Most diets are flawed and set you up for failure from the beginning.
If you’re looking to shed a few pounds and trim your belly fat, adopting a low calorie diet is NOT the way to go.
Low calorie diets are both physically and mentally detrimental to your health. Negative side effects include increases in hunger and food-cravings, decreases in energy, loss of lean muscle mass, decrease in metabolism, and hormonal imbalances.
In case you haven’t noticed, these negative effects result in burning less fat, consuming more calories, and reverting back to unhealthy eating habits.
By definition, a diet is a temporary, unsustainable restriction of food or calories. Most popular weight loss diets promote a very low caloric intake:
- Women: 1200 calories per day
- Men: 1500 calories per day
When calories are restricted to these extremes, you will lose weight… but only for a little while. For the purpose of this article, low calorie diets will refer to the ranges listed above.
Here are the top 10 reasons to avoid low calorie diets.
10 Reasons to Avoid Low Calorie Diets
1. Diets Increase Hunger and Cravings
The first noticeable thing when restricting calories is the seemingly never-ending hunger. Although a little hunger can be expected during a caloric deficit, extreme diets turn you into a gluttonous vulture.
It’s nearly impossible to stick to a diet when you’re fighting ravenous hunger and food is the only thing on your mind.
The craving to eat is as much psychological as it is physical; people tend to want what they can’t have. If your diet is extremely calorie deprived and sets too many restrictions, your body’s feedback response triggers cravings and binges to fulfill your desires.
It becomes even more of a challenge when you surround yourself with potential triggers and eating cues throughout the day.
2. Diets Slow Down Your Metabolism
Your BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is the number of calories you burn at rest each day. As you lose weight, your BMR decreases because your body weight decreases.
But severely restricting your calories causes your BMR to decrease even more than a drop in body weight could predict.
This process is called adaptive thermogenesis and it’s why people hit a weight loss plateau where the rate of weight loss generally decreases and stops.
A drop in BMR makes it harder to lose those last 10 to 15 pounds of stubborn body fat and may cause weight regain to happen even if you’re eating the same number of calories.
3. Diets Increase the Risk of Losing Muscle
When calories are severely restricted, your body’s survival response is triggered to conserve energy.
Since muscle increases metabolism and is considered extra weight to carry around, eliminating muscle is an efficient way for your body to burn fewer calories.
You see, your body couldn’t care less that you want to build or retain muscle. Your body doesn’t care about your fitness goals. The fact that you want more muscle so you can look great naked (or whatever similar reason you have) is damn near meaningless to your body. It’s not that your body hates you or anything; it’s just that this isn’t what your body deems necessary.
In fact, without a proper resistance training routine to preserve muscle mass, you can lose up to 30% of your weight from muscle tissue. The risk of losing muscle is even greater without sufficient protein intake.
4. Diets decrease NEAT.
NEAT, also known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is the energy our bodies use for everything we do except for sleep, eating, or formal exercise.
I’m talking about things like housework, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, typing, shopping, chewing, fidgeting, etc.
The most interesting thing about NEAT is that studies have shown that it decreases when calories are reduced.
So when you consume less calories to create a deficit, NEAT downregulates and your body naturally burns less calories without you even realizing it. So the less calories you consume, the less calories your body naturally burns due to NEAT.
Obviously, low calorie diets make you feel tired. If you somehow still manage to make it to the gym, your workouts will feel lackluster, missing the extra oomph needed to push through each set.
Unless you counteract this natural decrease in NEAT by keeping your body active, your weight loss will slow to a halt as you continue dieting.
5. Diets Lower Your Energy and Work Capacity
In general, low calorie diets decrease your workout performance and are not beneficial for an active lifestyle.
Fatigue and the inability to maintain training performance are key indicators of undernutrition. Without sufficient caloric intake, you’ll tire faster, lose strength, and underperform, all of which compromise your fitness goals.
To maximize muscle growth and fat loss, you have to be able to train at maximum performance. Otherwise, hardly eating means hardly training.
6. Diets Mess With Your Hormones
Low-calorie diets have a significant impact on hormonal levels. Since thyroid levels help control your basal metabolic rate, maintaining proper thyroid levels play a role when it comes to losing weight.
By following a prolonged low-calorie diet, the thyroid hormone T4 doesn’t convert to its active form, resulting in failing to lose weight and regaining weight after the diet is stopped.
Although a calorie deficit is required, reducing calories too much – especially when carbs are too low – can throw your hormones off balance.
7. Diets Trigger the “Anti-Starvation” Hormone
Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells that regulates your weight and metabolism by sending signals to your brain.
When you’re eating an adequate amount of calories and your body fat levels are stable, leptin tells your brain that you have enough stored fat, that you’re not hungry, and that you can burn calories at a normal rate.
When leptin is low from eating a low calorie diet, it signals to the brain that body fat is low and starvation will occur. By activating the starvation response, you are suddenly hungrier, eating more and burning fewer calories.
This is why leptin is often referred to as the “anti-starvation” hormone as it activates your body’s anti-starvation response, resulting in increased hunger and lower metabolism.
8. Diets Increase Stress
Low-calorie diets have been shown to increase cortisol. Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone”.
Cortisol is a catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormone that is produced in response to varying types of physical and psychological stress.
Research has shown that cortisol levels increase when calories are restricted to amounts typically seen in low calorie diets (1200 calories per day).
And what about the pills advertised to reduce cortisol levels and burn fat? Save your money. Even if they did work, a pill is only a temporary fix; if low calorie dieting and other stressors are causing negative hormonal changes, these factors need to be addressed rather than trying to treat the symptoms.
9. Diets Decrease Testosterone
Testosterone levels take a plunge when calories are severely restricted. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint because if you can’t consume enough calories to keep yourself from “starving”, then you’re in no condition to raise offspring.
Research has shown that Army Rangers restricted to 1000 calories per day and put under stressful conditions experienced a drop in testosterone similar to being castrated, meaning their bodies were producing very little testosterone.
Most studies show that a small reduction of calories of about 20% below your daily calorie maintenance level will not affect testosterone levels. As caloric intake and body fat is continuously reduced, low testosterone levels become a greater concern.
10. Low Calorie Diets Increase the Chance of Regaining Weight
At the beginning of a diet, almost everyone is able to lose weight but once they hit the dreaded weight loss plateau, the hunger becomes unbearable and most people throw in the white towel. Worse of all, they end up binge eating.
Because of this, diets may train your body to regain weight and leave you heavier and fatter than when you started.
And if you’re a sucker for shiny objects, you’ll be suckered into the latest diet fads and caught in the endless “yo-yo” weight cycle.
This “yo-yo” or “up and down” cycle of weight loss and weight regain is called weight cycling, and many people are trapped in it for years or even worse, their entire lives.
In addition to being unhealthy, each cycle damages your metabolism which may cause you to gain weight more easily while eating similar or less calories than before.
Take Home Message
As you can see, dieting can actually make you fatter in the long run. Because most diet programs promote very low calorie diets and overlook proper resistance training, they are actually worsening the problem they were intended to solve. The irony abounds.
So, now that we know low calorie diets can be harmful to your health and downright stupid, what’s the proper way to lose weight?
Not to be mistaken, a caloric deficit remains the absolute requirement to lose weight. It just has to be executed in a skilful and intelligent manner.
My weight loss guide, The Truth About Weight Loss: 7 Proven Tips to Lose Weight, covers almost everything you need to know about losing weight safely and effectively.