nutrition plan is too tough", when in reality, no one could adhere to a plan like that.


A Better Approach

What’s the remedy?  Create a realistic calorie deficit.


It’s easy to see where the idea of “eat more to lose weight” came: someone follows a restrictive diet, they meet a Dietitian who gives them a nutrition plan chalked full of filling foods in sensible portions.  The plan includes foods they enjoy- even “bad stuff” like Cheez-Its and corn chips.  The net result seems like they’re eating more when in reality, it’s just a plan that allows them to be more consistent and feel less deprived.  There’s no longer a need to fight off the urge to shovel food in at the end of the day and most importantly, the plan allows them to maintain a sensible calorie deficit to achieve their goals.


In Summary

The secret is there's no secret and we're all on the same playing field.  You have to create a reasonable nutrition plan with small deficits built around your goals.  Your plan should include foods you enjoy rather than trying to survive on hard-boiled eggs, chicken breast, celery, and Bucked Up Energy Drinks the rest of your life.

Spend your money on a solid nutrition plan, decent food at the store, and a kettlebell or two instead of investing it in the guy at the gym who's found the "answer" to your "metabolic damage".  What garbage.  Your metabolism isn't damaged or dead unless you’re dead, so stop believing that.

Create a plan, be sensible, and move more..  Your goals are personal, no doubt, but that's a heck of a place to start.