Can Eating Not Enough Calories Lead to a Plateau?

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If you're skimping on calories in an attempt to lose weight, you may be doing more harm than good. Not only can consuming too little food hinder fat burning and lead to a weight-loss plateau, but it also robs your body of the nutrients it needs to run at peak performance. Rather than severely restricting calories, break your plateau with a balanced diet and changes in physical activity.

Calorie Deficiency and Weight

  • Diets that severely restrict calories may lead to fast weight loss at first, but much of what you're losing is water and muscle -- and even some bone -- rather than fat. After the initial weight has been lost, you may reach a plateau as your metabolism slows down in an effort to conserve energy. Once you start eating normally again, the weight will probably come back -- and you may even put on more than you lost in the first place.

Calorie Needs

  • Harvard Medical School advises women to consume at least 1,200 calories per day and men to consume at least 1,500 calories per day. However, you can probably beat your plateau by eating even more than that. Harvard recommends multiplying your weight times the number 15 to find your daily calorie expenditure, and subtracting 500 to 1,000 calories to lose 1 to 2 pounds each week. For example, a 160-pound woman burns about 2,400 calories per day and will lose weight eating 1,400 to 1,900 calories per day with a moderately active lifestyle. A male at that weight would eat 1,500 to 1,900 calories per day to meet recommended levels.

Nutrition Concerns

  • Not only can consuming too few calories sabotage your chance at lasting weight loss, but it can easily prevent you from getting the nutrients that your body needs. Along with calories, food contains an assortment of vitamins and minerals that are essential for mental and physical performance. Along with meeting the recommended minimum calorie intake, ensure proper nutrition by filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. One-fourth of your plate should contain whole grains such as whole-wheat noodles, quinoa and brown or purple rice, while the last fourth should contain lean protein such as black beans, fish or tempeh.

Overcoming a Plateau

  • Plateaus can be frustrating, but you can overcome them with shifts in physical activity. If you don't exercise now, start performing cardio exercises such as brisk walking, jogging or using an elliptical machine at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week. If you already exercise, MayoClinic.com recommends increasing cardio workouts by 15 to 30 minutes per session and/or upping workout intensity. In addition, resistance exercises such as lifting weights or performing pushups and squats will elevate your metabolism, so perform these for all major muscle groups two to three times weekly. If you already have a rigorous exercise schedule, try switching up your workout -- performing the same moves week after week causes your muscles to become acclimated, hindering progress. If you're new to exercise or have any medical conditions, see your doctor before starting a new workout program.

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