While it’s tempting to drastically reduce calories in an effort to lose weight fast, research has shown time and time again that this is not an effective approach to long-term weight loss. While it’s important that you control the number of calories you consume, too much restriction can halt your progress.
How many calories do I need?
The number of calories needed for weight loss is determined by several factors, and varies from person to person. MyFoodDiary uses the information you provide such as age, gender, and current activity level to determine a safe and effective number of calories to eat each day to reach your goals.
As you decrease calories, it’s important not to drastically cut food intake. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that women eat no fewer than 1,200 calories per day and that men eat no fewer than 1,800 calories per day. These numbers can change based on the individual. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your doctor about the minimum number of calories that are safe for you. Any intake lower than these recommended amounts should be closely monitored by your medical professional.
What happens if I don’t eat enough calories?
Extreme calorie restriction affects your health and your ability to lose weight. Low calorie intake reduces the amount of food you can eat and may prevent you from getting all necessary nutrients. Research shows that calorie restriction reduces leptin, a hormone that helps to regulate appetite. Low levels of leptin can lead to hunger and overeating. Research also shows that low-calorie dieting increases stress and the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. As a result of this stress response, the body conserves energy and the metabolism slows to combat the risk of starvation. While you might think that drastically cutting calories is sure to result in weight loss, these changes in stress levels are actually associated with weight gain.
How can I reach my goals if I can’t reduce my calorie intake?
Losing weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week has been found to be the most effective method to keep it off for good. In order to lose weight at this rate, you will need to reduce calorie intake by 500 to 1000 calories per day. This reduction could put some people below the recommended 1,200 and 1,800 calorie minimum. This is one reason that exercise is an important tool for weight loss. The calories burned during exercise contribute to the calorie deficit you need for weight loss. By combining reduced food intake with regular exercise, you can still lose weight without severely limiting your calorie intake. This will prevent your metabolism from slowing and ensure your rate of weight loss remains steady.
Eating to improve health is a positive change, but sometimes a focus on food and controlling body weight reaches extreme levels. When healthy habits turn to an obsession with food, restricted eating, or excessive overeating, it’s important to take action. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides helpful tips for identifying eating disorders and provides guidance for seeking help.
Types of Eating Disorders
The NEDA recognizes three main eating disorders -- Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. A fourth group is titled, Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder, or OSFED. Disorders in this category have similarities to those mentioned, but may not fit the specific requirements to be diagnosed and classified under them.
While all three involve eating patterns that can lead to life-threatening results, each has unique practices and characteristics. Anorexia Nervosa is marked by self-inflicted starvation that leads to concerning weight loss. Bulimia Nervosa involves binging on large amounts of foods and then purging in some way, such as by self-induced vomiting. Binge Eating Disorder involves binging on large amounts of food, but there is no purging component, which can result in excessive weight gain and obesity related diseases.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
It’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders so that you can identify when healthy habits and weight loss have gone too far. Both Anorexia and Bulimia can include a strict exercise routine, along with a withdraw from family and friends. Additional signs of Anorexia include inadequate food intake, an obsession about body weight, and an extreme concern over specific components of food, like calories or fat grams. Being fat is a common complaint, and all these practices persist despite reaching a healthy weight. Over time, the severe food restrictions and over exercise lead to a dangerously low body weight.
With Bulimia, large amounts of food are consumed at once and eating may be followed by frequent trips to the bathroom. In addition to vomiting, other forms of purging can include the use of laxatives or diuretics. Major concern over weight loss and food control become evident, and the binge and purge cycle becomes a ritual that disrupts normal, daily life.
Binge Eating Disorder also involves eating large amounts of food and is associated with feelings of being out of control. Eating is associated with shame or guilt. Those affected eat until they feel discomfort and often eat when they are not hungry.
Ways to Help
Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age or gender. These disorders have many underlying issues that can vary by person, which makes them challenging to treat. It’s often difficult for a person suffering from a disorder to see the need to get help. As a friend or loved one, it’s important that your concern be expressed in a loving way and that you remain supportive. It’s also important to take action as soon as you notice that there could be a problem. The longer eating disorders persist, the more dangerous they become. Once medical tests are conducted to diagnose the disorder, a path of treatment can be outlined to help patients return to better emotional and physical health.
Overcome your unhealthy eating habits once and for all. The key is to identify the small things about your daily routine and your environment that contribute to unhealthy food choices.
Change Your Routine
Grabbing an unhealthy snack or fast food for dinner results from a failure to plan ahead. You might be a night owl who wakes with barely enough time to get out the door for work. Maybe you engage in time-wasting activities you don’t realize, like browsing the Internet or checking social media accounts more often than necessary. These habits take away from the time you need to plan and prepare healthy meals, leaving you to fall back on your old unhealthy eating habits.
Take a few minutes at night to prep a healthy breakfast like no-cook apple oatmeal. Double the amount of healthy foods that you make, like soups and salads, so that you have leftovers for lunch. Take better control of your time and set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier so that you can eat a healthy breakfast or pack your lunch. Set limits for your screen time. Saving small blocks of time throughout the day will quickly add up so you can plan ahead for healthier eating.
Empty Your Wallet
Vending machines provide many unhealthy snack options that are convenient on a busy afternoon. If these snacks tempt you to ruin a good day of healthy eating, get creative with ways to make obtaining them more difficult. Get rid of the spare change in your wallet and desk drawers. If you carry cash, leave smaller bills at home. By making these snacks more difficult to access, you will be less likely to make an impulse purchase, while also giving yourself time to think twice about grabbing an unhealthy option.
Be Prepared When Hunger Hits
Part of creating a healthy relationship with food is to eat when you are truly hungry. If mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, don’t deny yourself if you need some fuel. Always have a healthy option available. Fruits and nuts are ideal shelf-stable options, but if you have a fridge, consider keeping hummus and veggie sticks, yogurt, and nut milks nearby. A balance of carbohydrates and protein will keep you full and restore your energy.
Turn Off the Screen
All types of screen time lead to mindless eating. When your attention is on something other than the food you are eating, you are more likely to overeat and make poor choices. Whether it’s the television or your smartphone, step away from the electronics while you are eating. By taking just a few minutes to give your meal your full attention, you can control your portion sizes and enjoy healthy foods more often.
It’s important to remember that adopting healthy habits is an individual process. When you find a healthy lifestyle that you love, it’s only natural that you want to share it with others. Not everyone approaches health in the same way or makes changes at the same rate. It’s easy to come across as more of a coach than a cheerleader, instantly turning your friends off from your advice. However, gentle nudges of encouragement are often necessary to help others get on a healthy track. Try a few of these healthy ways to motivate your friends.
Create an open invitation for exercise.
Chances are that a friend may turn down your first few invitations to exercise together. Spend some time considering why, and look beyond their initial excuse. Maybe he doesn’t like morning exercise, or maybe she is intimidated by the level of group exercise classes you now attend. Instead of inviting friends to come with you to your workouts, consider offering to attend a session that is a better match for their fitness level. Attend a beginner class, or consider a dance class or hiking group that is new to both of you. Try several approaches and be sure to keep the invitation open. People reach the point of action at different times. You never know when a friend will be ready to start exercising and finally take you up on your offer.
Live by example.
Motivating someone to join you in adopting healthier habits requires a careful balance. If you are too preachy and over enthusiastic, you can appear unapproachable or even condescending. Often, motivating another person requires no talking at all. When you make healthy food choices, commit to your workouts, and show your healthy attitude, the people around you are watching. When they see the positive influence these changes have made on your quality of life, it may be what they need to make those same changes for themselves.
Seeing results has a big influence on your attitude, and once you reach your fitness goals, things will have never looked better. It’s easy to forget the hardships you overcame when you finally see success. Your positive attitude can be encouraging to others, but it may also make them feel like they could never do what you did. Be honest and express how difficult it was to reach your goal. Discuss the ups and downs and how you got through them. This will keep you approachable and real to those you are trying to help. Once they can picture how you overcame your challenges, they will see how they can accomplish the same thing.
The worst thing you can do is get a friend fired up about healthy eating and exercise, and then drop the ball on them. Don’t be the friend that forgets to show up for planned workouts, or who is constantly canceling at the last minute. While a friend can’t rely on you to always keep them motivated, you may be an essential part of getting them started towards a healthier lifestyle.
Motivation can fluctuate as you work towards your goals. Each day, you are changing. As a result, the same things that motivated you in the beginning may no longer spark your interest. If you find that your excitement for exercise and healthy eating is dwindling, it’s time to find a new source for motivation.
Pick an Unfamiliar Goal
Losing weight, toning up, and gaining muscle are familiar goals for most people. Unfortunately, they are rarely enough to keep you going, even after seeing progress. A goal that forces you to step out of your comfort zone is what you need to truly get excited about healthy activities. Sign up for a special cooking class or technique like making sushi, Thai cooking, gluten-free baking, or vegetarian cooking. Pick an exercise that you've always wanted to to try, and set a goal that finally makes you take the first step. Conquer a hike on a well-known trail, or add swimming and biking to your routine and sign up for a triathlon.
Seek Out Group Support
Everyone needs support to stick with healthy habits. You don’t have to exercise with someone everyday, but checking in with others and discussing your progress keeps you motivated and on track. Sharing tips and tricks with others and gathering new ideas keeps things interesting. Find groups that meet regularly to hike, play a sport, or join a health and fitness book club. Sharing your success helps you refocus on what is important so that you can maintain your progress.
Plan a Healthy Month on the Calendar
Brainstorm some healthy activities that you enjoy. Create a calendar, and assign one of these activities to each day. They might include things like do yoga for 30 minutes in the morning, relax and read a book for 15 minutes, stretch at the office, or cook a new vegetable. These mini-goals will keep you looking forward to something new each day. Ask friends to join you, and consider adding a healthy reward for accomplishing everything at the end of each week or the month.
Book a Self-care Day
Plan a day from start to finish that includes all of the healthy activities you love. Put it on your calendar, and reserve this time for yourself to reflect on your progress and your goals. A healthy day might include taking an early morning nature walk followed by a visit to your favorite coffee shop for reading. Next, make a healthy lunch at home and then schedule a massage, or do something that makes you laugh, like seeing the latest comedy. End the day with a healthy dinner and a calming meditation or yoga practice. A day spent taking care of yourself can refresh your outlook and renew your motivation.
Make a Change
Think of one change you can make that would switch up your normal routine. Maybe you swap evening workouts for morning workouts, add a group exercise class to your program, or eat fish at least three nights a week. These minor changes can get you out of a rut and renew your excitement about a healthy lifestyle.
Cleanse and Purge
This kind of cleansing and purging has nothing to do with your eating plan. It’s about simplifying your life so that you can focus on the things that improve your health. Donate old clothes that no longer fit, and get rid of old tennis shoes that are worn out. Clutter can cause stress, which influences emotional eating. Clean your office, rearrange your workout room, and get organized. A fresh environment can lift your mood and renew your motivation.