Anyone who has tried to lose weight has heard the age-old formula: eat less, exercise more. This is intended to create a calorie deficit, where the body is using up more than it's taking in. The idea is to coerce your body into burning stored fat, but for many people low-calorie dieting ends up burning them out long before the fat is gone. This is not because of a lack of self-control or willpower. It happens because the very fundamentals of low-calorie dieting are downright wrong.
For people trying to lose weight by cutting calories, food suddenly becomes the enemy instead of a means to genuine health. Hunger pangs become a sign of success instead of a sign the body is craving nourishment. This kind of twisted reality - a world where we desire starvation to maintain a healthy weight - is contributing to modern disease and misery.
No one can actually say a certain amount of calories is right for everyone. There are many factors that can influence how many calories you need, such as genetics, lifestyle, exercise habits, etc. It's interesting to note the World Health Organization declared that starvation begins to occur under 2,100 calories per day, a number far more than most dieters assume they need. While we work so tirelessly to end starvation in third-world countries, in Western society we are starving ourselves on purpose.
To avoid the disaster of low-calorie dieting, we must define the term "low-calorie." It has come to have different meanings over the years. Not long ago, 1,200 calories per day was the standard number for dieting, and 800-calorie diets were not uncommon (900 calories, by the way, was the typical diet fed to prisoners in concentration camps during the second World War). These very-low-calorie diets still exist today. So many people cut back to 1,600 calories per day and assume this is not low-calorie dieting. This is an illusion. If you are eating less than your body needs to function at its best, then you are low-calorie dieting. When you are eating less than you need, your body perceives it as a signal of starvation. It is a simple, biological fact.
The idea of calories in versus calories out is a complete myth. The body is far more complex than that. There are hundreds upon hundreds of activities performed in your body at any given time - it needs fuel to perform these functions. If your body is not receiving the materials it needs from your diet, then it has no choice but to take from its only other source - itself. Most people assume your body will only use its stored fat for its various needs, but this is not true. Your body will also draw from your bones, muscle tissue and organ tissue. You may lose some fat, but it will be at the sacrifice of vital living tissues. This is not a good state to be in, so your body slows down your metabolism to prevent its own destruction. After all, your body has one natural instinct - to survive.
Many people who have been on low-calorie diets experience side effects like fatigue, depression, hair loss, dry skin, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, irregular menstrual cycles and a lack of interest in sex. Over time symptoms worsen and the body weakens until illnesses and allergies become frequent, and eventually degenerative diseases are more likely to occur. This deterioration may be fast or slow, depending on how extreme your diet is.
Another side effect of low-calorie dieting: when people focus on slashing calories, usually fat is the first to go - because fat has nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram in protein and carbohydrates. It may seem like a logical choice, but it's a poor one. The body treasures its dietary fat, which is used to coat every cell and is required for countless functions in the body. Getting plenty of healthy fats also satiates the appetite and prevents food cravings, so cutting them out does nothing but hinder weight loss efforts. Eliminating healthy, natural fats seems to exacerbate and accelerate all of the above-mentioned side effects of low-calorie dieting.
Eventually most people find it difficult to maintain a low-calorie diet, and after their diet many find they must eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain than before. Others continue on the low-calorie bandwagon, usually hitting a plateau which triggers them to "buckle down" and cut even more calories or exercise excessively to cause the coveted calorie-deficit. The body feels the effects of starvation even more, and fights back. At this point it often feels like your body is working against you - and you're right. It's fighting you with everything it has. The body will stop clinging so desperately to stored fat when it no longer fears starvation because it's receiving proper nourishment from food.
The idea of eating hundreds more calories every day may seem unusually generous to some, but it is not permission to eat irresponsibly. What's most important is making sure the foods you eat are natural, nutrient-dense choices. Choose whole foods - your body understands how to use these foods to their full advantage. Eat foods in the most natural state possible, and implement traditional practices like soaking grains, beans and nuts overnight before eating or cooking them. Avoid processed foods like refined grains, sugar, alcohols, aspartame, saccharin, monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrates and nitrites, and the rest of the gamut of food additives. These impair the body and prevent real nutrients from being utilized properly.
It's time to rethink the tired theory of low-calorie dieting. It's time to consider the fact that the body will quit hanging on to stored fat when it is properly nourished with healthy, natural foods it can use to rebuild. It's time to stop resisting food and realize it is the only path to healing.