Here’s why loading up your plate can help you shed pounds.
Losing weight and saving money aren’t all that different. While the latter requires spending less, the former requires consuming fewer calories. But what some people don’t realize is that cutting too many calories can actually stall weight loss, says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.
“Restricting calories too much almost always backfires,” Young cautions. And that’s because the body actually needs calories to burn calories. It’s a lot like when you want to light a fire. You need to throw kindling in the fireplace to ignite it, she says.
Think of food as your body’s kindling; it sparks your metabolism, making weight loss possible. When you’re eating enough, the body first uses food for fuel, then turns to the fat it’s been holding onto for energy, Young says. But restrict calories too severely, and your body goes into “starvation mode,” and starts to break down lean muscle tissue to reserve its energy stores. Ultimately, this can slow metabolism, making it tougher to lose weight.
Plus, sticking to super low-calorie diet is difficult. Not eating enough for breakfast, for example, will leave you famished, making it harder to skip that cinnamon bun in your morning meeting or lead you to overeat at lunch.
While calorie needs differ based on activity level, goals, and gender, most men should consume at least 2,200 to 2,600 calories daily, according to the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. (Find out how many calories you need in a day here.) Once you dip below that number, it becomes difficult for the body to perform basic biological functions that keep you healthy. Not sure if you’re hitting that number—or what number is right for you? Here are a few signs that you may not be eating enough to see the scale tip in your favor.
YOU THINK ABOUT FOOD ALL THE TIME.
Can’t get through your afternoon to-do list because you’re getting distracted dreaming about dinner? You’re probably not eating enough.
Reaching for healthy snacks between meals can help to increase your daily caloric intake and keep you focused on things other than food. To stave off hunger and overeating, Young suggests pairing a protein-packed food with something rich in fiber. Cottage cheese or a small handful of nuts with a piece of fruit fits that nutritional bill (or try one of these salty snacks that can actually help you lose weight).
YOU’RE CUTTING OUT MEALS OR ALL YOUR SNACKS.
Skipping breakfast (or subsiding on a breakfast of black coffee) and starving yourself until lunch is not the key to weight loss. You definitely need to watch calories to lose weight, but psychologically, you’ll constantly feel deprived if you cut out too much, Young says.
And that’s what makes you more likely to binge or break a diet later on.
If you’re accustomed to eating fairly regularly, following a diet plan that only allows for three small meals a day will leave you constantly craving more. To stay on track with your weight loss goals, Young suggests having three meals and two small snacks a day, sticking with healthy sources of calories, like fresh produce, lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains.
YOU GET HORRIBLE HEADACHES.
Your brain runs on the glucose found in your blood, and the glucose in your blood comes from the carbohydrates you eat. Limit your calories and carbs too much, and your brain will become energy-starved. Feeling shaky, dizzy, or light-headed—or getting otherwise unexplainable headaches—are signs you’re not eating enough, and your blood sugar has dropped too low.
Simply adding more calories and carbs to your diet should stop your head from pounding—and help the pounds come off more rapidly, too.
THE THOUGHT OF WORKING OUT MAKES YOU WANT TO TAKE A NAP.
If the idea of a boxing class leaves you dreaming of your pillow, you may not be eating enough, Young says. When you’re not consuming enough food, you’re bound to feel tired all the time, which is a major motivation-suck.
YOU’RE SUPER IRRITABLE.
If you’ve ever waited too long before eating dinner, you know what “hangry” means—that unpleasant combination of being so hungry you get angry. The same thing happens when you’re restricting calories too severely, Young says.
In fact, some research suggests acts of self-control (like adhering to a strict diet) are associated with angrier behavior. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to limit calories just enough to slim down, not change your mood. (These 6 tricks to combat hunger and lose weight can help.)
MEALS LEAVE YOU TOTALLY UNSATISFIED.
Limiting yourself to a tiny salad for dinner will leave you feeling empty and wanting more. But if you fill the rest of your plate with whole grains, healthy fats, and a lean protein, you’ll be far less likely to crave dessert. Plus, you’ll load up on the nutrients your body needs, Young says.
Portion control is not about tiny portions. It’s about eating larger portions of healthy foods and smaller portions of the less healthy stuff, she adds.