Nutrition Myth: The Less You Eat, the Faster You’ll Lose Weight

I already wrote a post about how losing weight is only about consuming fewer calories than you burn in a day. So a lot of people will take that fact to its “logical” conclusion and think, “oh! That means if I barely eat, I’ll lose a ton of weight really quickly!” which is also recognizable in various fad/product diets such as the Special K Diet. This is really bad. DO NOT DO THIS.

These diets, which from here on out I’m going to accurately refer to as starvation diets, are common – especially among women. But they’re also only minimally effective, super bad for you, extremely difficult to follow, and ultimately counterproductive. Here’s why:

We eat for a reason. It’s not just for funsies because your body thinks it’d be cool if you put stuff in it, or because it tastes good. Eating gives us the fuel we need to keep our bodies functioning and allow us to go about our daily lives. I already talked about how bad not getting enough carbohydrates can be for you – the effects of not getting enough food are like that, except times a million because you’re not giving yourself enough other nutrients to pull from instead.

So let’s say you’re going about your day, and you would like to walk from your home to your car. Doing that is going to require some energy. If you’ve eaten recently, your body will pull that energy from the carbohydrate stores built up from whenever you last ate. If you don’t have enough carbohydrate stores, it will turn to fat or protein, both of which your body keeps larger stores of. You may be thinking this sounds good at first – don’t you want your body to use up your fat stores? – and it is, but only in moderation. Because while using up fat stores is good, using up protein is bad.

If you aren’t eating, and your body wants to fuel itself with protein, it has to take that protein from your muscles. And it actually prefers to do that than to take energy from fat, because it’s a more efficient process. So that means when you starve yourself, your body is literally eating your muscles away. Not only will this make you weaker, but it will also reduce the number of calories your body burns just to keep you functional (known as RMR, or Resting Metabloic Rate – the number of calories you would burn if you were to lay in bed all day and not move).

Plus, in addition to slowing down your RMR due to decreased muscle mass, starving yourself will make your body think that it needs to conserve the limited energy you’re providing it, and it will actually slow down several of your vital processes specifically for the purpose of conservation. In other words, your RMR is decreased even further because your body doesn’t know when the next time it’ll be able to get food is and it doesn’t want you to die. Literally.

And here’s the real killer – once you start eating normal amounts again, you’ll be doing it with less muscle mass and a slower metabolism, meaning you’ll gain weight even more easily than you did before you started starving yourself in the first place. This is what leads to the “yo-yo diet” phenomenon, where dieters who initially lose weight will almost always gain it back, plus some; this is especially true on starvation diets.

But wait, there’s even more! Starving yourself actually increases your likelihood of binge eating later. Part of this is psychological – continuously depriving yourself of something you want makes that thing even more attractive. You want to lose weight, so you barely eat, but then you want food so badly that you end up binge eating, and then you feel guilty so you start starving yourself again, and on and on in a horrible cycle of extremely unhealthy relationships with food. But part of it is also physiological – starving yourself too much actually sets off hormonal reactions in your body which encourage you to binge eat. Which makes sense, since back in the cave man days food was never guaranteed so your body would want you to take advantage of a sudden abundance of it in case of future shortages.

In short, eat food. And eat enough food. Because if you don’t, even though you may lose weight at first, you’re causing serious damage to your body AND increasing the likelihood that you’ll gain back even more weight later. So just eat.

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