Losing weight and saving money aren't all that different. While the latter requires spending less, the former requires consuming fewer calories. But what some people don't realize is that cutting too many calories can actually stall weight loss, says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.
"Restricting calories too much almost always backfires," Young cautions. And that's because the body actually needs calories to burn calories. It's a lot like when you want to light a fire. You need to throw kindling in the fireplace to ignite it, she says.
Think of food as your body's kindling; it sparks your metabolism, making weight loss possible. When you're eating enough, the body first uses food for fuel, then turns to the fat it's been holding onto for energy, Young says. But restrict calories too severely, and your body goes into "starvation mode," and starts to break down lean muscle tissue to reserve its energy stores. Ultimately, this can slow metabolism, making it tougher to lose weight.
Plus, it's tough to stick to a super low-calorie diet. Not eating enough for breakfast, for example, will leave you famished, making it harder to skip that cinnamon bun in your morning meeting or lead you to overeat at lunch.
While calorie needs differ based on activity level, goals, and gender, most women should consume at least 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. Once you dip below that number, it becomes difficult for the body to perform basic biological functions that keep us healthy. Not sure if you're hitting that number—or the number that's right for you? Here are a few signs that you may not be eating enough to see the scale tip in your favor. (Psst! Did you know your body has six key fat-fighting hormones? See how to balance and boost them—and lose up to 40 pounds in the process—with The Hormone Fix.)