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Published on April 27, 2016

Why severe calorie restriction won't help you lose weight

Calories are king, but don't restrict to the extreme.

Typically when trying to lose weight, people will restrict their calories. Very often they restrict them to a severe degree–sometimes cutting back to half of what they were typically consuming. While it is true that weight loss must come from caloric restriction, under eating to the extreme is counter-productive to weight loss.

  • You will be overly hungry. Imagine trying to drive your car the normal distance to work but with half the gasoline required to get you there. You would have to stop frequently to refill so you could keep going. Your body becomes acclimated to your normal caloric intake and when you cut back drastically you will feel very strong hunger signals. This is because your body is programmed to avoid starvation. By cutting back gradually, a few hundred calories at a time, you can avoid the strong hunger pains and set yourself up for success.
  • You will have rebound overeating. Skipping meals can seem like a great way to cut back on calories, but it nearly always backfires. This is because your body does not forget that you didn't eat breakfast or lunch, and by the time you eat dinner you're so hungry you are almost guaranteed to overeat. Focus on making small reductions at each meal, to create an overall deficit.
  • You will be focused on food. When you are severely restricting, you will be fatigued, hungry and generally only able to focus on food. For example, if I say don't think about the pen in your hand, all you will be able to do is focus on the pen in your hand. Restricting food, eliminating your favorite foods, cutting out too much of the "good stuff" will result in thinking about those things almost constantly.

It doesn't need to be this difficult. Try to make sustainable changes that you can keep up, like swapping the soda for water at lunch or having a smaller portion of your main entrée with a heartier serving of a veggie side item. Over time, reevaluate where additional changes need to occur. These little changes will add up to big results in the long term and won't be so difficult to follow in the short term.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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