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  • Writer's pictureBruce Salinger

Can You Gain Weight From Eating Too Little?

Many people are willing to go to extremes to lose weight, at least for a while. The million-dollar question is whether very low-calorie diets help with weight loss or make you gain weight.

How Effective Are Very Low-Calorie Diets?

People who follow very low-calorie diets can drop a significant amount of weight extremely quickly. These diets are sometimes recommended by health professionals when a patient is dangerously overweight.

The bad news is that short-term weight loss results don’t tell the whole story. The body is a master of adapting to potential dangers, and a sudden drop in calorie intake is enough to set off alarms. After a few days or weeks, the metabolism shifts into “starvation mode,” making it much harder to lose weight.

What Happens When You Go Into “Starvation Mode”?

Starvation mode is another name for your body’s metabolism slowing down. Very low-calorie diets involve eating just 800–1,000 calories a day. That’s less than half the recommended amount (around 2,000–2,5000) for men and women.

Making such a drastic switch tells the body that something is wrong. In response, your metabolism cuts energy production significantly, burning fewer calories.

How Likely Are You To Gain Weight on Very Low-Calorie Diets?

Can starvation mode cause you to gain weight? Probably not while you’re on the diet. It will make it harder to lose weight, though. You may end up fighting just to lose one or two pounds!

Once people stop the diet, all bets are off. The weight often comes back with a vengeance, and some dieters end up weighing more than at the beginning! That's what a slow metabolism can do.

What Are the Side Effects of Very Low-Calorie Diets?

Very low-calorie diets have some short-term benefits, but the long-term negatives mean this diet just isn’t worth the trouble:

  • Fatigue: Fewer calories and a slower metabolism lead to physical and emotional tiredness. You may feel like you can barely get out of bed in the morning.

  • Digestive problems: Throwing your fiber and probiotics out of whack can lead to diarrhea, stomach troubles and constipation.

  • Headaches: Not getting enough calories can produce pounding headaches, dehydration and dizziness that last several weeks to several months.

  • Nutritional dangers: When you cut so many foods from your diet, it’s hard to get all the nutrients and protein your body needs. This can hurt your overall health in the long run as vitamin levels drop.

No one should cut calories drastically without speaking to a doctor first. Health professionals don’t recommend this type of extreme diet to the general public. It can be dangerous, especially for people over age 50, pregnant women and people who have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes.

What Is a Better Alternative for Weight Loss?

Restricting the calories you eat can be a healthy foundation for an effective diet, but you should focus on long-term benefits:

  • Aim to lose a few pounds a week

  • Use more fuel than the calories you eat by staying active

  • Exercise a little every day.

  • Replace sugars and fast foods with homemade meals

Instead of cutting all calories, choose the right type of calories: natural foods that give you nutrients and keep you energized. Enjoy nutritious snacks that fill you up.


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