Why Your Diet Can Kill Your Libido — and What to Do About It

If you're super motivated to lose pounds but not when it comes to getting a little frisky with your partner, there could be a reason. When you're giving so much energy to weight loss, you don't have much in the tank for other things — including sex.

What you put into your body has a bigger impact than just weight loss. (Image: LaylaBird/E+/GettyImages)

"Sex takes energy, and if you're really restricting your calories, chances are good you won't have much of it," points out Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.

This may be particularly true if you're trying the ketogenic diet. The diet, which involves ramping up your fats and down your carbs, can put a quash on your libido. "It can lead to what's called the 'keto flu' in the very beginning, as the body adjusts from its normal steady fuel of glucose to a more fat-adapted approach," explains Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Any diet where you're dramatically cutting back on certain macronutrients or calories — think Atkins, Paleo or another detox-type diet — forces your body to compensate, which can impact your hormones and mood, she adds.

Before you freak out, find solace in that there's hope. Just like any challenge in life, it's to find a light at the end of the tunnel. One October 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found diet-induced weight loss increased sexual function in men. Experts give us the lowdown on ways to keep up your libido during weight loss.

1. Avoid Alcohol

Consumption of alcohol can lower inhibitions, which can help alleviate body image concerns and increase your nerve to actually jump into the sack, says Taub-Dix. The catch? It's also a central nervous system depressant, which means it can also be harder for you to achieve orgasm, she says. Alcohol also suppresses testosterone levels, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which can dampen your libido.

Limit yourself to what's considered moderate drinking — one drink per day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger, according to Mayo Clinic.

2. Don’t Overly Restrict Calories

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 to 2020 lay out caloric intake recommendations based on age, activity level and gender. Men generally need to eat more calories than women, and the amount of calories you're consuming can dramatically impact both your weight loss and libido.

"You need to be consuming enough that you can still exercise every day and have the energy to do activities you enjoy, which includes sex," points out Taub-Dix. If you're feeling fatigued, dizzy or just like there's no gas in your tank, make sure to consult with a physician or registered dietitian to ensure you're consuming the right amount based on your goals.

3. Steer Clear of Processed Foods

Processed foods — or anything that doesn't come straight from the ground or grown on a tree — can zap your energy, says Kirkpatrick.

Plus, they're not exactly great for your body — period. A December 2017 analysis published in Current Obesity Reports shows that the consumption of processed foods may be associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and obesity as well as increases in LDL (the dangerous kind) and total cholesterol.

4. Fuel up on Fish and Nuts

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, as well as nuts, seeds and plant oils including flaxseed, soybean and canola are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These can help boost blood circulation, says Taub-Dix.

More blood circulation means that there is a greater amount of blood flowing everywhere in your body — including your genitals — which makes it easier to get aroused, she adds, saying that the omega-3s in these foods also boost dopamine levels in the brain, a hormone linked to sexual response. One June 2019 published in Nutrients found that men who ate 60 grams of nuts a day for 14 weeks — the equivalent of about two handfuls — reported improvements in sexual function.

5. Spice up Your Meals

One easy way to add zest to your foods without adding in high calorie sauces and dressings is to reach for red pepper flakes, advises Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. They contain capsaicin, a compound that dilates vessels and gets blood flow moving, including down there. Just resist the impulse to flavor with salt instead—it's linked to high blood pressure, a real libido killer.

6. Get Your Sleep

Sleep is super important. A critical component of everything we do throughout our waking hours — from digestion to recovery — our time tucked in can impact out weight as well. One October 2014 review published in the journal Sleep Medicine drew parallels between those that sleep less than six hours and more than nine, saying both short and long sleepers are at risk for obesity.

Each additional hour of shuteye you get increases your sexual arousal by around 14 percent, according to a May 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Bonus: If you're safely in bed, you won't be raiding the kitchen at midnight.

7. Don’t Smoke

A slew of negatives hand-in-hand with cigarette smoking, including a lesser sex drive; one May 2008 study published in the Journal of Sex Medicine found a link between smoking in women and decreased sexual arousal. Smoking constricts arteries and decreases your blood flow everywhere, adds Kirkpatrick.

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