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Going Way Low-Cal to Lose Weight?

December 9th, 2010 8 Comments

— By Nutritionista

So glad to be back blogging on MTM! I’m always available for questions or post suggestions, so please let me know if you have any ideas (nutritionista@morethanmary.com).

Mary told me she got a question from one of her readers about whether it’s okay to eat less than 1,200 calories a day in an attempt to drop weight quickly.

The short answer? No, it’s absolutely not okay — or safe.

The long answer? No, and here’s why:

  • No one can get adequate nutrition from fewer than 1,200 calories/day. It’s just not possible.
  • You’ll be absolutely starving ALL the time. If you eat fewer than 1,200 calories/day, I can guarantee you’ll be miserable all the time.
  • It’s just not sustainable. Eating so few calories is basically equivalent to a crash diet. And as we all know, crash diets might help you drop a couple pounds quickly (and miserably), but you will sure as heck gain it right back — and then some — as soon as you start eating more. Trust me, you WILL start eating more (see above!)
  • Your body will go into starvation mode. If you eat very little consistently over time, your body starts to use lean tissue or muscle to function, and that leads to a loss of muscle. Loss of muscle means your body is burning fewer calories at rest, meaning your metabolic rate goes wayyyy down and your body needs fewer calories to function. This is a bad thing because if you then feed it more calories (which will happen — again, see above!), it will have no choice but to store them as extra weight.
  • Quite simply, severely limiting your calories is disordered eating. If you’re not eating enough calories to get the nutrients your body requires (and experts agree that anything under 1,200 means you’re not), you’re at the first stop on a train that can easily lead to other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
  • There are so many other easier (and WAY more pleasant!) ways to lose weight. If you stick to whole, unprocessed foods, keep the sugar and processed grains low, and listen to your hunger signals, you can lose weight in a way that won’t leave you starving, cranky, and miserable.

Stay tuned for more tips on eating well (i.e., foods that are nutritious AND delicious!). If you have a request, don’t hesitate to contact me!

  • Kitty

    Interesting topic that has been on my mind lately. What do you think of “medically approved” low cal diets such as Medifast?

  • 100% in agreement here. It makes me so sad to hear people talking about eating low-cal diets. SO many magazines even offer “1200 calorie meal plans” – which is ridiculous in my opinion. And have you heard of the HCG diet where you take the HCG drops and eat a 500ish cal/day diet?! Makes me want to scream.

  • heidi

    I took a target metabolic test and I can eat up to 2,912 calories a day and not gain weight. My weight loss zone is 1,637 to 2,045. It is all about burning fat which doesn’t happen on a low calorie diet based on what my trainer says.

  • Kitty, I would definitely recommend you stay away from ANY kind of low-cal diet, medically approved or not. With those things, you might as well just be getting fed through an IV with nutrients and chemicals! I don’t think that’s a way to live. I wouldn’t even consider it unless you were morbidly obese and just needed to drop weight as quickly and easily as possible. Thanks for your question!

  • justin

    here is a good post on the subject of calories: http://www.garytaubes.com/2010/12/inanity-of-overeating/

  • Justin, that’s a great article. I love Gary Taubes. Thanks!

  • Chandra, that diet sounds totally horrendous! I hate stuff like that. It makes me want to scream, too!

  • Susan

    I think that each of us have a different minimum-daily-calorie-intake need. For me, when I attempted 1,200-1,500 calories, I felt all the symptoms of starvation mode. I’ve since learned that I can lose weight eating up to about 2,400 calories a day! Much slower, but much more pleasant.