If you’re trying to lose or manage weight, you have to eat less. Simple, but not easy. Figuring out how much you should eat in order to lose weight can take some time and a lot of trial and error, and part of this process is recognizing how little is too little.
Less is not always more.
Food restriction comes in many forms and can be done for purposes other than weight loss (food allergies or environmental reasons). It could mean cutting down on overall calorie intake, or cutting out specific foods or food groups (gluten, dairy, meat, sugar, carbs, etc.). Diets that are too restrictive have some undesirable side affects and won’t get you any closer to your goal. If you’re experiencing any of following, there’s a good change your diet is too restrictive.
You continually go off your diet. If your diet is too restrictive, you won’t be able to stick with it. Anytime you make nutritional adjustments, always ask yourself if you could eat that way for at least two years consistently, even on weekends.
You’re hungry all the time. If you’re trying to lose weight, feeling a little hungry is just part of the process. Feeling hungry for an hour or two before a meal is normal. Feeling hungry all the time is a sign you’re either not getting enough nourishment or not the right nourishment.
You overeat or binge on foods you try to avoid. Restriction is always at the root of bingeing. If you find yourself bingeing on bread, cookies, ice cream, etc., you’re probably trying too hard to avoid these things. Ironically, the more you try to avoid certain foods, the stronger the urge will be to eat them. It’s better to include as many foods as possible (even the “unhealthy” ones) into your diet in moderation than to try cutting them all out.
You think about food all the time. When you restrict too much or too often, your natural physiological response is to cause your brain to obsess over food in attempt to get more nutrition. If you find yourself thinking about food all the time, obsessing over food, or having intrusive food thoughts when trying to focus on other things, this is a huge red flag.
You’re more tired than usual. Food = energy. If you’re finding yourself more fatigued and/or less focused than normal, you probably need more food. Also check in with your sleep and stress levels, as all these things affect your energy levels.
Your sleep is suffering. Diets too low in calories and/or carbs can interfere with sleep. Low blood sugar causes cortisol to increase. Cortisol, our stress hormone, can keep us from getting the deep ZZZ’s that we need each night.
Your moods are suffering. This ties back to cortisol as well. A diet that’s too restrictive will elevate cortisol. Chronic high cortisol can negatively affect other hormones (such as thyroid) and neurotransmitter that regulate moods.
Your workouts are suffering and/or you’re not seeing progress. You need food to fuel and recover from your workouts. You can still do this in a caloric deficit, but only up to a point. If you always leave your workouts feeling wiped or lose all motivation to workout, you may be either over-training or under-fueling.
So what to do instead?
BE PATIENT. Real body composition changes take time (a lot of it), and the process of figuring out how to get there also takes some time. Give up the pursuit of a quick or extreme fix and focus on making moderate changes that you can stick with.
Create a moderate caloric deficit that you can sustain over the long term. It’s totally possible to go into a caloric deficit without experiencing the above symptoms, but the key is doing it moderately and slowly enough that you can stick to it.
Include as many foods in your diet as possible. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t cut out gluten, dairy, meat, carbs, etc. because you read something on the internet or because someone else is doing it. Seriously, stop it. None of these things in and of themselves are the reason you’re not making progress. If you choose to cut a food group out of your diet, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. The more foods you cut from your diet, the more likely you are to binge on them.
Enjoy the foods you love- even the “unhealthy” ones. This is so key in staying consistent with your progress and preventing overeating. Enjoying the foods you love in moderation will not kill you or cause you to gain weight overnight. In fact, doing this might actually help you stay on track by keeping you from feeling too deprived.
Have you picked up on a theme yet? Moderation, patience, moderation, and more patience.
How do you gauge when your diet is becoming too restrictiv