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The Unexpected Reason You're Not Losing Weight

You've cut out carbs, you're watching your fat intake and you meticulously count calories—but you just can't seem to drop that extra weight you've been dying to lose. Sound familiar?

Before you cut your meals even more drastically, pause for a moment and consider that in your efforts to cut calories and trim your waistline, you may in a chronic pattern of under-eating. And while, no, sadly, we're not encouraging you run out to the nearest Italian restaurant and get yourself two large anything with cheese, it's important that you take a moment to ensure that you're getting enough energy and nutrients on a daily basis with your diet plan to keep your body humming happily while you slim down and tone up. In short: Remember the Eat This, in "Eat This, Not That!"

"Under-fueling is just as risky as over-fueling," explains Carolyn Brown, MS RD at Foodtrainers in Manhattan–and she's not alone in her belief that consistently eating even slightly less than we should is a dangerous habit to get into. Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN agrees: "In an attempt for quick, noticeable weight loss, many people wrongfully believe that eating as few calories as possible is the best solution. Not only can this lead to numerous nutritional deficiencies as the body is getting less food overall, it can actually have the opposite effect on weight loss."

And it's not just extreme under-eating that can be a problem; coming in a couple hundred calories below where you should be is a harmful habit. Moskovitz explains that there are different "zones" of calorie intake covering everything from weight gain to weight loss, the most dangerous of which if the fourth zone, called the "red zone," "starvation zone" or "under-eating zone."

This fourth zone isn't efficient when it comes to weight loss. "When one eats so few calories that they enter this 'starvation zone' (for most people that means eating anything below 1300 calories per day), the body starts to slow down as a protective mechanism against potentially fatal side effects. This slow-down gets worse as time goes by, so after only a few days of low-cal eating, your body will already feel the effects of decreased resting energy expenditure–or basal metabolic rate–and less efficient calorie burn. Your body can even start to store, or hoard, the calories in case this starvation state persists." Even further, that 1300 calorie per day minimum is only a baseline–if you exercise vigorously for more than three hours per week, you'll have to up that number a bit. Reaching for a snack yet?

Another primary reason that under-eating can stunt your weight loss efforts is the starve-and-binge effect. Even if you stave off the urge to binge today, chances are the weight you take off by under-eating won't stay off. "Low-calorie or hard core diets are a temporary fix," says Brown. "Once you start eating normally again, you'll gain it all back, and then some." Moskovitz concurs, saying, "It is important to understand that if your goal is to lose weight successfully, keep the weight off, and improve health at the same time. In this case less is not more!" Further, Brown continues, skipping a meal or two doesn't just have a temporary impact on your satiety. "It's hard to recover once your blood sugar is off," she says. "Even when you do eat, you're often still unsatisfied."

In order to get yourself back on track to a healthful (and productive) diet, make a conscious effort to pay attention to your consumption. If you're not quite sure where your calorie counts are, keeping a diligent food journal for even a couple days can get you back on track and ensure you hit your minimum requirements. Don't shy away from healthy fats, either! Add these 8 Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny to your daily diet to trim down while feeling satisfied.

Eat This, Not That! Editors
Inspired by The New York Times best-selling book series, Eat This, Not That! is a brand that's comprised of an award-winning team of journalists and board-certified experts, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers, and dietitians who work together to bring you accurate, timely, informative, and actionable content on food, nutrition, dieting, weight loss, health, wellness, and more. Read more