Most people think that in order to shed a few pounds, cutting down on the calories is the right answer. Now, if your diet consists of pizza, fried foods, loaded nachos and beer, cutting down on calories will help. But cut out too many calories and not eating enough can seriously mess with your diet plans.
Eating too little can derail your weight loss
Anorexia is never a healthy way to lose weight. You might not be on that extreme of the scale, but seriously undereating will cause your body to shut down your calorie burn and hold on to what fat you have for dear life.
"When you are not supporting your body with enough calories or fuel, your metabolism actually drops, and you burn fewer calories," explains Libby Parker, a registered dietitian. "This is an adaptive response to the body believing it is in famine and wanting to conserve energy (aka hold on to those calories)."
"I have had clients who were eating way too few calories and could not lose weight," says Parker. "Once they allowed all foods in their diet (they had been cutting out foods like bread), and got their calorie intake up to the appropriate amount for them, they actually started to lose weight." In other words, it's not always as simple as "calories in, calories out." That idea only applies when you're providing enough fuel for your body.
Type of food matters
You need to fuel your body with the RIGHT calories – you need to make sure your foods are full of the right vitamins, minerals, fats and carbs. That daily multivitamin probably isn’t cutting it here.
Wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy with fat in it and whole grains are jam packed with nutrients. Adding complex carbs and high fiber foods are a great start – complex carbs and fibrous foods take your body longer to digest and not only burns more calories to break them down, it makes you feel full for longer.
"Nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats are much more satiating than a quick little candy or treat with refined sugar," explains Abbey Sharp, R.D., a blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen who dropped weight once she started eating more. When you build your diet mostly around nutritious foods, "you end up eating less overall because you're so much more satisfied throughout the day," says Sharp.
If you have a craving, you are welcome to satisfy that craving, just in moderation. Pair that pizza with a big salad – and eat the salad first. That way, you got a little bit of that pizza you wanted, but filled up with a nutrient rich salad prior to the greasy pizza.
You burn calories you don’t even realize you’re burning
There are several ways your body burns energy. One is through your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body burns each day at rest. You can also burn energy through activity (such as sports and working out) and through digesting your food.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the energy that you burn while doing everything that is not digesting, breathing, eating, or doing any sports-like activity, according to Jordan Mazur, a registered dietitian. "Some examples of NEAT activities include cooking, cleaning, fidgeting, yard work, or manual labor. It's all of the small activities that you do outside of the gym that can help you burn more calories in the long run," he explains. Even gesticulating counts as NEAT, so people who talk with their hands might have that one-up on more reserved speakers.
Don’t get too excited though – increased activity and eating all those calories back won’t necessarily equal weight loss. Trying to incorporate more activity into your daily life will help promote weight loss, however.