Why Isn't My Low-Calorie & High-Exercise Diet Working?

Fitness group in gym doing crunches for sport
You may need to eat more and exercise less to lose weight (Image: kzenon/iStock/Getty Images)

If you are very motivated to lose weight you may be combining a low-calorie diet with high amounts of exercise. It seems like it should make you drop pounds, but if it quickly stops being effective, you may be making some common weight loss mistakes.

There are are couple of reasons why a combining low calorie with high exercise many backfire, and the good news is that if you exercise less or eat a bit more, you will probably bust through your plateau.

Misconceptions

Pretty woman doing yoga exercises in the park
Eating too low of a calorie diet can slow weight loss. (Image: Osuleo/iStock/Getty Images)

Most people have one simple misconception that ends up slowing their weight loss. If you are eating a low-calorie diet and exercising a lot, you probably have this misconception, too.

The misconception is that if a little bit of something is good, a lot is better. When it comes to calorie restriction and exercise, this is not true. The opposite of this misconception is that moderation in calorie restriction and exercise is best, and that is where you will have your most consistent weight loss results.

Undereating

Runner woman running
When you eat too few calories, your body will go into starvation mode. (Image: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images)

What makes a low-calorie and high-exercise routine a potential failure as a weight-loss tool? There are a few factors that work together to make this a tough weight-loss environment.

The first is your body's reaction to excess calorie restriction. We have all heard of going into starvation mode, and that is exactly what happens when you chronically undereat. You need to eat fewer calories per day than you burn to lose weight, but tipping the scale too much forces your body to make choices on your behalf that you aren't aware of. In times of reduced food supply, your body needs to conserve energy and it does this by slowing down your metabolism. It doesn't know you are starving on purpose and that you have a refrigerator full of food available to you at all times.

Too Much Exercise

sport - couple running
Exercise counteracts the metabolism slow-down of calorie restriction. (Image: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images)

Exercise counteracts the metabolism slow-down of calorie restriction, which is why exercising and moderately cutting calories is usually an effective weight-loss approach. Taking it too far is what sabotages your weight-loss goals.

Too much exercise can be counterproductive to weight loss for a number of reasons. If you are undereating and exercising too much, you are almost certainly not meeting the basic dietary needs of your body, which signals to your body that times are tough and energy needs to be conserved through a slower metabolism.

An August 9, 2009. cover article in "Time" magazine caused a stir by asserting that exercise alone is not an effective weight-loss tool because most people overestimate how many calories they use in exercise and end up eating more calories than they burn throughout the course of the day. For example, if you burned 300 calories in an hour of exercise, you may think it's okay to reward yourself with a 300-calorie treat afterward. Most people don't realize that if they had simply sat on the couch and watched television, they would have burned approximately 55 calories; so they really only created a 245-calorie deficit, and ended up eating more than that!

Other Factors

Trail running
A low-calorie and high-exercise combination can also alter hormones in your body and prevent weight loss. (Image: Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images)

The low-calorie and high-exercise combination can also prevent weight loss by altering hormones in your body, according to nutritionist Dr. Joseph Debe. Most people don't realize that exercise is a stress to the body. Mild stress can be healthy for the the body, but too much stress leads to a higher concentration of a hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol may be responsible for your stalled weight loss, especially if you have trouble losing fat around your belly.

Solution

Working out in elliptical trainer
Try varying your workout intensity if you're not losing weight. (Image: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images)

If you have been working very hard at eating a low-calorie diet while exercising a lot but have stopped losing weight, there is a simple solution.

Step one is to reduce your exercise to a healthy level of 30 minutes to one hour a day. Vary your workout intensity from day to day to avoid performing all exercise at a high intensity, which creates excess cortisol spikes day after day. Avoid taking high-intensity aerobics classes more than three times a week. On the other days, 45 to 60 minutes of easy to moderate intensity cardio such as walking is appropriate for weight loss.

Additionally, monitor your calorie intake to ensure that you are not undereating and that you aren't overcompensating for calories burned during exercise. Make sure you are eating nutritious foods and that you aren't relying on starvation to drop pounds, as this will not result in sustainable weight loss and may slow your metabolism.

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