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Eat More to Lose Weight (Is It Achievable or Not?)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Last updated: January 28, 2023

What if I tell you that you can increase your calorie intake and still lose weight? It sounds counterintuitive knowing the main rule for weight loss is a calorie deficit, right?

Not entirely, because during my long career, I’ve seen this method help some clients lose body weight, especially when they hit plateaus.

To build upon my knowledge and experience, I spend a few days sifting through relevant studies and reviewing the results with my dietitian.

These are our findings.

Quick Summary

  • If you aren’t ingesting enough calories while dieting, your body may get into starvation mode to preserve energy stores, which makes your metabolism stall, which is why you might want to eat more to lose weight.
  • Signs that you aren’t taking sufficient calories when dieting include headaches, irritability, food obsession, low energy levels, etc.
  • To eat more and not cause weight gain, you need to improve the nutritional content of your food, increase protein intake, employ strength training, and keep an eye on how much energy you spend on NEAT (more on this in the text).

How Come You Can Eat More to Lose Weight?

a tray of food for a person to eat more to lose weight

You can eat more to lose weight because our bodies are complex biological machines with sophisticated adapting mechanisms to calorie disbalance, and they burn fewer calories when there’s not enough fuel.

However, even when dieting, the worst option would be undereating because it will bring more harm than good, especially in the long run.

What Happens When We Are Constantly Undereating?

See, when you reduce caloric intake to get into the caloric deficit, your body begins to change the way it burns body fat.

Without enough calories from food, the body tries to find another fuel source and starts breaking down less favorable tissues.

If that calorie deficit prolongs for an extended period, the body switches to a conservation state called ‘starvation mode’ to prevent it from eating itself completely [1].

Muscle Catabolism

Person in sweater holding stomach

In this state, the body slows down metabolism or basal metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns daily at rest) and switches energy sources from exclusively glycogen (stored glucose) and body fat to muscle tissue [2].

This is called muscle catabolism, and it’s far from the best way to lose weight.

You should avoid this condition since muscles are highly metabolically active, being among the body’s highest energy consumers, so the less muscle you have, the less energy expenditure occurs.

That’s not the only downside of muscle catabolism, as muscle tissue is responsible for a toned look, mobility, and strength.

On top of that, a prolonged strict low-calorie diet eventually increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body, making weight loss an even more challenging task and carrying a lot of potential unwanted health issues [3].

That’s why sometimes you need to eat more calories to lose weight.

More Food - More Efficient Body

Holding a cooked chicken

To prevent muscle loss and keep a healthy metabolic rate, you need to eat enough calories to feed the muscle tissue.

But even more important than the amount of food is the type of food you provide your body with.

Eating foods that increase metabolism and contain enough protein will give your muscles their building blocks and also keep you satiated longer [4].

A similar goes for foods rich in complex carbs and fiber as they will keep you less hungry, prevent carb cravings, and utilize more energy necessary for their slow digestion.

“High protein foods can also help with weight loss by decreasing hunger and promoting a sense of fullness. High protein diets are extremely effective in weight loss because they preserve muscle mass and prevent decreased metabolism.”

- Brittany Dunn, MS & Certified Sports Dietitian

This way, more calories will come from healthy foods rich in those macros - veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and lean proteins.

It will make your diet comprised of less calorie-dense foods and more volume-dense food that will quickly fill up your plate and belly at the same time.

Eating more will also alleviate the feelings of deprivation, making weight loss look like a less laborious task.

It will positively affect your willpower (as we only have a limited amount daily) and likely prevent you from binge eating episodes.

Nevertheless, this diet, combined with weight lifting to burn fat, should preserve your muscles and keep your metabolic rate relatively high while on a slight calorie deficit, prompting your body to burn calories from fat, preferably.

However, this still doesn’t mean you could be in a caloric surplus and lose weight. No.

It just means that eating enough is crucial to support your metabolism (primarily muscles), but you should still ensure that you eat healthily and that your calorie intake stays slightly lower to burn a certain amount of fat reserves each day.

What About This NEAT Process?

Man doing chores in his house

A considerable role in how many calories we will burn in a day plays a process called ‘Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT), and it’s a thing many people tend to overlook.

It’s the energy burned on activities other than breathing, exercise, digesting, or eating and involves small movements throughout the day, like chores and any kind of manual labor.

What links this process with eating more is one research that showed when participants were provided with extremely low calories, their NEAT score dropped [5].

On the contrary, participants who consumed too many calories daily had a better NEAT score.

These results can be associated with more energy production that may provide you with conscious efforts to move more.

However, this phenomenon is not universal, as many people tend to gain weight when the NEAT score doesn’t compensate for increased calorie intake.

But if you aren’t moving enough (besides workout activity) because you feel less energized on a calorie deficit, you should consider eating more, as it could be one of the signs of undereating.

How to Tell If I’m Not Eating Enough?

Two people eating more to lose weight

The number of calories required differs from person to person based on gender, activity level, and goals.

Yet, the average men’s general guidelines are to consume 2500 calories daily to maintain body weight and 2000 a day if the goal is to lose one pound a week.

For women, recommended maintenance calories are 2000 and 1500 calories or less to lose approximately one pound a week [6].

Anyhow, being on a calorie deficit is obligatory to lose weight, but you have to watch out for signs of not eating enough or if those weight loss efforts start to interfere with your health.

Rob Wagener, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach at Fizzness Shizzness, warns that not having enough fuel in the tank can lead to serious consequences.

If you're feeling drained and lacking motivation, as well as a sudden shift on the scale, it could indicate that your diet isn't giving you what's needed for optimal performance.

You should just listen to your body, as there are certain warning signs that you are eating too little and that you need to increase your daily calories.

Let’s discuss them.

1. Often Getting Sleepy and Tired

If you feel sleepy, foggy, or tired multiple times during the day, even after a good night’s sleep, it may be a sign your energy levels are low and that you aren’t getting enough fuel.

To test if the root of the problem is low-calorie consumption and blood sugar imbalance, try taking some snacks (like protein bars) or adding three meals separated equally throughout the day.

2. Food Obsession

Obsessed eating foods inside a jar

Losing weight and being hungry always come in a package, and it’s normal to some degree.

However, if food is the first thing that comes to your mind when you wake up, or you think about food constantly, and it drives your self-control on the verge of breaking, you are most likely not giving your body enough to function properly.

Joel Evan, an integrative health practitioner, says the easiest way to know if you’re eating enough between meals is to gauge your hunger.

If you’re still hungry within 3-4 hours of eating a meal, you probably didn't eat enough and should prioritize protein as your macronutrient.

Try to beef up your meals gradually and see if anything changes.

3. Feeling Irritable and ‘Hangry’

Being constantly hungry will eventually affect your mood and put you in a survival state, making you a bit more aggressive.

In the modern world, it means - mood swings, a shorter temper, and less patience.

To avoid it, you might want to start eating slightly more calories to reach your threshold.

Other negative effects of not eating enough food, especially for longer, include headaches, loss of menstrual cycle, hair loss, and brittle fingernails.

What Else Should You Consider for Weight Loss?

Holding a green apple with tape measure

Losing weight faster could become more manageable if you eat healthily, exclude processed foods, and include weight training, to avoid the trap of slow metabolism.

Fewer calories will lead to losing weight, but as we’ve explained, in certain situations, you should eat more to lose weight.

If your diet is a quality mixture of balanced macros - healthy fats, complex carbs, and proteins - you will acquire highly metabolically active lean body mass.

Furthermore, a healthy diet (fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats) will provide you with vitamins and minerals crucial for proper body functioning and energy production.

But try not to drink your calories and aim for zero-sugar alternatives if you can’t batch sugary drinks for good.

Lastly, you should consider natural fat-burning supplements which combine herbs and certain nutrients to significantly increase thermogenesis and reduce your cravings without compromising your health.

FAQs

Does Eating More Make Your Metabolism Faster?

Yes, eating more can make your metabolism faster because, after your meal, the body speeds up processes to digest the food and turn it into energy. Consequently, eating more frequently could raise your basal metabolic rate.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight on 1000 Calories a Day?

You are not losing weight on 1000 calories a day because your metabolism probably slowed down, as your starved body is trying to preserve energy. The body needs those stored energy reserves to keep your metabolic processes running and keep you alive. Simply, your body has adapted.

Eat Smart, Not Less

To lose weight and successfully break the weight-loss plateau, you shouldn’t cut down too many calories while reaching your fitness goals, as it may backfire.

If your metabolism is slowing down while on a calorie deficit, you need to increase those calories, and you may consider adding a fat burner into the mix as it can increase your metabolism and keep the calories burning.

We have extensively tested many products to come up with these lists, and the top performers made a significant difference in our test results data.


References: 

  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199706193362507 
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090608091337.htm 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/
  4. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1988.64.1.187 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279077/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/
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