14 January 2010
In which I explain why starving yourself isn’t good for your weight loss goals. Good thing, right? I love food waaay too much.
Nobody wants to believe it, but it’s true. There is a sweet-spot calorie threshold for optimal weight loss. You can’t eat too much, BUT you also can’t eat too little. That’s where people tend to get confused. This has come up a few times lately in the form of reader emails and other posts I’ve seen, so let me set the record straight.
“But it’s not confusing! If I eat less, won’t I lose more weight?” (That’s the chronic dieter talking.)
No! Absolutely not. As a general rule, NO ONE should consume fewer than 1200 calories per day. You just can’t get all the nutrients you need on less than that. Furthermore, by eating fewer than 1200 calories per day, you’re sending a message to your body:
ALERT! FOOD IS SCARCE! UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD YOU ALLOW ANY OF THESE CALORIES TO BE BURNED OFF.
If you aren’t eating enough, your body will hang on to every single calorie you consume. Your weight loss will slow to a halt and any loss you’ve managed to log so far will be rendered unsustainable once you start eating an appropriate amount again (or even after a few splurges!).
So find your sweet spot! Do this by:
- Checking out a calorie calculator. I suggest testing out a few and taking the average of what they give you (because your suggested calorie intake might differ dramatically). If you’re trying to lose weight, take note that many calculators provide the number of calories you need to maintain your weight. Subtract 500 from that number to lose a pound per week, or 250 if you exercise regularly.
- Learning to eat intuitively. Though you may have lost it somewhere along the way, your body does actually know how much fuel it needs. You CAN get back in touch with your body’s needs, but it takes practice.
- Realizing that your “sweet spot” can be cumulative over the course of a week. So you eat a few more calories one day and less the next. That’s totally fine. As long as your average is around your sweet spot, you’re good. Some people do this intentionally and call it calorie cycling. So really, it’s more like a sweet range.
This stuff can be pretty confusing, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to talk to a health professional about it. However, a word of caution: I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about nutritionists who tell clients to consume 1000 calories per day or less, so if something seems wrong or fishy, get a second opinion!