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For fat loss, don't eat too many calories or too few

The greatest myth about calories and losing weight is this: The less you eat, the more you lose.

The human body is not so simple. It's built for the complicated work of survival. It kills foreign invaders, digests all kinds of things that we throw into it, it tries to make sure that we have the energy we need, and much, much more.

Calories have gotten a bad reputation because of the scores of fad diets that tell us we should eat as few as possible. However, calories are key to survival. Sure, if we eat too many calories we will gain weight and we don't want that to get out of hand.

But if we don't provide enough calories for our body to do its many jobs well, we are setting ourselves up for weight-loss disappointment. The right number of calories can help us lose weight and maintain weight loss.

Experts in the field have known for some time that eating enough calories is important for efficient fat loss. Here are just a few of the negative consequences of skimping on calories:

Slowing metabolism. The last thing you want to do when losing weight is to slow down your fat-burning mechanism. Eating too few calories, however, does just that. You're giving your body no choice but to protect its vital functions by conserving energy when you undereat. This is why, for instance, people who are undernourished tend to feel cold and lethargic.

Psychological deprivation. When you are calorically deprived, hunger becomes tough to ignore and cravings intensify. It's next to impossible to stay in this state for long. Before we know it, we make up for undereating with compulsive eating or bingeing followed by weight gain.

Fatigue and lack of energy. Not eating enough calories also decreases our energy levels so we feel weak and unable to exercise, further slowing metabolism and weight loss.

Breakdown of muscle. Muscle burns calories, but not eating enough calories can break down muscle mass. The more muscle we have, the more calories we can eat without storing fat. If we're eating so few calories that the body has to break down muscle to function, we're setting ourselves up again to gain rather than lose weight.

So the wise person who wants to become leaner will make sure that they get enough calories to keep their metabolism burning efficiently, avoid fatigue and deprivation, and prevent muscle breakdown.

Figuring out the precise number of calories your body needs requires sophisticated equipment not available to most people. But these general USDA guidelines will get you close enough:

• An adult woman who isn't physically active has an estimated total calorie need of 1,600-2,000.

• An adult man who isn't physically active has an estimated total calorie need of 2,000-2,400.


Counting every calorie isn't necessary, but it's important to avoid fad diets that expect you to go below these levels. Here are steps you can take to make sure you're fueling your body properly:

• Be active on a daily basis.

• Don't skip meals and eat 4-6 small, nutritious meals and snacks daily.

• Eat when hungry, but don't let hunger get intense.

• Reduce portions gradually until you start noticing your clothes becoming looser.

• Strive for gradual, rather than rapid weight loss.

• Stay away from weight loss programs that make you feel deprived.

Getting enough calories makes losing weight an easier task with more permanent results. Your body will thank you for giving it the fuel it needs to burn fat, rather than expecting it to go into survival mode.

Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Contact her through her website,, or at (813) 240-9557.

For fat loss, don't eat too many calories or too few 10/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 4:30am]
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