Cutting calories drastically may seem like the quickest path to weight loss, but there are plenty of good reasons why you shouldn’t cut your calories too much.
Given the choice between losing weight quickly or losing weight slowly, most people would probably opt for a quick fix. And that’s understandable. Once you’ve decided to get rid of excess fat, you simply want it gone—and the sooner, the better. But when quick weight loss results from a drastic cut in your calorie intake, it also comes at a price.
Part of the problem with cutting calories too much is that it’s simply too difficult to do it for very long. Soon, you give up and end up right back where you started. That leaves you frustrated and even more convinced that you “just can’t lose weight!”
The rate at which you are losing weight is one of the best ways to gauge if you’re cutting your calories too much. In general, a safe rate of weight loss is in the range of 1-2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) per week. During the first week or two of dieting you may lose a bit more. That’s normal and is usually due to the loss of extra fluid. But if you’re consistently losing a lot more than a couple pounds per week, you may be cutting your calorie intake too far.
In order to lose at a safe rate, you need to create a deficit of 500 calories per day (to lose a pound per week) to 1000 calories per day (to lose two pounds). This is best done by a reduction in your calorie intake, coupled with an increase in the calories you burn through exercise. So, for example, if you were to cut 300 calories a day from your usual intake and burn an extra 200 calories by ramping up your activity, you’d create a 500 calorie per day deficit. From that you should expect to lose about a pound in a week’s time.
In order to have enough calories to work in all the nutritious foods your body needs, you shouldn’t drop your daily intake below 1200 calories—otherwise, it’s just too hard to meet your nutrient needs. If you can’t cut many calories from your diet without dropping below a daily intake of 1200 calories, then you’ll want to step up your activity level. You’ll also need to accept that it may take you a little longer to reach your goal.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.