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Should I Eat More To Lose Weight? Understanding Why It Can Work

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Updated on
Should I Eat More To Lose Weight? Understanding Why It Can Work

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Overly restricting your calories can negatively impact your metabolic rate, hormones, and muscle mass—making it harder to lose weight and keep it off. 
  • In some cases, increasing your energy intake can fuel your activity level and boost your metabolism to support weight management goals. Eating enough calories may also help reduce the risk of overeating and binge eating. 
  • Start by prioritizing regular meals and snacks and eating from all of the food groups, focusing on nutrient-dense foods.

If you’re on a weight management journey, you’ve likely heard you must eat less and exercise more to lose weight.

However, the theory of calories in versus calories out doesn’t account for how dieting impacts your metabolism.

Not eating enough can hinder long-term weight management efforts in many cases.

Focusing on meeting your body’s needs with nutritious foods can help your metabolic health and prevent your body from being in starvation mode.

Read this article to learn more about the science behind eating more to lose weight. 

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Can Eating More Lead To Weight Loss?

Eating more to lose weight may seem counterintuitive at first.

Understanding why dieting and calorie restriction are not always effective for weight management can be helpful. 

The traditional approach of dieting to lose weight can result in short-term weight loss progress, but over time, your body has mechanisms that push back.

Research shows that over 80% of people on a diet regain the weight they lost after one year, which continues in subsequent years. 

Everyone has different calorie needs based on age, sex, activity level, and body size.

Eating too few calories can negatively impact your metabolism, making it hard to continue losing weight and keep off the lost weight. 

If you’re significantly restricting your food intake and exercising but not losing weight, it may be a sign you’re not eating enough to support a healthy metabolism. 

How Eating Habits Impact Metabolism

Your metabolism responds to dieting or calorie restriction in several ways by lowering the metabolic rate, altering hormone levels, and reducing muscle mass.

This is done in an attempt to protect your body from starvation, even though the diet is intentional.

Metabolic Rate

First, your body’s metabolic rate decreases when you restrict food intake to lose weight.

This means your body burns fewer calories to do the same daily activities. 

Chronic or yo-yo dieting can result in a vicious cycle of a person restricting calories, the metabolic rate lowering to compensate, and the person restricting calories further to achieve continued weight loss or maintenance. 

Over time, the metabolism becomes slower and slower, and the person reaches a point where they can’t decrease their calories any further.

The weight loss stops, and in many cases, weight regain occurs.

Hormones

Dieting can induce changes in hormones and body composition, which play a role in this process.

For example, research shows that the following hormones can be negatively impacted by weight loss:

  • Leptin (fullness hormone).
  • Ghrelin (hunger hormone).
  • Thyroid hormones. 
  • Cortisol (stress hormone).

These hormones can begin shifting within less than a week of starting a restrictive diet.

These changes impact your metabolic function and stimulate appetite and food cravings, encouraging weight regain

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Muscle Mass

Additionally, it’s common for muscle mass to decrease when dieting for weight loss. Less lean body mass leads to a slower metabolic rate. 

How To Know If You’re Eating Enough Calories For Weight Loss

It can be tricky to assess whether you are eating enough food to support your activity level and metabolic function.

You can monitor some factors to determine whether your calorie intake is adequate.

It’s common for appetite to increase while dieting.

If you always feel hungry, this can be a clue that you aren’t eating enough calories. 

In some cases, appetite can become suppressed, especially with chronic dieting.

Therefore, appetite may not always be a reliable measure of whether or not you’re eating enough calories for your body. 

Aside from your appetite, you can look out for other common symptoms of inadequate food intake, such as:

  • Low energy levels. 
  • Dizziness. 
  • Cold sensitivity. 
  • Irregular menstrual cycle (or lack of).
  • Digestive symptoms such as bloating or constipation. 
  • More frequent injuries in athletes. 
  • More frequent illnesses.

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How Eating More Could Help You Lose Weight

If you’re restricting calories and not losing weight, you may need more calories instead of continuing to decrease your intake.

Eating more might benefit your weight management efforts by protecting your metabolic rate, fueling your exercise, and reducing the frequency of overeating episodes. 

Boosts Metabolic Rate

Because your metabolic rate can decrease while dieting, shifting the focus to properly fueling your body can support a healthy metabolism.

It can take time for your body to adjust to this, especially if you’ve dieted for many years. 

Work with your healthcare team to prioritize nutrition and lifestyle habits that support your health goals. 

Prevents Binge Eating and Overeating

Because dieting can increase appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods, some people experience an increase in overeating while trying to restrict their food intake.

This may look like practicing high dietary restraint during the day but binge eating at night. 

It may also show up as yo-yo dieting, where a person restricts their diet for a period of time, and then “falls off the wagon.”

Though this is often seen as a matter of willpower, it can be driven by metabolic changes in response to the calorie restriction. 

Yo-yo dieting can lead to weight cycling, or recurrent weight loss and regain.

This can further damage the metabolism and may have a negative impact on heart health. 

Eating enough calories may support weight management goals by preventing this cycle from occurring.

If you frequently experience binge eating, talk to a trusted medical provider for support and treatment. 

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Provides Adequate Energy for Exercise

If you’re very active, it’s essential to make sure you properly fuel your exercise.

Research shows that when a person doesn’t eat enough to support their activity level, harmful metabolic and physiologic changes can occur.

Chronic, improper fueling of exercise (especially in athletes) can negatively impact weight management efforts as well as:

  • Hormones that regulate metabolism.
  • Bone strength. 
  • Immune health. 
  • Thyroid function.
  • Reproductive health. 

For example, research shows that female athletes who restricted their diet experienced more frequent injuries.

This is thought to be related to a decline in bone health and muscle mass from inadequate calorie intake. 

Eating enough can help prevent these issues while allowing your body to reap the benefits of regular exercise. 

Tips for Successfully Eating More and Losing Weight

The first step to eating enough is to use your hunger and fullness cues to guide your eating.

Eat when you feel hungry, and try to stop when you feel satisfied.

Do your best to avoid skipping meals. 

However, if you have a suppressed appetite, you may need a more structured meal and snack schedule to ensure you meet your energy needs.

A registered dietitian can recommend the best plan for you to meet your health goals. 

Next, try to include food from each food group so that your diet has a balance of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Focus on nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats as you increase your intake. 

Lastly, be sure to fuel your exercise properly.

Your dietitian can help you understand how your eating plan might change on days you participate in intense physical activity. 

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Takeaway

Restrictive dieting can reduce your metabolic rate and impact your hormones in a way that makes long-term weight loss difficult.

You may need to eat more if you constantly feel hungry and experience fatigue, dizziness, and irregular menstrual cycle. 

Work with a registered dietitian to practice eating regular, balanced meals and snacks.

Learning how to fuel your exercise properly can also help keep your metabolism strong. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

It can be confusing to figure out how much to eat to support a healthy metabolism for weight management.

A weight-management dietitian can help by assessing your eating pattern, anthropometrics, and activity level to determine whether you need to eat more to lose weight.

Find a provider near you through Nourish. Online appointments are covered by insurance and 94% of our users pay zero dollars out of pocket.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can eating more speed up weight loss?

Restricting your calories too much can slow your metabolism and hinder weight loss efforts over time.

In some cases, eating more can speed up weight loss because you are providing adequate fuel for your activity level, which can support a healthy metabolic rate. 

If you restrict your calories and exercise regularly but aren’t losing weight, you may not be eating enough to support a healthy metabolism.

Other signs of inadequate calorie intake include appetite fluctuations, fatigue, and loss of menstrual cycle in females.

Why do I lose weight when I eat more?

You may be surprised to find that you’re losing weight despite eating more.

Especially if you’re active, restricting your calories too much can damage your metabolism, making it hard to lose weight and keep it off. 

In many cases, eating more calories from nutrient-dense foods can provide adequate fuel for your activity level and help you have a strong metabolic rate and a healthy body.

How to speed up your metabolism?

You can support a healthy metabolism by focusing on eating enough calories to support your activity level.

Resistance exercises can help build muscle mass, which can boost your metabolism. 

Additionally, managing stress levels and prioritizing adequate sleep can also help balance hormones that regulate metabolism.

References

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