Can you gain weight from eating too little? No, but here’s why it’s so easy to think you can.

You’re tracking your eating and exercise meticulously but not seeing results. Has your metabolism slowed to a crawl? Are your hormones off? Is it really possible to GAIN weight from eating too LITTLE? Here’s what’s really going on—and how to solve it.

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“How can I be eating so little, and still gaining weight?”

Have you ever felt this way? (Or had a client who has?)

In my years as a coach, it’s a question that’s come up time and time again—from both clients and fellow coaches.

They’re confused. Frustrated. Maybe even angry. (Or certainly “hangry.”)

Despite doing everything they can, including eating less—maybe a lot less—they’re still not losing weight. In fact, they might even be gaining.

Do a quick Internet search and you’re bound to find lots of explanations.

Some folks say that the laws of energy balance apply, and that people aren’t counting calories properly. Others call it “starvation mode”, or some weird metabolic or hormonal problem.

So what’s the deal? Is there something wrong with them? Are their bodies broken? Is it all in their heads?

Or can you actually gain weight from eating too little?

Let’s find out.

Truth: Thermodynamics don’t lie.

You’ve probably heard the phrase—the laws of thermodynamics—before. Or maybe you’ve heard it as energy balance. Or “calories in, calories out.”

Let’s break down what it actually means.

Thermodynamics is a way to express how energy is used and changed. Put simply, we take in energy in the form of food, and we expend energy through activities like:

  • basic metabolic functions (breathing, circulating blood, etc.)
  • movement (daily-life activity, purposeful exercise, etc.)
  • producing heat (also called thermogenesis)
  • digestion and excretion

And, the truth is…

Energy balance (calories in, calories out) does determine bodyweight.

  • If we absorb more energy than we expend, we gain weight.
  • If we absorb less energy than we expend, we lose weight.

This has been tested over and over again by researchers, in many settings.

It’s as close as we can get to scientific fact.

Sure, there are many factors that influence either side of this seemingly simple equation, which can make things feel a little confusing:

However, humans do not defy the laws of thermodynamics.

But what about unexplained weight changes? That time you ate a big dinner and woke up lighter? When you feel like you’re “doing everything right” but you’re not losing weight?

Nope, even if we think we’re defying energy in vs. energy out, we’re not.

And what about that low carb doctor who implies that insulin resistance (or some other hormone) mucks up the equation?

While hormones may influence the proportions of lean mass and fat mass you gain or lose, they still don’t invalidate the energy balance equation.

Yet, as the title of the article suggests, it is easy to understand why folks—even internet-famous gurus and doctors—get confused about this.

One reason why…

Measuring metabolism is tricky.

The fact is, your exact metabolic demands and responses aren’t that easy to measure.

It is possible to approximate your basal metabolic rate—in other words, the energy cost of keeping you alive. But measurements are only as good as the tools we use.

When it comes to metabolic measurement, the best tools are hermetically sealed metabolic chambers, but not many of us hang out in those on the regular.

Which means, while we may have our “metabolism” estimated at the gym, or by our fitness trackers, as with calorie counts on labels, these estimates can be off by 20-30 percent in normal, young, healthy people. They’re probably off by even more in other populations.

Of course, if we could accurately measure how much energy you’re expending every day, and then accurately measure exactly how much energy you’re taking in and absorbing, we could decide whether you were truly “eating too little” for your body’s requirements.

But even if we could know this outside the lab, which we can’t, it wouldn’t be useful. Because energy output is dynamic, meaning that every variable changes whenever any other variable changes (see below).

In other words, unless we can exactly measure energy inputs and outputs from minute to minute, we can’t know for sure what your metabolism is doing and how it matches the food you’re eating.

So, most of the time, we have to guess. And our guesses aren’t very good.

Not only that, but the idea of “eating too little” is subjective.

Think about it. By “eating too little”, do you mean…

  • Eating less than normal?
  • Eating less than you’ve been told to eat?
  • Eating less than feels right?
  • Eating less than you need to be healthy?
  • Eating less than your estimated metabolic rate?
  • Eating less than your actual metabolic rate?

And how often does that apply? Are you…

  • Eating too little at one meal?
  • Eating too little on one day?
  • Eating too little every day?
  • Eating too little almost every day but too much on some days?

Without clarity on some of these questions, you can see how easy it is to assume you’re “eating too little” but still not eating less than your actual energy expenditure, even if you did some test to estimate your metabolic rate and it seems like you’re eating less than that number.

Most times, the problem is perception.

As human beings, we’re bad at correctly judging how much we’re eating and expending. We tend to think we eat less and burn more than we do—sometimes by as much as 50 percent.

(Interestingly, lighter folks trying to gain weight often have the opposite problem: They overestimate their food intake and underestimate their expenditure.)

It’s not that we’re lying (though we can sometimes deceive ourselves, and others, about our intake). More than anything, it’s that we struggle to estimate portion sizes and calorie counts.

This is especially difficult today, when plates and portions are bigger than ever. And energy-dense, incredible tasting, and highly brain-rewarding “foods” are ubiquitous, cheap, and socially encouraged.

When folks start paying close attention to their portion sizes using their hands or food scales and measuring cups, they are frequently shocked to discover they are eating significantly more than they imagined.

(I once had a client discover he was using ten tablespoons of olive oil—1200 calories—rather than the two tablespoons—240 calories—he thought he was using in his stir-fry. Oops.)

At other times, we can be doing everything right at most meals, but energy can sneak when we don’t realize it.

Here’s a perfect story to illustrate this.

A few years ago Dr. Berardi (JB, as he’s known around here) went out to eat with some friends at a well-known restaurant chain. He ordered one of their “healthier” meals that emphasized protein, veggies, and “clean” carbs. Then he finished off dinner with cheesecake.

Curious about how much energy he’d consumed, he looked it up.

Five. Thousand. Calories.

Incredibly, he hadn’t even felt that full afterwards.

If the calorie content of that one meal surprised someone with the expertise and experience of JB, how would most “normal” eaters fare? Good luck trying to “eyeball” things.

Also imagine a scenario where you were under-eating almost every meal during the week and maintaining an estimated negative energy balance of about -3,500 calories. Then, during one single meal, a “healthy” menu option plus dessert, you accumulated 5,000 calories.

That one meal would put you in a theoretically positive energy balance for the week (+1,500 calories), leading to weight gain!

Seriously, how would you feel if, after eating 20 “perfect” meals in a row and 1 “not so bad” meal, you gained weight? You’d probably feel like your metabolism was broken.

You’d probably feel like it’s possible to gain weight from eating too little.

But, again, the laws of thermodynamics aren’t broken. Rather, a whole bunch of calories snuck in without you realizing it.

Even more, the dynamic nature of metabolism can be confusing.

Another reason it can be easy to believe you gained weight eating too little (or at least didn’t lose weight when eating less) is because your metabolism isn’t like a computer.

For instance, you might have heard that one pound of fat is worth 3,500 calories, so if you cut 500 calories per day, you’ll lose one pound per week (7 x 500 = 3,500).

(Unless, of course, you downed 5,000 calories in a single meal at the end of the week, in which case you’d be on track to gain weight).

Except this isn’t how human metabolism works. The human body is a complex and dynamic system that responds quickly to changes in its environment.

When you undereat, especially over a longer period (that part is important), this complex system adapts.

Here’s an example of how this might play out:

  • You expend less energy in digestion because you’re eating less.
  • Resting metabolic rate goes down because you weigh less.
  • Calories burned through physical activity go down since you weigh less.
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (daily-life fidgeting, movement) goes down and you expend less energy through the day.
  • Your digestion slows down, and you absorb more energy from your food.

Your body will also adjust hormonal feedback and signaling loops. For instance:

  • Appetite and hunger hormones go up (i.e. we want to eat more, are more stimulated by food cues, may have more cravings).
  • Satiety hormones go down (which means it’s harder for us to feel full or satisfied).
  • Thyroid hormones and sex hormones (both of which are involved in metabolic rate) go down.

Your planned 500 calorie daily deficit can quickly become 400, 300, or even 200 calories (or fewer), even if you intentionally exercise as much as you had before.

And, speaking of exercise, the body has similar mechanisms when we try to out-exercise an excessive intake.

For example, research suggests that increasing physical activity above a certain threshold (by exercising more) can trigger:

  • More appetite and more actual calories eaten
  • Increased energy absorption
  • Lowered resting or basal metabolism
  • Less fidgeting and spontaneous movement (aka NEAT)

In this case, here’s what the equation would look like:

These are just two of the many examples we could share.

There are other factors, such as the health of our gastrointestinal microbiota, our thoughts and feelings about eating less (i.e. whether we view eating less as stressful), and so on.

The point is that metabolism is much more complicated (and interdependent) than most people realize.

All of this means that when you eat less, you may lose less weight than you expect. Depending how much less you eat, and for how long, you may even re-gain weight in the long run thanks to these physiological and behavioral factors.

Plus, humans are incredibly diverse.

Our metabolisms are too.

While the “average” responses outlined above are true, our own unique responses, genetics, physiology, and more means that our calorie needs will differ from the needs of others, or the needs predicted by laboratory tools (and the equations they rely on).

Let’s imagine two people of the same sex, age, height, weight, and lean body mass. According to calculations, they should have the exact same energy expenditure, and therefore energy needs.

However, we know this is not the case.

For instance:

  • Your basal metabolic rate—remember, that’s the energy you need just to fuel your organs and biological functions to stay alive—can vary by 15 percent. For your average woman or man, that’s roughly 200-270 calories.
  • Genetic differences matter too. A single change in one FTO gene can be an additional 160 calorie difference.
  • Sleep deprivation can cause a 5-20 percent change in metabolism, so there’s another 200-500 calories.
  • For women, the phase of their menstrual cycle can affect metabolism by another 150 calories or so.

Even in the same individual, metabolism can easily fluctuate by 100 calories from day to day, or even over the course of a day (for instance, depending on circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping).

Those differences can add up quickly, and this isn’t even an exhaustive list.

If you want to dig really deep into the factors that influence our energy balance, check this out:

The multifactorial nature of body weight.

In the end, hopefully you can see how equations used to predict calorie needs for the “average” person might not be accurate for you. And that’s why you could gain weight (or not lose weight) eating a calorie intake that’s below your measured (estimated) expenditure.

It’s also why some experts, who aren’t knowledgeable about the limitations of metabolic measurement, will try to find all sorts of complicated hormonal or environmental causes for what they think is a violation of thermodynamics.

The answer, however, is much simpler than that.

The estimates just weren’t very good.

And yes, water retention is a thing.

Cortisol is one of our “stress hormones”, and it has effects on our fluid levels.

Food and nutrient restriction is a stressor (especially if we’re anxious about it). When we’re stressed, cortisol typically goes up. People today report being more stressed than ever, so it’s easy to tip things over into “seriously stressed”.

When cortisol goes up, our bodies may hold onto more water, which means we feel “softer” and “less lean” than we actually are. This water retention can mask the fat loss that is occurring, making it seem like we aren’t losing fat and weight, when in fact we are.

Here’s an example.

A good friend of mine (and former high school hockey teammate) was struggling to make the NHL. He had played several seasons in the AHL (one step down from the NHL) and had just been called up to the pros.

The NHL club wanted him to stay below 220 lbs (100 kg), which was a challenge for him at 6’2”. He found that eating a lower-carb diet allowed him to maintain a playing weight around 218 lbs.

Yet his nutrition coach told him it was OK to have some occasional higher-carb days.

Unfortunately for him, he had one of these higher-carb days—going out for sushi with his teammates—right before his first NHL practice.

The next day, when reporting to the NHL team, he was called into the GM’s office to get weighed. He was 232 lbs (105 kg).

Thanks, carbs and salt!

My friend was crushed. Even worse, two days later he was back to 218 lbs.

OK, but what if I track my intake and expenditure meticulously?

You might be nodding your head, beginning to realize how complex metabolism is. How inaccurate calorie counts can be. How variable we all are. How much the body seeks to maintain the status quo. And how poor we are at estimating our own intake and expenditure.

But what if you are meticulously tracking intake? Logging your meals? Counting your steps? Even hitting a local research lab to measure your metabolism? And things still aren’t adding up?

Well, it goes back to what we’ve discussed so far:

  • The calorie counts of the foods you’ve logged might be higher than expected, either because of erroneous labeling or because of small errors in your own measurement.
  • Your energy needs might be lower than calculated (or even measured). This may be because…

  • You’re expending less energy through movement than your fitness tracker or exercise machine suggests.
  • You have less lean mass as you think, or it may not be as energy-consuming as you expect.
  • You’re absorbing more energy in digestion than you realize (for instance, if your gastrointestinal transit time is slow, or your microbiota are really good at extracting nutrients).

Maybe you’re just missing some data.

As mentioned above, while you’re probably not outright lying, it could be that you’re also “forgetting” to account for the few bites of your kids’ chicken nuggets that you didn’t want to go to waste. Or that extra spoonful of peanut butter. Or the large glass of wine you counted as a ‘medium’. Likewise, the calorie counts on those food labels can be (and often are) off.

Maybe you’re counting your workout as high intensity, even though you spent much of it sitting on a bench between low-rep strength sets. Maybe you were so hungry afterwards, you ate more than you intended (but figured it was all going to muscle-building, so no biggie).

It happens; we’re all human.

Measuring and tracking your energy intake carefully can help.

When we measure and track for a while, we become more aware of what we’re eating, get a more realistic idea of our portion sizes, and help ourselves be consistent and accountable.

But measuring and tracking definitely is not a perfect strategy.

It can be stressful and time-consuming. Most people don’t want to do it forever.

And it may misrepresent the “exact” calories we consume versus the “exact” calories we burn, which can lead us to believe we’re eating less than we’re burning, even when we’re not.

What about legitimate medical problems?

Whenever we arrive at this point of the discussion folks usually ask about whether underlying health problems, or medications, can affect their metabolism, weight, and/or appetite.

The answer is yes.

This includes things like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), certain pharmaceuticals (corticosteroids or birth control), severe thyroid dysfunction, sex hormone disruption, leptin resistance, and more.

However, this is less common than most people think, and even if you do have a health issue, your body still isn’t breaking the laws of thermodynamics.

It’s just—as discussed above—that your calorie expenditure is lower than predicted. And a few extra calories may be sneaking in on the intake side.

The good news: weight loss is still possible (albeit at a slower pace).

If you truly feel that you are accurately estimating intake, exercising consistently at least 5-7 hours a week, managing your sleep and stress, getting expert nutritional coaching, and covering absolutely all the fundamentals, then it may be time to consider further conversations and testing with your doctor.

So what can you do?

If you feel your intake is less than your needs, (in other words, you’re eating what feels like ‘too little’) but you still aren’t losing weight, here are some helpful next steps to try.

Measure your intake.

Use whatever tools you prefer. Your hands, scales and spoons, pictures, food logs, etc. It doesn’t matter.

Track your intake for a few days or a full week, to see if it adds up to what you “thought” you were eating. We are often surprised.

Sometimes, just the act of tracking increases our awareness of our intake, which helps us make better choices.

Be compassionate with yourself.

It may feel like being strict or critical is a good approach, but it isn’t. It just makes you more stressed out.

Conversely, research shows that being kind and gentle with yourself (while still having some grown-up honesty about your decisions) helps you have a healthier body composition, make wise food choices, stick to your fitness goals better, feel less anxious and stressed, and have a better relationship with food overall.

There are going to be meals or days where you don’t eat as you “should”. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. Recognize it, accept it, forgive yourself, and then get back on track.

Choose mostly less-processed whole foods.

Foods that aren’t hyper-rewarding or hyperpalatable are harder to over-eat. They don’t cause hypothalamic inflammation and leptin resistance.

They have lots of good stuff (vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, phytonutrients, disease-fighting chemicals, etc.) and are usually lower in calories.

And they are usually far better at keeping you full and satisfied.

Choose whole foods that you enjoy and will eat consistently.

Play with macronutrient levels.

Some people respond better to more carbs and fewer fats. Others respond better to higher fats and few carbs.

There’s no single best diet for everyone. We all have different preferences, and even different responses to foods and macronutrients. So play with this a bit, and find what works for you.

Own your decisions.

Let your adult values and deeper principles guide you when you sit down to eat. Make food choices by acknowledging the outcome you would expect.

Avoid playing mental games like “If I’m ‘good’ then I get to be ‘bad”, or “If I pretend I didn’t eat the cookies, then it didn’t happen”.

Face your behavior with open eyes, maturity, and wisdom.

Accept that all choices have consequences.

And appreciate that it’s OK to indulge sometimes.

If you are still having trouble, get coaching.

Behavior change and sustained weight loss are hard. Especially when we try to go it alone.

Seek out a qualified and compassionate coach or professional who can help you navigate these tricky waters.

(Might I suggest Precision Nutrition Coaching?)

If you’re a coach or professional, here’s how to help people with this.

If you’re working with clients or patients as a service provider, be empathetic. Remember, it can be incredibly easy to believe that we’re “doing everything right” and yet not seeing results.

Instead of jumping to conclusions or rushing in with reasons why your client isn’t succeeding, instead, follow these steps:

Step 1: Be compassionate and curious.

Understand that most people in this space are probably frustrated and/or beating themselves up. Don’t dial up some “tough love” and call them liars.

Be empathetic and gently curious.

Step 2: Gather (accurate) data.

Have people show you what they’re doing to the best of their ability. Pictures, food logs, tracking apps… whatever suits their level of ready, willing and able.

While meticulous tracking isn’t usually a good long-term solution, it can help both of you to get some more accurate data.

Step 3: Have a crucial conversation.

If you think this means being Coach Hardass, you are off the mark. Remember:

  • You are both working together in an alliance against the problem, not against each other.
  • You both want your client or patient to succeed.

Bring facts to the table, not opinions. What you see and what they see are likely different.

Step 4: Help them feel safe.

If someone is hiding from you foods that they ate, that is at least partly your responsibility.

For whatever reason, the individual doesn’t feel comfortable telling you they aren’t doing what they think they should.

This needs to be explored together. Slowly. Gently. With a curious, and non-judgemental mind.


A final note on body composition.

Before wrapping up I wanted to mention something important.

In this article I decided to focus only on the body weight implications of the energy balance equation because that’s all the equation really describes (i.e. net transfers of energy).

Changes in body composition (i.e. your relative proportions of lean tissue and body fat) are, if you can believe it, much more complicated and far less comprehensively studied.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that helps them adopt simple but effective habits they can sustain—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

What’s it all about?

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Developed over 15 years, and proven with over 100,000 clients and patients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

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If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.

Top 10 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

Weight Loss

Failing to see results despite your best efforts at losing weight? These 10 weight-loss blunders might just tell you why.

Failing to see results despite your best efforts at losing weight? These 10 weight-loss blunders might just tell you why.

If you’ve been adhering to a strict healthy eating and fitness plan for a while but are failing to see the results, it may be time to rethink your weight loss strategy. From dieting blunders to physical factors, any of these 10 reasons could be why you’re not losing weight.


You’re overcompensating

Whether a hard session at the gym or a long week of exercising military willpower against unhealthy foods, we all have a tendency to reward ourselves for hard work. However, treating yourself too much for work done can be counterproductive, and even undo the hard work you’re supposed to be rewarding.

We frequently overestimate the calories we burnt in exercise and underestimate those in our healthy diets, and rewarding yourself for this can increase the net calorie intake, halting your progress. It is important to carefully monitor what you’re eating and burning to ensure that you don’t unpick the hard work already done.

Keeping a log of calories eaten and burnt can be a beneficial way of ensuring you don’t overcompensate for work done, and as important as making sure you do reward yourself with satisfying and tasty foods, it is important that these treats are controlled and not abused.


You’re not getting enough sleep

You may think that cutting back on sleep to make time for a workout is great for your health and fitness, however not getting enough sleep could actually minimize the benefits of exercise and cause you to gain weight. Not only can sleep deprivation affect exercise performance and endurance, but it slows down your metabolism, increases appetite and makes you more likely to give into cravings. Not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, encouraging you to reach for the cupboards more, whilst decreasing the hormone leptin that stimulates fullness.

Not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite…

Sleep also provides the needed recovery from both exercise and day-to-day life, and without muscle and mind recovery, your willpower and motivation will decrease. Stress is also a significant factor in the progress of weight loss, when stressed the body is in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, increasing the levels of cortisol, an appetite stimulant. Getting adequate rest and recuperation through sleep, advised around eight hours, will reduce stress and help you control appetite.


You’re drinking too many sugary drinks

When working hard to keep up your exercise regime and eat cleanly, you can sometimes forget that fluids have an impact on calories. Picking up a tasty coffee on the way to work or embracing a weekend with a few alcoholic drinks can add greatly to your calorie intake without even realising it. Sugary drinks, particularly carbonated drinks, are the enemy to any diet as we generally don’t associate fluids with calories.

While we all know the main calorie culprit when it comes to our drinks is alcohol, you should also consider the calories in fruit juice, smoothies, soft drinks and many hot drinks.

Substituting these devious devils can be easily accomplished; fruit juices for no-sugar cordials, putting sweetener and fat-free milk in hot drinks, and sticking to lower calorie spirits such as gin and vodka, can all help when trying to avoid drinking your calories. It is worth remembering however, carbonated drinks, even diet ones, are detrimental to diets. Even sugar free or diet sodas will affect your body’s reaction and cravings for sugar, and so it is worth remembering that despite the ’zero’ calorie label, carbonated drinks are generally harmful to your waistline and should be given a wide berth.


You’re not exercising portion control

If you’re eating low fat, healthy meals but still not losing weight, it may be worth looking at your portion sizes. While you may think that you’re only eating three meals a day, with the increasing portion sizes many of us consume, you could actually be eating the equivalent of six or more standard serving sizes each day. It is worth remembering that although the food you’re eating may be healthy, it should still be eaten in moderation, as eating too much of anything will cause you to gain weight.

It is important to remember also a lot of typically health foods can stifle your weight loss due to their rich calorie or fat contents.

It is important to remember also a lot of typically health foods can stifle your weight loss due to their rich calorie or fat contents. For example, 100g of pumpkin seeds, a healthy and nutritious snack, has 610 calories compared to 100g of salted pringles, a relatively fattening and insubstantial snack, has only 524 calories. It would not be beneficial to replace seeds and nuts with crisps, as unhealthy snacks contain more fat which can be equally damaging to waistlines, but consuming large quantities of healthy foods could be what is stopping you from shifting those unwanted pounds.


You’re eating too little or skipping meals

While eating too much food is the most obvious cause of weight gain, eating too little can also hinder your ability to shift the pounds. Your body has a natural instinct to protect itself, so when it is not given an adequate amount of food and nutrients it will automatically go into starvation mode when deprived of such nutrition, causing the metabolism to slow down and the body to hoard food as fat. As a result, it will become much more difficult for you to lose weight.

Think of your body as an animal preparing for hibernation; when deprived of nutrients, the body will prepare for this shortage of food by storing any food eaten as fat. This is because when exhausted of its carbohydrate stores, its next option is to burn fat and protein. The body needs to reserve its muscle store and so will choose fat over protein as fuel.

When in starvation mode, the metabolism will slow and will store any food eaten as fats to ensure that more fats are available for fuel instead of muscle. It is therefore important to keep your metabolism high and provide your system with fuel to ensure the aversion of this ‘starvation mode’.


Your diet is too limited

Restricting yourself to fad diets or extreme dieting can be worse for the waistline that eating too much or too little, cutting out certain foods altogether or not sticking to a healthy diet regime can affect the rate of weight loss. The body performs most efficiently on a balanced diet, receiving all the needed nutrients and minerals it requires and so completely cutting certain areas from your diet will only hinder your progress as the body needs a variety of foods.

Cutting fatty foods and typically unhealthy foods are key to weight loss, but totally elimination areas of diets are counterproductive. Fad diets and overly restrictive diets also also unsustainable over an extended period of time, completely cutting carbs or fat may work for a short period of time but is essentially unfeasible as you can start craving certain foods which even those with unbreakable willpower will eventually give into.


You don’t vary your workouts

If you’ve fallen into a rut with your exercise routine, you may no longer be getting the most out of your workouts. Doing the same workouts day after day can not only affect your motivation and excitement with exercise, but can put your body into a sedimentary regime, not producing the benefits exercise should be giving.

When you workout your body will improve in its fitness and ability of whatever you are training, but if you don’t push yourself, increase your intensity or change workouts, your body’s effort and improvement will plateau. Exercise will become ineffective and the results will slowly begin to dissolve.

Both mentally and physically, increasing intensity and mixing up your routines can significantly change your results…

Both mentally and physically, increasing intensity and mixing up your routines can significantly change your results, particularly the combination of cardio and weight training can encourage the reduction of your waistline quicker. Weight training can not only increase muscle mass, but increase metabolic rate encouraging weight loss, studies have shown that people who combine cardio and resistance training lose weight quicker than cardio alone.


You have a medical condition

Many medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid problems and hormonal imbalances can cause you to gain weight and make it very difficult to lose excess pounds. Also, hidden food allergies or intolerances can make it difficult to lose weight.

Making sure you are entirely health and not carrying some hidden illness or intolerance can be a significant factor, contributing not only to weight but overall health. Furthermore, while your medical condition itself may not cause weight gain, the side effects of certain medications may pile on the weight, so make sure to speak to your doctor about this if you are struggling to lose weight.


You’re not drinking enough water

Water can affect weight for a number of reasons; firstly water is an effective tool in suppressing your appetite. Too often do our bodies misconstrue hunger for dehydration and so drinking a glass of water before a meal, snack or even when you feel hungry will help your body identify when it is actually hungry to dehydrated. Cold water can even speed up the metabolism and help curb the cravings for sugar and fizzy beverages, typical issues in many people’s diets.

Water also ensures the proper functioning of the kidneys and digestive system, as without enough water the body uses the liver as additional support, resulting in the storing instead of burning of fat. Water is important both for hydration in exercise but also the controlling of appetite and functioning of vital organs, aiding the process of weight loss.


You don’t eat breakfast

As the first meal of the day, breakfast is considered as an important part of your diet, restoring the fuel and nutrients burnt through the night, breakfast is important way to prepare your body for the day ahead. Although dragging yourself out of bed 15 minutes earlier to ensure you eat may sound uninviting, breakfast should be an essential part of your day. Eating a hearty meal after sleep is an efficient way to control hunger and ensure fatigue or temporary starvation does not occur, helping you resist overeating or eating fatty foods at lunch time.

But breakfast also has physiological benefits; keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level, lowering cholesterol and keeping saturated fat low. Many studies and health sites will sing of the benefits breakfast has upon weight loss and so is an important way to kick start your metabolism and keep you weight loss under control.

Simple ways that can help: Plan Ahead.

If losing weight is an important goal then you should invest the necessary time needed to plan your workouts and your food. Keeping a food and exercise journal can be an important element to any weight loss regime, as we can sometime underestimate what we eat, exercise or how many calories we consume.

Recording how much you’re consuming and burning can be an effective way of visualising what it is you’re doing that is hindering weight loss. Although they don’t have to be stringently accurate, journals can be an effective way to keep track of your intake, helping you keep to food limits and aims.

The question: “It’s hard to recognize when I’m satisfied, so I end up accidentally overdoing it. But I’ve heard that eating too few calories can actually make me gain weight, too. Is that true?”

The expert: Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., founder of Real Nutrition NYC

The answer: Skimping on your food intake can throw your body for a loop and contribute to weight gain, says Shapiro. “There are clients of mine who come in and aren’t seeing any progress. I tell them they aren’t eating enough, they increase their intake, and they start to lose weight.” The reasoning behind this counterintuitive process lies in your body’s aversion to being deprived of food. “When you’re not eating enough, you can send your body into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down because it doesn’t know where its next round of calories is coming from,” says Shapiro.

MORE: The 8 Top Weight-Loss Saboteurs, According to Nutritionists

People cite intermittent fasting, which involves alternating days of very minimal food intake with regular eating, as evidence that you can scale way back on calories and still lose weight. It may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best strategy for you. “With intermittent fasting, you avoid starvation mode because some days you are, in fact, giving your body enough,” says Shapiro. “But on the other days, you’re still severely restricting, which I don’t see it being healthy as a long-term option.”

The calorie deficit necessary to enter starvation mode depends on various factors and is different for each person—but your body will likely send you some major signals if it’s not getting enough food. “You may feel dizzy, always hit that afternoon slump, get headaches, and of course, feel hungry a lot of the time,” says Shapiro. “Generally, you’ll feel lethargic and like you’re not performing at your highest level.”

Shapiro says that one time many people tend to skimp on food is after a workout. “People often try to overwork themselves during exercise and then cut calories by not refueling after,” she says. But your body needs those nutrients to rebuild itself after an intense bout of sweating.

MORE: 7 Ways to Snack for Weight Loss

So what if you always find yourself feeling satiated at 1,100 calories a day—less than the 1,200-calorie minimum most experts recommend staying above, even for weight loss? Shapiro says to look at what those calories are made of: “If those 1,100 calories are full of enough fat and protein to get you throughout your day, then that’s enough for your body,” she says. “But it’s about feeling legitimately satisfied, not lying to yourself just so you eat less.” If you routinely feel satiated while taking in fewer calories than the norm, you shouldn’t push yourself to eat more just to reach a number, she says. As long as you’re medically healthy, listen to your body. It’ll tell you when it needs more sustenance.

Shapiro recommends looking beyond calories and focusing more on the composition of your meals. “There are lots of diets out there that put a limit on your calories,” she says. “Let’s say 1,600 calories a day. That makes it easy to work around it because you can have 1,600 calories of pizza, chips, and candy. The thing is, those are very different from 1,600 calories of chicken, avocado, and olive oil.” Your body burns foods more efficiently when they’re less processed. Focusing on healthy whole foods also helps you avoid the blood sugar spikes and crashes that come with lots of processed diet foods, while delivering slow-burning energy that can make you say sayonara to the dreaded afternoon slump. Sounds like a win-win! Check out some filling foods that will do your body good, and get ready to revamp your grocery list.

MORE: The Ingredient That’s Crucial For Weight Loss

Whether you’re eating clean to drop some body fat, or eating more to sustain heavy lifting or marathon training, not eating enough is one of the worst things you can do for your body. Not only does it mean you’re getting less nutrition than your body needs, it also means you’re not as energized as you should be and probably less likely to give your workouts your best.

Log Your Meals

Counting your macros isn’t just an effective weight loss strategy, it’s also a great way to check just how much nutrition you’re getting from the meals you’re eating. Seeing how much and what you eat may inspire a change in your eating habits. Not only that, but logging your food can help you figure out what mealtimes need a little more love and planning.

Snack More

We all have different eating habits, so if you’re a grazer who hates sitting down to a meal, don’t try to overhaul your current lifestyle, simply make small changes. Prep nutritious snacks ahead of time, or stock up on store-bought, nutritious options.


Meal Prep

If you only ever have a time to grab a quick bite, prepping your meals ahead of time is an easy way to make sure that you always have something at hand to reach for that doesn’t require much work on the day but covers all your nutrition needs.

Schedule Your Meals

Eating on a schedule might sound a little regimented, but don’t be alarmed. Following a food schedule can be as easy as making sure you’re eating something nutritious every three hours between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., to ensure you’re having filling meals and energizing snacks in between.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Maria del Rio

This post is not meant to substitute for medical advice. Although technically I’m a doctor, I am in training and certainly not an expert in this field. If you think you may have a problem with food or eating, consult your doctor or call the helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
This post is based on my personal history, and I hope it’s helpful.
This lifestyle is meant to be healthy, but also happy, abundant, and not restrictive.
All kinds of food, without guilt.
Right around the time Jenn was starting What I Ate Wednesday, I did a couple posts called Thorough Thursday – before I found her and just joined WIAW because that was way cooler. Anyway I missed WIAW this week, but it’s been ages since I did a “what I ate today” post and I was planning on doing one.
In preparation, I was looking back at the “What I Ate Today” posts from the beginning of the blog in 2011, and I was really thrown by my intake. I rarely posted the calorie counts for my day on the blog (though see the above Thorough Thursday link for a nutritional breakdown) but during that time I was using the Lose It! App on my phone and counting calories every day. It’s been a couple years since I counted calories and I know eat much more intuitively.
The problem with my intake back then isn’t necessarily the calorie counting (although that can be a point of obsession for many) – it’s that the goal I set for myself was far too low. I would end up sticking to it for a little while, and then I couldn’t figure out why I would go on a tear and eat everything in sight when I’d been doing so well.
Truth was, I had been undereating and my body was not having it. The result wasn’t really any compromise to my health, because I never stuck to my calorie goal at the time, but there was a lot of guilt and anxiety centered around why I couldn’t meet these goals I had set myself.
So, embarrassed as I am at the bad example I was setting back then, I thought I’d write a few quick thoughts on that subtle undereating that can happen so easily when you’re trying to be healthy and counting calories:
Step 1
Realize that someone else’s diet, that online calculator, or that app may not give you an adequate picture of the minimum fuel your body needs.
I was shooting for 1200-1400 calories a day as an active person in my early 20s. I thought that was a reasonable number because I was trying to lose weight. The “1200” calorie rule as a minimum you may have heard of does not apply to everyone. I thought because 1200 was the minimum, the extra 100-200 would fuel my exercise and my busy day and that would be enough for me. It was not. My basal metabolic rate (BMR) is well above 1200, and my total daily needs are well above that. Fortunately and unfortunately my body would catch me up every once in a while with overwhelming cravings. This meant I’d feel guilty and totally physically sick from eating way too much. I needed more in order to have balance and improve my fitness, but I was way too stuck on the numbers.
Step 2
Recognize what may be disordered or unrealistic thoughts.
How could this have happened while I was actively in medical education? Shouldn’t I have known better?
The answer is probably. During this time, there was certainly a component of stubbornness to my goals. I wanted to lose weight, even though I was not overweight, as a matter of comfort with my body and confidence. I wanted to lose weight relatively fast, because I was impatient, and I didn’t want to hear that it would be healthier to do it slower. There’s a body of information out there that says “cut out 500 calories a day between diet and exercise, and you’ll lose a pound a week.” Historically, that was the prevailing paradigm, and if you have lots of weight to lose, that may be a nice way to think about it. However, if you’re a small person, you may not have room for a 500 calorie deficit before you’re below your BMR and undereating. A pound a week weight loss doesn’t sound that fast, but for me and many other people my size it’s unrealistic and not really a safe goal. Despite knowing in the back of my mind that it didn’t seem to be working, there was a long time before I was willing to give up the idea that I should be losing weight at that pace.
Step 3
Let go of the fear of what could happen if you eat more.
Whether it’s patients who are dealing with paying close attention to their eating, or peers who are trying to lose weight, frequently I get the impression that they feel the worst possible thing would be to gain weight – and I think I felt the same.
Chances are, if you’re eating healthfully and exercising, you won’t gain size. You may gain weight in the form of muscle, but in fact be smaller. It’s much more satisfying to judge progress on how you feel and how your clothes fit.
Let’s say though that you did gain weight and size. What’s so wrong with that? You might have more energy, and your body might be the size it’s supposed to be. Does being a few pounds heavier make you any less valuable or able to contribute to your world? No. And with more energy, you can do that much more good.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s compare some photos:
Feb 2011, Northern California
Feb 2014, Hawaii
What’s the difference between these 2 photos? Besides 3 years and the fact that one was taken with an iphone?
I’m probably about 8 pounds heavier in the lower one, which is somewhat visible I think. And my point is this – it just doesn’t matter.
2011 Me: What you can’t see is that the girl in this one was wildly anxious about eating too much, gaining weight, “How many calories are in this?”, “Will I be able to work out?” etc. I was an anxious second year medical student, paralyzed with fear that I wouldn’t pass Boards, make it out of medical school or match to a residency. Instead of facing that, I spent a lot of unnecessary energy on my size. I was certainly wonderfully happy sometimes, but it was a really hard period of my life.
2014 Me: This girl does not calculate calories, does not weigh herself, and made a lot of room in her brain for things that she really cares about. I’m an M.D. now, working hard at becoming the best possible pediatrician I can be.
That absolutely comes with a commitment to myself to be healthy. Eat well, get some physical activity, but not with the goal of being a certain weight or size, just with the goal of feeling well enough to accomplish all my other goals. That’s the point of healthy living.
I think with that realization, it’s easier to stop worrying and just be grateful.

As a fitness professional, I often encounter many different “diet” plans. As I have discussed before the word diet means calorie restriction. Naturally if it means calorie restriction the first thing one thinks about is eating LESS. I want to you to take a moment to think about this. Restriction is the fundamental basis that surrounds what we choose to do to lose weight. Restriction of how MUCH we eat comes first and then of WHAT we eat comes second. A conversation may sound like this. I am on a 1300 calorie diet. I am no longer eating this and that and I can only eat cabbage. A double dose of restriction leading to binge.

What Then: As I have not been bashful to share the fact that I choose o live a Paleo lifestyle I am not here to push that way of eating. Even those that I coach to eat this way have the same problem. They UNDEReat even the good stuff. Think about this for a minute. 1 Apple Fritter is 300 calories.

The picture of the Apple Fritter only represents a fraction of the plate and is not physically a huge amount of food. On the other hand let’s take a look at Brussels Sprouts. 1 cup of cooked brussels sprouts is approximately 65 calories. This would mean that we could eat nearly 5 cups of brussels sprouts to take in the same amount of calories. The picture that we need to PAINT here is how much space would 5 cups of Brussels Sprouts take on your plate?

Here is a look at the two:

Here is where the rub happens. I rarely see anyone not even myself who I eat like a pig put 5 cups of Brussels Sprouts on the plate. I see quite often someone eat 1 -2 apple fritters in a sitting. That is a whole other blog post. So here we go. Caloric restriction. We trade out some of the bad stuff for some of the goo stuff and then we pay no attention to the fact that we have a full plate of food but it is barely anything calorically speaking. I am not a huge fan of counting calories or paying much attention to them at all. Those that I coach get to throw out myfitness pal and eat as much of the good stuff as they want. Yes a whole food meal plan. Eat whole foods in abundance. How then do they UNDEReat. Lets take a deeper look at this.

After years of calorie counting and watching everything you have made some changes and are adopting a whole food lifestyle. You are starting to eat more veggies, fats and protein. You for the most part eat 3 times a day and your training 4-6 days a week. Although counting calories is unnecessary stress that will impede your weight loss it may be important to do for a few days or so to understand about what your consuming. We all have a BMR. This is our Basal Metabolic Rate. This tells us the number of calories we burn even if we stayed in bed all day. Go here to find out yours: BMR For Example mine is 1947. That means if I do nothing I burn nearly 2000 calories. Then I choose o exercise intensely and I burn an additional 5oo calories. That is 2500 calories I can eat to maintain my current body weight. If I want to shed a pound a week I would eat 2000 and if I wanted to gain I would take in 3000. This is very elementary compared to how complicated you can make it but I am trying to paint a picture. I have a client who is at 1700. She also is a long distance runner so she can easily burn another 1000 calories in a workout. What would happen if she only ate 1300 calories in a day. That’s Starvation. 1300 is not even enough to support lying in bed all day let alone an intense run. We have to have FUEL to keep going. So I hear all the time I’m tired and my body is not recovering. Have you ever seen a movie where someone is locked in a concentration camp with limited food. They are emaciated and look exhausted. This is the same thing that we tend to do to our bodies.

I don’t think we do this purposely. I think that it is important to know how much we burn at rest. Approximately how much we burn exercising and then get an idea based on what style of food consumption we choose what that looks like in food. That is where we miss and takes me back to the picture. We often do not know how many calories may be in a cup of spinach. We often consider those free calories but if you choose to eat Paleo you are eating a low carb higher fat style and your carbs are primarily coming from veggies. If you are eating a conventional approach to nutrition then you can take it into account however you want. We use all these fancy numbers to find out how much we should eat but we fail to include the caloric expenditure of exercise. We based these meal plans of equations of moderate activity and yada yada but then we run 15 miles.

STOP UNDEReating your way to malnutrition. We live stressful lives, we exercise hard, limit sleep and then underfuel the body? What is wrong with that picture. Start with whole foods. This is the best start to nourishment. Limit empty calories. Learn what a 100 calories of spinach looks like on a plate. Then I want you to try to take a different approach to weight loss. It is the eat your way to success weight management program. I would venture to say that many individuals simply do not eat enough. Track a few days for the fun of it. Check out your BMR and then track your caloric expenditure for a few days and see what kind of gap exists. Cars don’t run well on empty. If you feel tired and your not stressed and you sleep this may be the cause. Also a body that is not fueled cannot repair itself.

Until Next time……………

Mathew Freeman Fitness

Connecting Mind and Body

Registered Dietitian Cortney Berling examines the ways in which active individuals eat less than their bodies require.

Eating Enough Is Just As Important As Eating Healthy

It’s been hammered into our heads for years now: if we want to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories and burn more of them through exercise. We’ve become so focused on creating this calorie deficit that we’ve forgotten what calories actually do: fuel our bodies. In an effort to maximize weight loss, many people (particularly women) eat as little as possible. And many of their trainers encourage this behavior, recommending women eat the fewest amount of calories their bodies need to survive.

But what about helping the body thrive? It may seem counterintuitive, but eating too little not only hinders your efforts at the gym, making it difficult to build strength and train effectively: under-eating can also prevent you from losing the weight you’re working so hard to banish.

Related: Two Common Mistakes That Can Lead to Under-Eating

How Under-Eating Impacts Weight Loss and Fitness

Despite the prevailing myth that weight loss boils down to a simple calories in–calories out formula, a variety of lifestyle factors and their ensuing hormonal responses affect the ways our bodies respond to exercise and food. Reducing your caloric intake by a few hundred calories each day can indeed lead to sustainable weight loss, but reducing it significantly and forcing your body to function on the bare minimum it needs to survive triggers a series of changes in the body, all aimed at preserving energy in a perceived time of famine.

Your body responds to extreme caloric restriction by doing whatever it can to ensure your survival, mostly by conserving energy and putting calories toward its most basic functions. To do this, the body resorts to burning fewer calories. The result? Your body holds on to fat no matter how much you exercise or how little you eat. What’s more, while in this survival mode your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which not only contributes to unhealthy belly fat but leads to leptin and insulin resistance, two hormones essential for regulating hunger, metabolism and fat storage.

This impacts your training in several ways. When the body feels it must prioritize essential functions (like regulating breathing, body temperature and blood pressure), it doesn’t feel that it’s safe to put resources toward things like rebuilding muscle tissue, which is the process that enables us to grow stronger. Training sessions therefore become harder when we’re underfed. Though we may feel like we’re performing with all we’ve got, we’re actually working at a severe energy disadvantage.

Without enough fuel, we can’t perform at our best. For weight lifters, this equates to an inability to lift at levels their bodies typically handle without any problem. In turn, this means they can’t create the necessary tears in muscle tissue that promote muscle growth and increase strength. For endurance athletes, it means they run out of gas more quickly while running or playing sports. Those microscopic muscle tears that all athletes generate need adequate fuel to heal. Even if you manage to push through a workout made difficult by a lack of fuel, your muscles can’t rebuild and your body may even resort to using the protein from your muscles themselves.

So how do you know if you’re eating enough for your activity level? The list below of common symptoms should give you a better idea.

Signs You Aren’t Eating Enough

Food is energy. As mentioned above, if you’re not eating enough calories, your body is going to use the ones it does have to support vital functions. This means there aren’t any left to do the things you love. If you’re dragging your feet at the gym every day, chances are you could benefit from more food.

2. Your Weight Hasn’t Changed

Have you been working out like crazy but aren’t seeing results? Your body could be in starvation mode, fighting to preserve as many calories as it can.

3. You’ve Hit a Training Plateau

If you’ve hit a ceiling in your weight training and haven’t seen an increase in months, it’s likely that you need to eat more, both to fuel your training and to repair your muscles.

4. You Aren’t Regular

Less than 5 percent of Americans consume enough fiber each day, despite generally eating more calories than necessary. If you are under-eating, the chances of your body getting enough fiber grow slimmer, which can easily lead to constipation. Another factor to consider is dehydration, which also contributes to slower bowels. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so if you’re trying to cut back on food, you may be ignoring your body’s signals for water in a misguided effort to stick to your diet.

5. Insomnia

Appropriate food intake allows for improved blood sugar control. The combination of consuming too few calories and over-exercising leaves your liver depleted of the glycogen stores it needs to keep your blood sugar stable, forcing your body to release stress hormones that eventually lead to the production of new glucose. When stress hormones are high, we have trouble falling–and staying–asleep.

Other common signs include constant hunger, irritability and mood swings, feeling cold all the time and experiencing irregular periods.

How to Determine Appropriate Calorie Intake

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many calories your body needs, particularly since your energy expenditure varies every day. The general rule of thumb is that you need 10 calories for every pound of bodyweight. (For example, a 140-pound woman needs 1,400 calories on a sedentary day.) However, this baseline estimate doesn’t include the additional calories needed for exercise or for everyday activities like walking and doing chores. While there are many bodyweight calculators available that can tell you what your ideal weight (and thus ideal calorie intake) should be for your age, gender and height, both fail to consider things like frame size and muscle mass.

You can use these rules to get started, but listening to your body and looking for the above clues–hunger, fatigue, weight loss, fitness plateaus, etc.—will serve as much more reliable indicators of your needs.

So, are you eating enough?

About the author: Cortney Berling is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Tri-City Medical Center, a full-service, acute-care hospital located in Oceanside, California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at The University of Cincinnati and completed her dietetic internship at The Cleveland Clinic. You can often find Cortney enjoying the San Diego weather where she spends most of her time running, playing beach volleyball, paddle boarding and hiking.


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When it comes to weight gain or loss, it is not the time of day that makes the difference — it’s what you are consuming. And most people tend to veg out on high-calorie foods while unwinding in front of the TV after a long, stressful day.

“Typically, people who are eating at night have probably consumed an evening meal, so then their night eating would entail snack items like ice cream, cookies, popcorn or chips,” says Betsy Day, UAMS Weight Loss Clinic Manager. “And most of the time this eating is associated with other activity like watching TV and playing on the computer, which leads to mindless eating and, typically, over consumption.”

Our metabolism is a complex process. You might think that your metabolism slows down drastically at the end of the day and, therefore, your body does not burn off the calories you consume at night. But in fact, even though your metabolism is slower at night when you are stationary than when you are active, your metabolism never stops working, even when you are sleeping. Calories consumed at night won’t change your metabolism or count more than calories consumed during the day.

Weight gain and weight loss comes down to a simple math equation, explains Day. “Too many calories taken in versus not enough expended on any given day, regardless of the time, will lead to weight gain.”

The UAMS Weight Loss Clinic recommends that you eat dinner at least three to four hours before going to bed to give your body time to digest the meal. And dinner should be your smallest meal of the day.

“Most people typically have the biggest meal in the evening and the smallest meal for breakfast — we recommend the opposite,” says Day. Usually people who eat a larger breakfast and lunch full of protein, fruit, vegetables and whole grains will not be as tempted to indulge in a high-fat, high-calorie dinner.

Find out what you should have on your dinner plate

Instead of eating three larger meals, eating four or five smaller meals during the day can help you maintain a healthy weight. Other healthy tips and considerations include:

  • Don’t go hungry – Waiting too long to eat could lead to consuming larger portion sizes. Make sure to have healthy snacks prepared for the day.
  • Dodge the quick fixes – After a long day of work or school, a fast food burger is tempting. Have a quick, healthy meal ready to go such as steamed vegetables and broiled fish.
  • Stay focused on health – Consistent periods of going without food followed by a large meal can make you susceptible to Type 2 diabetes. Focus on staying healthy, rather than being skinny.

Try some of our healthy recipes

Can not eating enough make you gain weight

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