Is It Healthy to Cut Back Food Consumption to Lose Weight?

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Cutting back on food is a sound strategy for weight loss, as long as you don't take it too far.
Cutting back on food is a sound strategy for weight loss, as long as you don't take it too far. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When you're ready to lose weight, the first thing that likely comes to mind is to cut back on the amount of food you eat. In most cases, this is a sound strategy -- after all, the key to weight loss is taking in fewer calories than you burn. However, when you cut back, make sure that you're keeping the nutritious foods while eliminating the ones that are less healthy. In addition, don't cut back too much or you could risk health problems.

The Right Number of Calories

As simple as it sounds, losing weight is all about the calories you consume versus the calories you burn. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you must be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. This means that you're consuming fewer calories than your body uses, so it pulls energy from fat storage cells. To lose 1 pound a week, you need to create a deficit of 500 calories. You can do this by reducing your caloric intake or adding extra activity to your schedule, or you can do both.

Foods to Cut Back

When cutting back on food, don't do so willy-nilly -- some foods offer your body important nutrients, while others are lacking in any nutritional value. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 notes that, for most Americans, calories from solid fats and added sugars are of particular concern, contributing nearly 800 calories to the average diet. These should be the first to cut from your diet. Eliminate pizza, high-fat desserts, cheese, sausage, bacon and fried potatoes, which are some of the highest sources of solid fats in the American diet. As for added sugars, the biggest sources are sodas, energy drinks, sugary desserts, fruit drinks and candy, so cut back on those as well. According to the guidelines, refined grains are a problem as well, so avoid white bread, rice, pasta and crackers.

Foods to Keep

Cutting back on certain foods will do your body more harm than good. The guidelines generally recommend not only that you continue to eat fruits and vegetables, but that you increase your consumption of produce of a wide variety of colors. The guidelines also suggest that you maintain or increase your consumption of whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and seafood. Keep an eye on your diet, making sure that you're eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet while remaining in the proper caloric range for your weight-loss goals.

Risk of Under-Eating

It's healthy to cut back on food only if you don't do so to the extreme. Eating too few calories -- the number varies, but you generally shouldn't go below 800 calories a day unless you're being supervised by a doctor -- can cause its own health problems. According to Britain's National Centre for Eating Disorders, under-eating can affect your mood, thinking processes and behavior. It can also cause powerful cravings that might lead you to binge on unhealthy foods. Eventually, failing to get enough calories can affect you physically, leading to poor circulation, infertility, decreased bone density, dry skin and hair, and problems sleeping.

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