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Have you been dieting for what seems like an eternity without seeing the results you desire?

Perhaps you're even gaining weight, and you're frustrated, tired, and on the verge of giving up.

You may be wondering, "Why am I gaining weight when I eat so little?"

Could it be because of the way you've been dieting? Could your calorie restriction be backfiring and causing you to gain weight?

The short answer is: most likely not.

However, humans are complex beings, and a variety of factors can influence our weight and overall well-being.

So, let's take a look at how you can achieve the weight loss you desire and what might be impeding your progress.

Is it possible to gain weight if you eat too little?

What science has to say

When it comes to losing weight, the science is clear: any approach that puts you in a calorie deficit will cause you to lose weight.

A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories from food and beverages than your body requires to keep you alive and active.

This is understandable because it is a fundamental law of thermodynamics:

We gain weight when we consume more energy than we expend.

We lose weight when we consume less energy than we expend.

But this is where the ease of use ends.

The number of calories you'll need to burn in order to achieve a deficit is highly individual and will change over time as you age, your activity level changes, your metabolism changes, and your body fat percentage changes.

This formula can be used to calculate your daily calorie needs, but it should only be used as a starting point because it never takes into account how effective your metabolism is.

We need to look at some of the factors that can affect your metabolism to figure out why you aren't losing weight.

Is it possible to have a low metabolic rate if you eat too few calories?

The body is a very intelligent machine in that it understands how to effectively regulate its many processes in order to maintain homeostasis (keeping a constant weight).

In the context of dieting and weight loss, this means that if you severely restrict your food intake, your body will simply lower its metabolic rate, burning fewer calories.

Of course, if your body begins to burn fewer calories per day, losing weight will become much more difficult, but the problem is much more serious.

If you don't provide your body with the energy it requires to fuel your daily activities, it will have to find it elsewhere. You might think it will start with your stored body fat, but it will also start breaking down your lean muscle mass so that it can be converted to glucose and burned for energy.

This causes a snowball effect in which you hold less muscle, causing your metabolism to slow even further.

According to a study of Biggest Loser contestants, if you have achieved dramatic weight loss very quickly, you may find that you now need to eat significantly fewer calories than your peers to even maintain your weight.

If you decide to reduce your calorie intake, never do so too quickly. When you first begin dieting to lose weight, the best thing to do is to cut around 300-500 calories per day from your regular diet, also known as your'maintenance calories.'

Cutting a few hundred calories per day will allow you to lose 1 – 3 lbs per week, which is just about right to ensure you are losing fat and not muscle.

If your weight loss plateaus for a week or two, simply cut a few hundred calories or consider adding some extra exercise.

Keeping track of your calorie intake in order to lose weight

Unfortunately, most people who are trying to lose weight underestimate the number of calories they consume on a daily basis. According to scientific studies, 18 to 54 percent of people underreport how much they eat, and in some subgroups, the underreporting rate is as high as 70 percent.

This does not imply that people are lying, but rather that it is difficult to estimate food intake, especially if you did not prepare the food yourself.

One way to see if you're measuring your food correctly is to use a food scale and keep an electronic food diary like MyFitnessPal or CalorieKing. I recommend using a food scale instead of cups and spoons because it is more precise.

Another issue with estimating calorie intake is that some people will be very strict during the week and then "let-go" and not track or pay attention on the weekends.

I'm all for a more relaxed approach to dieting, but if you end up significantly overeating over the weekend, you may find yourself no longer in a calorie deficit overall.

Other possible explanations for why you aren't losing weight while dieting

People struggle to lose weight for a variety of reasons. Taking care of the underlying issue may be just what you need to reach your weight-loss goals.

Some medical conditions and medications can cause you to gain weight.

Some medical conditions, such as Cushing's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypothyroidism, can cause you to gain weight or make losing weight difficult.

If you're experiencing unexplained weight gain or have previously struggled with these, talk to your doctor about it and possibly have your medication adjusted.

Steroids and some antidepressants can also cause weight gain. Don't stop taking your medications, but talk to your doctor about changing the doses or finding an alternative.

You're dieting, but not to lose weight.

In reality, dieting and eating less is highly subjective. For some, dieting entails only eating whole foods, eliminating specific food groups or no snacks or sweets, eating fewer meals than usual, intermittent fasting, calorie restrictions, and the list goes on.

But the thing is, if you're not in a calorie deficit, you can do all of those things and still not lose weight.

Calorie restriction has also been shown to cause people to be less active.

Remember that a calorie balance is a balance of how many calories your body requires and how many calories you consume, so a significant decrease in your activity level could tip the scale and halt your weight loss.

It just takes time.

Another common reason why people do not lose weight despite lowering their calorie intake is that they do not give it enough time.

Our bodies will do everything they can to keep our fat reserves, and you may need to be in a calorie deficit for a while before you see any meaningful weight loss.

You may notice a significant drop in your weight the first week, but this is most likely due to water and waste, and you should not expect to see that type of weight drop week after week.

Sleep deprivation

Aside from time, another factor that may be influencing you is your sleeping habits. Sleep deprivation is frequently linked to a higher BMI, though the exact relationship is unknown.

Why undereating may be harmful to your health!

If you decide to continue eating very few calories, you should be aware that you may be jeopardizing your health.

When your body goes into starvation mode, you are more likely to experience physical and mental complications, such as

  • Low blood pressure and a slow heart rate

  • Abnormal heart rhythms

  • Hair thinning

  • Fingernails that are brittle

  • Women's menstrual period loss

  • Dizziness

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Anemia

  • Your joints are swollen.

  • Bone brittleness

  • Depression

Under eating can also lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, obsessive food thinking, and possibly eating disorders.

If you're not losing weight despite being in what you believe to be a calorie deficit while tracking everything you eat and drink, you should:

  • When you visit your doctor for your annual physical, mention your weight loss journey.

  • Increase your physical activity to create a larger calorie deficit.

  • Get enough sleep and try to keep your stress levels as low as possible.



My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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Consistency leaves clues

Hundreds of clients of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities have put their health in our hands over the years and achieved truly remarkable results. 

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