Low Calorie Diets!

Happy New Year everyone!

It’s that time of year when everyone starts thinking more about their health and their New Years resolutions. Mary was no different than you, I’ll tell you a story about her:

It’s January 1st, and Mary is really excited to start her new diet. It’s a new year and it’s time to get serious! Mary is 46 years old, 5’5” and weighs 185 pounds, and would consider herself pear shaped. Mary decides that she’s going to try a low calorie diet since she feels guilty from indulging too much over the holidays. Mary decides 1,000 calories is a low enough number to see the scale move, and she wants to see quick results. Mary cuts some of her favorite foods from her diet, skips meals, and starts to do thirty minutes of jogging every day. She heard that burns a lot of calories. She’s dedicated and going to do whatever it takes to finally lose that weight. Mary is plugging along for a month and looking and feeling better, she’s even lost five pounds! She’s pumped! Yet, it seems odd to Mary that she hasn’t really noticed changes in her body composition, she still feels “flabby”, especially around her hips and belly. She starts to notice other things too, her face looks sunk in and lifeless, she’s getting poor sleep, snapping at her family members, unable to concentrate at work, and all she can seem to think about is food. Mary ends up getting frustrated with how she was looking and feeling, and went back to her normal eating habits and stopped exercising. She thinks it will work better for her the next time she tries a low calorie diet when things are less hectic. Mary quickly gained back the five pounds she lost and gained five extra pounds in the following month. She now weighs 190 pounds. She blames herself for not being able to “stick with it” and now she’s depressed about her current weight gain. She’s confused because everyone tells her, “if you want to see results, you have to have a calorie deficit.” Mary’s thought process was, the lower calorie diet she went on, the faster she would see results.

Unfortunately, of the five pounds lost, Mary lost four pounds of muscle and one pound of fat from January 1st to February 1st. After Mary went off her diet (who can blame her with the way she was feeling!), she gained ten pounds of fat and no muscle from February 1st to March 1st. Two months have gone by and now Mary weighs five more pounds than when she started her diet and has ten extra pounds of fat on her body! She’s even more frustrated now. She feels guilty, sad, and hopeless. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to eat less than 1000 calories the next time she tries a low calorie diet.

How did this happen to Mary?

Mary was not eating enough to sustain her daily activities, and she didn’t incorporate any strength training. Your body doesn’t know when you’re trying to lose weight when you go on a low calorie diet. Your body only knows that it’s not getting enough to eat. Your bodies survival instincts tell it you’re starving. If it’s starving, it will hold on to the fat on your body and eat up the muscle as a survival mechanism. This is one of the reasons people get so frustrated when they go on low calorie diets and their body composition doesn’t change. Mary had great intentions, but her low calorie diet actually promoted fat storage. How annoying!!!

Is it possible to get out of the low calorie diet rut? YES!!!

My top two tips to get out of this rut are: slowly add calories back into your diet and begin a strength training program. By doing this, you can avoid seeing rapid fat gain and feeling frustrated like Mary did.

If you are currently on a low calorie diet, and you prefer counting calories, I would suggest adding 100-200 calories to your diet every couple of weeks until you’re at a sustainable weight. To find a sustainable caloric intake for Mary, I used this calculation: 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years). I’ll do the math for you, it’s about 1571 calories. Since Mary is going to be doing a strength training program with me, I would then multiply 1,571 calories by 1.5. This equals 2,356 calories. I know what you’re thinking, 2,356 calories?!?! Are you crazy?!?! I’m not, science said so! This would be the number of calories that Mary would need to maintain her current weight. Since Mary would like to lose weight, I would suggest that she eats between 1,700 and 1,900 calories a day. It would take Mary about 10-15 weeks to slowly bring her calories up to the suggested amount. Be patient, especially if you don’t want to go on a low calorie diet again. And, I’m sure you’ve heard, slow and steady wins the race. Be the tortoise!


If you’re not a calorie counter (or don’t want to do the math), which is how I coach most clients, I would make it more simple. Simply pick one meal a day to add a little extra food to. This could be anything like adding a small avocado to your morning scramble, adding a boiled egg to your salad, eating an extra serving of fruit, adding a small handful of nuts to a snack, or eating just a little bit bigger piece of protein, etc. Again, you would increase food at one meal every one to two weeks, until you’re at a sustainable and healthy intake. Nutrition is where most people see the majority of their results, but don’t forget the strength training portion!

The reason I want Mary (and you!) on a strength training program is because it will help her (and you!) hold on to the muscle she has as she ages and it will dramatically change her body composition. Muscle takes more energy (calories) to maintain than fat. If Mary can hold onto the muscle she has and maybe even add a pound of two of muscle to her frame, she will become more of a calorie burning machine. She will protect her bones, develop skills, improve balance, improve strength and body composition, reduce chronic pain, reduce the risk of disease and diabetes, and improve her attitude! AWESOME!!! I LOVE muscles!

Can you relate with Mary? How many times have you tried a low calorie diet? Is the damage you may have done in the past reversible? Absolutely!!! I’m here to answer any questions you have. Let’s work together to find a healthy balance, and help you achieve your goals through a nutrition and exercise plan!