Can you gain weight by eating too little?
First thing’s first: As a general rule, eating less helps you to lose weight. But when you eat too little, your body may think it’s entering starvation mode, and as a result, your rate of weight loss may slow down. It is, however, very unlikely that you’ll gain weight when you’re eating very little. (No matter how often you’ve been told that by calorie restriction enthusiasts and the odd multinational food conglomerate!)
What does “eating too little” even mean?
It varies from person to person. Basically, research suggests that cutting your calories back by more than 40% on average is not a great idea. Studies show that this kind of extreme calorie restriction isn’t good for you. It can result in things like muscle wasting, slowing of weight loss, weakness, and depression. Therefore, it’s important not to exceed this average level of calorie restriction.
How do I know how much I should be eating?
Ahh, good question! There is a formula for that. You can figure out your upper calorie restriction limit using a calculation called TDEE (or total daily energy expenditure.) TDEE, is basically the total number of calories you need each day to maintain your weight. To calculate your TDEE, enter your height, weight, age, sex and activity level into this online calculator.) Let’s say this value turns out to be 2000 calories per day. This would be right for the average woman, who is about 5’6″ and approximately 70 kilos.
From this TDEE calculation, you then need to figure out what a 40% reduction would be. So, just multiply 2000 x 0.4 = 800 calories. Finally, subtract 2000 – 800, which gives you 1200 calories per day. This would be your calorie restriction limit.
To summarise, a person who needs 2000 calories per day shouldn’t dip below 1200 calories per day on average. If they do this consistently, they may experience several negative consequences of weight loss (muscle wasting, slowing of weight loss, lethargy, depression, etc.)
But doesn’t intermittent fasting require me to dip below this number on certain days of the week?
It’s true that intermittent fasting and 5:2 diets require you to cap your energy intake at 600 calories on 2-4 fast days per week. However, if you’re eating a sufficient amount of food on your feast days, your average level of calorie restriction shouldn’t exceed 40% over the course of the week. As for time restricted feeding, (aka 16:8) just calculate your calorie restriction limit for the 8-hour eating window. And make sure you don’t restrict yourself too much.
So, can you gain weight by not eating enough?
Essentially, yes, but it isn’t all that easy. And you have to try pretty hard to eat little enough to actually slow weight loss or to gain weight. You have to significantly restrict your calorie intake, which means reducing it by more than 40% over the course of a week.
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