Yeah, that’s right. How often do you hear a statement like that? Quite often, right? Well…for some, eating too few calories is just as detrimental to one’s weight loss as someone who eats too many calories. Society has told us that in order to lose “weight,” we must eat less. If eating less is good, then eating a lot less must be better…right? Why not just eat next to nothing and you’ll have that killer body you’ve always dreamed of? Well, you’ll definitely get that killer body…emphasis on the word “killer.”
Typical healthy bodies respond to a reduced caloric intake by burning our fat and glycogen reserves (the stored form of carbohydrates) over our lean muscle protein. When we eat too few calories, our bodies go into starvation mode. This response negatively shifts our bodies by burning our lean muscle protein while holding onto our fat. Our bodies are made to utilize fat as a long-term fuel source in times of malnourishment. This is because fat is more efficient as a long-term fuel source due to its dense calories (there are 9.3 kcals* for every gram of fat vs. 4.3 kcals for every gram of protein). Starvation mode causes muscle atrophy, which results in our metabolism slowing down. Cellular damage, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and hypotension (among other things) also occur; all being disadvantageous to losing excessive body fat, thus reaching fitness goals and being healthy.
When does starvation mode kick in? Of course, it varies from person to person; however, for the average female, it occurs around consuming 1200 kcals, or below. For the average male, it approximately occurs at, or below, consuming 1600 kcals. Don’t be alarmed if you happen to have eaten too few calories one day…your body will not start eating away at your muscle this quickly. It is when our bodies spend prolonged periods of time with severe caloric restriction that results in all of these negative changes.
There are better (and scientifically proven) ways to lose fat weight, beyond concentrating primarily on your food intake. Obtaining a high metabolic rate, as a result of gaining lean muscle through effective strength training, in addition to efficient cardiovascular conditioning, are key. So, next time you think that you will eat less to lose more, think about how eating too few calories might be just as counter productive as eating too many.
* kcal= kilocalorie= calorie