“You’re not eating enough to lose weight!” sounds great, but it’s not true.

not eating enough to lose weight

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

6 min read

If you’ve ever hit a stumbling block with your diet before, I’m sure you’ve heard the line:

“Maybe you’re not eating enough to lose weight.”

I’ve heard this line so many times while working in gyms for the last 22 years, and today I’m going to explain why it’s complete and utter fucking bullshit.


Why It’s Not True

am i not eating enough to lose weight

Weight loss is governed by one simple rule; calories in versus calories out.

With less fuel available, your body has no choice but to start dipping into its reserves of stored fuel in order to provide you with ongoing energy, and that’s how fat loss occurs. (1, 2, 3, 4)

This is known as the law of thermodynamics, and it’s the only mechanism by which we can lose weight, which makes it impossible for somebody to find themselves in a state where they are not eating enough calories to lose weight. I mean, it’s like saying your gas tank isn’t empty enough to drive!

So why do so many people believe this absurd myth?

Well, it’s mainly due to miscalculation.

Human beings are notoriously poor at self-reporting their food intake. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people under-estimate what they eat by as much as 50%, and this chronic under-reporting is the main issue here. Most folks get into the habit of recording their food intake during the week, but not at the weekends, which throws their numbers out of whack, so they think they’re eating “1000 calories per day” when that’s not really the case. (5)

See this:

a graph showing why people think they're eating 1000 calories per day and not losing weight

In this example, we see a person who believes they are eating 1000 calories per day, but is actually eating an average of 1571 when we factor in the weekend. This is an incredibly common occurrence among gym users (many don’t report their weekend intake at all), and the solution is very straightforward:

Stop dieting so hard.

Going so low in calories in the first part of the week will undoubtedly get you into a calorie deficit, but it also sky-rockets your cravings, drops your energy super low, and makes you feel like headbutting the next motherfucker who asks how your diet is going. This is an easy trap to fall into, and one which many people never escape from (i.e. pushing the fuck it button and saying “I’ll start again on Monday!”).

It doesn’t need to be this way.

In the example above, I would advise the person to increase their daily calorie target to about 1400. This will be high enough to keep their cravings at bay, so they won’t feel tempted to go off-track every few days, and it’s still markedly lower than their current calorie intake (1571), so they’ll see results. (6)



You Are Not Broken

not eating enough calories to lose weight

So how has this myth remained so popular all these years?

Well, it’s mainly because the fitness industry is full of shit.

You see, sometimes we cannot see the woods for the trees, so instead of looking at the bigger picture we go searching for some obscure piece of information to validate our feelings – and when a fucking imbecile pal tells you that you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight, it’s only a matter of time before the same fucking imbecile pal tells you that you’ve pushed your body into starvation mode – a nightmarish physical state where the body hangs on to fat at all costs because it believes it is being starved/attacked.

This can cause massive mental damage to the person in question, because they start to believe that they are “broken”.

So here’s the thing:

Starvation mode doesn’t actually exist.

Sure, it gives us a great way to wrap up our feelings, and we’ve all had a period where we feel like we “can’t lose weight no matter what” before, but that doesn’t change the fact that starvation mode is not a real fucking thing.

(Seriously, there isn’t one recorded case in human history.)

A prime example of why staration mode is bullshit can be seen by looking at countries in the third-world. If “not eating enough calories to lose weight” was a possibility, then there would be no starvation, right? RIGHT! Oh, but your pal Joanne who sells detox supplements and keto pills wants to tell you that starvation mode only happens to middle-aged men and women who work in office jobs!

Back in 1944, the University of Minnesota published a study which investigated how best to re-feed hungry populations after World War II. This study used some of the most extreme methodology I’ve ever seen, putting 36 participants through three-hours of exercise per day while literally starving them. Yikes! Anyway, the end result is that starvation mode never arrived – the trainees just kept on losing weight, and by the end of the trial (six fucking months of this hell) they’d lost almost half of their body weight, and some nearly died. (7)

Before we move on, I’d like to address metabolic adaptation.

Many people confuse this with starvation mode, but it’s not the same thing at all. Metabolic adaptation is built-in process which happens to everybody, whereby the body slows down your metabolism during a weight loss journey, causing fewer calories to be burned throughout the day (as you carry less weight, you expecnd fewer calories doing normal daily tasks). That’s not starvation mode, and it won’t stop you from seeing results. (8, 9)

So don’t fall for it. There is not one single study (EVER) which shows a person who is either in “starvation mode” or who is “not eating enough to lose weight”. Case closed!


References:

  1. Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2017).
  2. Leibel R.L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition . Am J Clin Nutr (1992).
  3. Golay A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (1996).
  4. Golay A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord (1996).
  5. Lichtman S. W., et al. Discrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake and exercise in obese subjects. N Engl J Med (1992).
  6. Stewart T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite (2002).
  7. Keys A., et al. The Biology of Human Starvation. Civilian Public Service (1944).
  8. Camps S., et al. Weight loss, weight maintenance, and adaptive thermogenesis. Am J Clin Nutr (2013).
  9. Zinchenko A, et al. Metabolic Damage: do Negative Metabolic Adaptations During Underfeeding Persist After Refeeding in Non-Obese Populations? Medical Research Archives (2016).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

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