How to Know If You’re Eating Too Few Calories

When it comes to weight loss, it’s essential to watch what you eat. Recent research has suggested that small meals and calorie counting might be the best way to lose weight. But the question is, how many calories should you be eating?

As with all things in health, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to calories. That has two meanings. First, all calories are not equal; one hundred calories of chocolate does not have the same nutritional value as one hundred calories of orange. Moreover, you would enjoy a lot more fruit than candy per calorie. But, also, different people require different numbers of calories.

You frequently see 1,200 calories being listed as a low calories diet. But it’s not a perfect number. According to dieticians, it’s the fewest calories an “average” person can eat without negatively impacting their health. That does not mean it’s the correct number of calories you should be eating for healthy weight loss.

You can consult your doctor to get a referral for an appointment with a registered nutritionist who will help you figure out how many calories are right for you. Some online calculators will give you a vague idea but lack nuance. They don’t ask you about your medical history or consider your goals. Speaking to a medical professional lets you figure out how many calories are right for you.

Eating a very low-calorie diet for fast weight loss can backfire on you. Your metabolic rate will slow down or go into “starvation mode,” so you don’t lose weight. For some people, that could be a 1,200-calorie diet.  

The fewer calories you eat, the slower your metabolic rate will be,” said registered dietitian Justine Roth. “It’s like a car running on low gas — it’s going to not go as fast when you push on the pedal, and the air conditioning might not work well because it’s trying to conserve all of its fuel. The body does the same thing: it’s not going to speed up burning calories if you aren’t giving it enough to do so.”

The HCG diet is 500 calories a day. The Master Cleanse is 600-1,200. Neither of these is considered healthy or sustainable. On the other hand, Jenny Craig is 1,200 to 1,600 and can be maintained by many people. It depends on your needs.

Starvation mode is a defense mechanism that the body uses to prevent fat loss and starvation. The idea is, your body wants to use your fat to keep you alive, so you don’t burn as many calories,” said bariatric surgeon Dr. Felix Spiegel. “This lowers your metabolic rate, which means you’re using less calories. If you cut back your calories too much, it hinders weight loss.”

There are, thankfully, signs that you aren’t getting enough calories. First, if you aren’t losing weight despite harsh calorie cuts, it’s too much. If you are losing your hair or it has become brittle, that is a bad sign. Additionally, if you are constantly hungry, irritable, depressed, unable to focus, anxious or depressed, you need to eat more. If you are dizzy or unable to get warm, your diet has gone too far.

The 1,200-calorie diet is purely a guideline; it’s not a healthy rule for everyone. Before cutting calories, talk to a medical professional about your needs.

Banner image: Diana Polekhina via Unsplash

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