It should make sense that the less you eat, the less you weigh—right? But talk to any nutritionist, and they'll tell you a low-calorie diet doesn't work. So why does diet culture set us up for failure by telling us to reduce our calories in order to shrink our waistlines?
While eating less than we expend can have a short-term effect, it rarely works and isn't sustainable. No diet really is, if you think about it. What typically works is finding healthy ways to lose and manage any excess weight—and it has very little to do with counting calories or finding a quick fix to drop those unwanted pounds.
Why low-cal eating doesn't work
Low-calorie dieting, which is essentially undereating, generally doesn't work because it alters your metabolism. When you consume less foods, your resting metabolic rate—or how many calories you burn simply by doing nothing—slows down to adjust. So you're eating less, but your body is also burning less calories.
Hormone levels also change when you enter starvation mode. This includes leptin, which is responsible for telling your body you're hungry. Low-calorie dieting is an attempt to trick the body into thinking it's not hungry, but it often backfires and does the exact opposite—leading to overeating in many instances.
Low-calorie dieting can also be ineffective because of the types of foods we eat when dieting. Someone on a diet can be well within their daily calorie intake but could see no results because the foods they're eating contain processed ingredients. A banana and a small bag of pretzels may each be 100 calories, but the banana is loaded with vitamins and minerals to nourish the body, while the pretzels are made in a factory with altered ingredients (including chemicals). So they work much differently in the body.
Tips to achieve a healthy weight
While counting calories can work for some, it's generally not the best approach for most. It puts undue pressure on us to think only about the calories consumed and not the food itself, and it creates a psychological effect focused on deprivation. Instead of depriving ourselves, we should be focusing more on the foods we're eating for our health.
The most natural approach to eating for sustainable weight loss is to choose whole foods rich in protein, fiber and fat. These are the hallmarks of the often-studied Mediterranean diet, and they work together to help stabilize blood sugar and create a feeling of fullness. And there's no calorie counting involved.
Consider this combo at every meal to help regulate hunger, blood sugar and hormone levels—choosing organic whenever possible for the best results.
- Protein: Protein's job is to break food down into amino acids, which are considered the building blocks of muscle, tissue, and organs. Good sources include lean meats, eggs, beans, legumes, and soy products.
- Fat: Healthy fats are absolutely necessary for many functions in the body and can help control blood sugar levels. Olive and avocado oils, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds are good options here.
- Fiber: This carbohydrate, which is essential for digestion, is found in fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, seeds, and nuts.
Adjust your workouts
If you're active but aren't seeing the needle move on the scale, it may be time to switch things up. Trash those old-school exercise myths focused on overdoing it on cardio in favor of varied workouts targeting quality over quantity and building strength and flexibility over burning calories. Do this consistently to set yourself up for sustainable, healthy weight loss that works.