If You Want to Lose Weight, You Have to Start Eating!

One of the most common comments or concerns of those starting flexible dieting is about the amount of calories or macros they are expected to eat.

Here’s one such comment:

I’m 24, 175 cm (5″10), 224lbs. I am fairly active (I workout 4-5 times a week) and your calculator puts me at 2033 calories a day, 154c, 227p, and 56f. I just think 2033 calories is fairly excessive and I’ve been on diets all my life and have never passed the 1300 calorie range as I am considered overweight.

It can seem really strange to eat so many calories when you’ve been told all your life that the only way to lose weight is to follow a low calorie diet.

But, for many, eating more is actually the key to losing more. Here’s why.

Why You Must Eat More to Lose More

In the above example, this woman was accustomed to eating 1300 calories. She would probably burn about 400 calories at the gym, which would only leave her 900 calories to fuel her bodily processes and general movement on exercise days.

According to our calculator, her sedentary calories are 2218 just to maintain her current weight. Therefore on exercise days she is putting her body in a 1318 calorie deficit.

Our basic understanding of weight loss principles would say, “wow, she should be at her target weight in no time!” but, the body doesn’t quite work that way unfortunately.

Your body is a very complex machine and its goal is survival, even at the cellular level.

So what’s the body to do when it needs 2218 calories, but you are only giving it 900?

Starvation Mode

A few days of drastic calorie deficit are fine and cause no changes, but for those that consistently eat at dangerously low calorie amounts the body switches into a conservation state or what some people call starvation mode.1

Our bodies are very clever and we still don’t yet fully understand all of the ways it can survive when placed in stressful situations.

This explains why some people who have been stranded at sea can survive for months on practically nothing. The body begins to slow down the metabolism in an effort to maintain homeostasis in light of a drastic calorie deficit.

A similar thing happens for extreme dieters. The body slows things down, slows the burning of fat, and actually begins to breakdown muscle tissue for energy especially if the dieter is also engaged in weight training.

starvation

Muscle Cannibalization

Muscle Cannibalization is simply when your muscles are broken down by the body and used as fuel for other parts of your body.

Drastic calorie deficits can cause this as well as not eating enough protein. Your body can break down one muscle group to build and repair the group you just worked out and then vice-versa later in the week when you work out the other muscle group.

One study showed that instead of fat loss occurring and then muscle loss during starvation, they both can happen in parallel to each other.2,3

To prevent this from happening a dieter must eat enough calories and enough protein to prevent this from occurring.4 Dieters want extra energy to come from their fat reserves, not their muscles or they’re defeating the purose.

The Solution is To Eat!

Unless a dieter is morbidly obese and under the direct care of a physician, he/she should never have a calorie deficit of more than 400-500 calories or 20% less than their TDEE calories with the calories burned during exercise factored in.5

For those that are already pretty lean, but just have 5 pounds to lose, calorie deficits can be even smaller.

So, make sure you are eating enough to support your bodily processes and the growth and activity of your muscles, but not too much that your body won’t burn a small amount of its fat reserves each day to make up for the slight deficit you are in.

It can be really challenging for some dieters to eat more, especially if they have been doing low calorie diets for a large portion of their lives. It can also be challenging for people to eat the amount of carbs recommended with flexible dieting especially for those that have had “carbs are bad” drilled into their heads for so long.

It’s time to start eating again and come into a better relationship with food. Slow and steady weight loss is the goal with flexible dieting and this, unlike other diets, is sustainable over the long-term because you are able to eat and not feel deprived.

Here’s a comment from someone who started to eat again.

Thank You so much! I’ve been on it for a week. I meet my macros, but having a hard time getting all the calories in, I’m not eating under 1300 anymore but always end up around 1500 at most – it’s not much difference but my body feels great; I recover much better and I am eating more carbs than before but not yet the 205 recommended. I’m still at 60% this week but next week I’ll amp up to a 70%, my body has already started to change.

Manage Expectations

I also want to express the importance of managing expectations when doing the flexible diet or any diet.

There are many different body types and most people may never be able to achieve the body that has been Photoshopped on the cover of our fashion or fitness magazines.

For women, nature is actually working against the quest for a low body fat percentage. A woman’s hormones are constantly preparing the woman’s body for childbearing and this means a healthy layer of body fat.6 Just look at the body fat percentage differences among men and women.

body fat percentage

So, focus on getting healthier by eating nutritious food, eating enough food, and being more physically fit because usually only those that get paid to look like ultra-ripped athletes actually have the time and resources it takes to look that way.

In closing, I can’t express the importance of working to change your low calorie and low carb mindset and begin eating again. If you want to break free from a slow metabolism and break the weight loss plateau then you have to give your body enough fuel to leave the launch pad.

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    Scientific References:

  1. Schwartz, M. W., & Seeley, R. J. (1997). Neuroendocrine responses to starvation and weight loss. New England Journal of Medicine, 336(25), 1802-1811.
  2. Owen, O. E., Smalley, K. J., D’Alessio, D. A., Mozzoli, M. A., & Dawson, E. K. (1998). Protein, fat, and carbohydrate requirements during starvation: anaplerosis and cataplerosis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 68(1), 12-34.
  3. Chaston TB, Dixon JB, O’Brien PE. Changes in fat-free mass during significant weight loss: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity (2005). 2007;31(5):743–750.
  4. Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1988). Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. Journal of Applied Physiology, 64(1), 187-193.
  5. How to Set a Caloric Deficit for Fat Loss
  6. Price, T. M., O’Brien, S. N., Welter, B. H., George, R., Anandjiwala, J., & Kilgore, M. (1998). Estrogen regulation of adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase—possible mechanism of body fat distribution. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 178(1), 101-107.
  7. Lead image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alfon18/2366993667/
  8. Image 2: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwendalcentrifugue/8577595400/
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and is our lead macro coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see our personal coaching options.

156 Comments

  1. Parker 1 week ago

    Hey, so I’m here asking if there’s any advice I could get since I am trying to lose maybe around ten pounds? I’m in college (I’m 18) and where I am at is very mountainous so I end up walking/hiking 3-4 miles usually every day up stairs/hills/across campus and burn anywhere from around 2800- close to 4000 calories a day (usually around 3500). I’m a very light eater but I’ve been uping my intake of food and protein but it doesn’t seem to do much and I’ve heard different things such as I should eat 500 cals under my burned or that I should be eating around 2100 cals instead and I don’t know really what I should be striving for.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 1 week ago

      Hi Parker, First of all, you didn’t state what your goals are? Secondly, it sounds like your wearing an exercise tracker and these overestimate calorie burn from steps/walking. But, it is important to fuel your body properly in light of exercise if you want a healthy metabolism.

      Reply
  2. Tierra 2 weeks ago

    Hi I’m Tierra and I’m 20. My goal in life is to be a personal trainer and a nutritionist. I’m going to school with ISSA to learn everything however my biggest insecurity is my tummy area . I eat Roughly around 1500 calories a day and I eat 2 big meals and 2 snacks . Drink tons of water . I get Bloated and like my tummy isn’t big but the bloat that I get Is annoying . It says I should be eating around 2083 calories 296 carbs . I was Told to decrease my carb in take to slim my tummy . Ugh I just want a slim tummy for summer plus I wanna Gain muscles. I workout 5-6 days a week 1-2hours. What am I doing wrong ?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 1 week ago

      Hi Tierra, I assume you workout so you aren’t eating enough and you are probably drinking more water than you should. Too much water will throw off your electrolyte balance and this can lead to bloating. Eat more food, drink less water, keep strengthening those muscles.

      Reply
  3. mark 4 weeks ago

    i wrestle 113

    Reply
  4. mark 4 weeks ago

    ‘im 15 and i’m in wrestling i wrestle 13 i’m one pound under weight and i have no idea what i can eat can someone help me

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 4 weeks ago

      Hey Mark, Just eat and eat lot. The problem with wrestling is that for some guys it teaches them to starve themselves to make a weight class. At 15 you should not be in a calorie deficit unless you are overweight. At 15 your body is growing and developing and needs extra calories. If you want a more precise prescription head over to our macro calculator, enter your stats and select “gain”.

      Reply
  5. Beck 1 month ago

    This is pretty interesting. I’m a female endurance athlete, generally exercising 1-2 hours a day, sometimes more, 6 days a week. I usually work out 9-14hours a week in the winter, more in the summer. (Running and cycling) I’ve steadily been gaining weight for the past 2 years. Nearly 15lbs. I’m only 5’3, but I weigh just under 130. I’ve been eating 1200 to 1700 calories a day. I believe this isn’t enough and has also messed up my hormones. My question is, if I want to increase how much I eat so that I am eating enough for body functions and exercise, without starving but to lose weight, how do I ramp up my calorie intake without gaining even more weight?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 1 month ago

      It’s best to gradually increase your calories until you get them up to where they should be, but during this process, you may gain some weight while your metabolism is recovering. The important thing is that you are nourishing your body properly, especially as an endurance athlete.

      Reply
  6. Elizabeth 2 months ago

    Hey my name is Elizabeth and I’m 14 I’m quite tall for my age , I’m eating 800 calories a day because before I hated my stomach and now my stomach is flat however I’m loosing muscle and I want to gain it I know I should be eating more but I’m scared to put on weight again and go back to where I started I don’t know what to do I’m eating healthy but I’m just hungry all the time

    Reply
    • James 2 months ago

      See the reply to Sonya below… use the calculator to figure out how much you should be eating.

      Reply
    • Dustin Dage 1 month ago

      You should not be dieting at 14, especially to such a calorie restrictive degree. This could interfere with your body’s natural growth. Please talk to your physician about your current and future diet plans and listen to their advice.

      Reply
  7. Sonya B 2 months ago

    Hi I am a 21 year old girl, 5’8″, 130 lbs. I model so I need to stay in the leanest range. I typically eat between 700 and 1200 calories a day and it’s mostly raw fruits and veggies and the occasional carb. My weight is only increasing. How many calories do I need to increase to maintain my weight or lose (just a few) lbs? I.e. how do I escape starvation mode?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 2 months ago

      Hi Sonya, Yes, you need to eat more or you are headed for a lifetime of dietary struggle. Head over to our calculator and calculate what you should be eating.

      Reply
  8. Cornelius De Klerk 2 months ago

    hey so ive been on a diet for about 6 months with 2 breaks in between, during dieting im @ 2000-1800 calories 180p 180c 40f and add carbs and fats when hitting 2000 calories.
    im taking a break now and trying to hit maintenance calories and have bumped it up the last two weeks to 2150-2300 calories but am still loosing weight, whats going on??
    info Male 29 5’10 172 pounds from 185 pre diet. train 4-5 times a week weights and during this maintenance phase have dropped volume of traing, ie set number lower

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 2 months ago

      Hey Cornelius, You were eating way too few calories during workout days when you were dieting and now you’re still eating below your maintenance levels. Based on your stats, on your workout days, you should be eating around 2700 for maintenance.

      Reply
  9. Taiyeba Ahmed 2 months ago

    I’m 24, weight 167 lbs and have been on a high protein-low carb diet of 1200-1300 calories for the last 5 months and I feel quite full and satisfied with it and never felt like I’m actually on a diet, except some random sweet cravings here and there. I’m working out 6 days a week for 90 minutes in the gym and now I’ve started to workout 45 minutes in the morning too and have increased my gym time to 2 hours. I’ve also incorporated weights in most of my workouts and increasing them every week. I’ve managed to lose only 22 lbs till now and for the last 1.5 months the weight has become stagnant. Although I lost a few inches initially in this 1.5 month time but now both the weight and inch loss is stuck…I wonder where I’m wrong. Can I get a help here ? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 2 months ago

      Hi Taiyeba, Just as the article says, you need to be eating more. You’re not eating enough to support all the exercise you are doing and fuel your basic bodily functions. Your body has slowed your metabolism to compensate. Based on your stats and 2 hours of gym time, you should be eating around 1800 calories on those days and this would still have you in a safe calorie deficit. If you need more help please consider some coaching to dial in your numbers even better.

      Reply
  10. Satvic 3 months ago

    Very nice Article by Admin Thanks for providing

    Reply
  11. Trinity 4 months ago

    Everything is a Lie….Lol….Growing up I’ve always heard that calories and carbs are BAD, but I remebered that at one period of time I did gymnastics and dances that I had learned but afterwards I would eat A LOT……I realized that at that period of time that was the smallest Ive ever been and Im an athlete so I now know that I need to eat MORE not LESS

    Reply
    • Madison 3 months ago

      So I am a 14 year old girl. I am 6’4 and weigh around 120-123 I am also and play softball. I stared eating less in fear I was getting fat. I still think I am but I’m wondering if I need to start eating more. Should I eat more if I want to lose fat I honk I have?

      Reply
      • Madison 3 months ago

        Sorry I meant 5’4 not 6’4 my mistake

        Reply
      • Ted Kallmyer 3 months ago

        You are at a healthy weight for your height and you shouldn’t be cutting calories since you are also growing.

        Reply
  12. David William 6 months ago

    I’ve perused a few people go straight to their TDEE though others gradually get up to their TDEE and after that start a slice in the event that they need to get more fit. Will I stun my framework with a major increment in calories on the off chance that I have been under eating for a short time.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 6 months ago

      If someone has been undereating for some time, they may gain a pound or two in the beginning. But this usually corrects itself once the person’s metabolism starts to rev back up.

      Reply
  13. Ed Briggs 9 months ago

    Hi, I’m a 47year old male. I weighed 239lbs in January and now in June I’m 201lbs. What I did was cut calories and hit the gym when I could. My waist reduced by 6 inches but to be honest I lost 5 of those inches in around 3 months but now not much else comes off my waist but my weight was still dropping which leads me to think I’m losing muscle as well. Any ideas as to how to reduce my waist as I don’t have any fat of note anywhere else…thanks

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 9 months ago

      Great job on your weight loss. How many calories are you eating and what’s your exercise like? There’s also visceral fat to consider. It’s fat that surrounds our internal organs.

      Reply
      • Ed Briggs 9 months ago

        Thanks Ted.
        I eat around 2200cals but some days will be less. I try get to the gym at least 3 days a week but some weeks I can only go only go once due to work and family commitments. I do weight training ie squats.barbell row, overhead press and bench press. I also do work on machines as well. I think I need to up my calories through protein as I don’t want to lose muscle mass as I think this is what is happening…would you agree?

        Reply
  14. PalakNotes 9 months ago

    It is always said you become what you eat. So, eat healthy, green leafy vegetables and fiber rich foods that have no calories and carbs. Be the healthiest version of yourself to enjoy your life to the fullest.

    Reply
  15. Alexa Janine 10 months ago

    Hi, I am 22yrs old. First and foremost, I am not a body conscious but I am fond ond doing work out but when I start working I noticed gaining more weight and not I am obese.
    How can I lose weight in a fastest way? Is there any other method?
    I am planning to have my weight back same as before?
    Is it possible in a fast way?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 10 months ago

      When you start working out, you gain water weight because exercised muscle retains water. Secondly, when you workout muscles become denser which also adds weight. Thirdly, exercise increases the appetite, so if you aren’t aware of what your TDEE is or how much you should be eating, you could be overeating. You can calculate how much you should be eating here

      Reply
    • kathy thureen 10 months ago

      I have a hard time losing weight, so I have been cutting myself down to practically nothing to lose weight.

      Reply
  16. Colorado Old Guy 11 months ago

    I’ve been trying the “low – fat don’t fret the carbs” diet for years, including while training 12 hours per week for triathlons (800 miles per week bike 10 miles per week running and 2k per week swimming). It doesn’t work.

    Low fat diets are a scam. If you eat white sugar, white flour and a lot of starches you’ll get fat.

    Yes starvation mode is real, yes caloric restriction will cause it.

    Try eating ~1 gram protein for every pound of lean body mass, just enough carbohydrates to meet your weight goals and enough fat to feel satisfied between meals. It works. Your carbs should come from green vegatables first, beans and whole grains next and a bit of pasta for variety and some sweets 2x per week just for fun.

    High carb diets are BS. Sure they “can” work if you want to feel hungry the rest of your life.

    Reply
  17. Matt

    After reading the article I noticed that it says a person will go into starvation mode if he/she starts eating way too few calories. I was under the impression that this usually happened when a person is on a full-on fast, and starvation mode doesn’t usually happen until 2 to 3 days after staying on the fast. Its not good to fast and go to the gym, but it stands to reason that if one does cardio the metabolism isn’t given a chance to slow down. Hopefully people will NOT fast while going to the gym. Reducing calorie intake, such as with intermittent fasting, should not cause starvation mode as far as I know. I have to disagree that eating more can help a person lose weight.

    Reply
    • Trish 12 months ago

      The more I eat the more I lose weight. I am a perimenopausal woman, and I can attest to the truth of what’s written in this article. Extreme calorie deficits over years put more than a hundred extra pounds on my body even when I was eating as low as 500-750 calories a day, I was rapidly gaining weight, and it wasn’t until I started eating significantly more calories that my body was able to start releasing the excess weight. When I first started eating more, it took nearly 4000 calories a day for the weight gain to stop and begin to reverse itself. I now eat about 2200 calories a day and steadily drop 3 pounds a week on average, without exercise beyond a daily walk.

      Reply
      • olivia 11 months ago

        You are lying about how much you were eating. If you were eatting that little a day and working out you were not gaining weight. You’re only telling half truths. Also there is no way you were eating 4000 calories a day for the weight gain to stop. Unless you were just eating shit food. You’re not telling the honest truth

        Reply
      • Woelfgang 11 months ago

        I bet you ate high calorie healthy foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, mango, bananas, etc

        Reply
  18. Will

    This is really useful information and seems to be happening to me now. I’m a 6 ft 1″ male and was 288 pounds at the beginning of April last year. As of last week, I’d got down to 240, through a mixture of diets but mainly low carbs and alcohol, no sugar and calorie counting.

    Over Christmas I put on around six pounds but managed to lose most of it in the following week. Now, although I’m really proud that I feel in total control of my eating, as it’s a new year I wanted to go more extreme as I still have a way to go to reach my target weight.

    So, a week ago I restricted myself to under 800 calories a day to get into fast fat burning mode, I weighed myself today and I’ve only lost 2 pounds. I really don’t get it and it’s so frustrating but perhaps it is just my metabolism adapting. As of today I think I’ll slowly up my intake. Sorry for the long post, I just felt the urge to share.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer

      Slow and steady wins the race. It can be tempting to cut way back for faster results but in the long run 1-2 pounds per week is what you want. Great job on your progress so far.

      Reply
      • Park Mi Eun 1 month ago

        Hi.Im Mia,16 years old I’m 150 cm tall and I weigh 45 I want to lose weight because everytime I look in to the mirror I hate myself for having those fats on my belly and shoulders,so last September 2018,last year I decided to diet,I don’t know how much calories I’m eating before I started the diet but I think it’s 2,000-1,800? So I started cutting calories and only eat 1,500 until 900,at this part I also decided to do cardio 30-1hour everyday until 600,I increased my cardio,500,300 and I came to the point I forced myself to eat only 150 calories like only one low calorie biscuit a day,and just this past 3 weeks I’m doing water fast with 1hour exercise I’m literally miserable Im not happy I lose weight I think but it’s temporary Ive decided to stop exercising since our exam is near and I’m so stressed thinking that it’s my obligation to do that every day,so I stop I somehow heard about reverse diet and I wanted to do it just this week but every time I eat I feel miserable my mind kept telling me that “stop eating you’re wasting your hardships since then” so I’ll say okay I’ll not eat tomorrow since I eat today I don’t know how to recover I think I’m bulimic as sometimes Im already emotional.please help me and lend me some advice

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer 1 month ago

          Hi Park, Sorry to hear about your struggles and it does sound like you are suffering from disordered eating. You are underweight for a girl of your height, yet you still see yourself as overweight. My advice would be to talk to your parents and get help from disordered eating experts. Here’s a good resource online to have a look at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ They have a feature where you can chat with someone online that can help.

          Reply