Can You Gain Weight When You Cut Calories?

If you're in a calorie deficit but not losing weight, you might have hit a weight-loss plateau. You can push past this by further reducing your calories (use a calorie calculator to see if that's safe), or by increasing the amount you exercise.

You may eventually hit a plateau, where you stop losing or even gain weight, but you can add more strength training to your routine to push past this.
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A weight-loss calculator can help you figure out your ideal calorie intake for weight loss. You may eventually hit a plateau, where you stop losing or even gain weight, but you can add more strength training to your routine to push past this.

Cutting Calories for Weight Loss

In order to safely and successfully lose weight, you need to achieve a calorie deficit — meaning you burn more calories than you consume each day. You can do this by monitoring what you eat each day, adopting a regular exercise routine that helps you burn more calories or combining the two methods.

You need to burn roughly 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of weight. So, if you were operating under a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day, you can expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds each week. Entering your specific information into a weight loss calculator can help you get details on what type of progress to expect.

While gimmicky fad diets may promise more rapid weight loss, many of them don't work and can even be harmful. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, you should approach weight loss as a long-term lifestyle change rather than relying on short-term crash diets.

Read more: 3-Month Weight-Loss Program

How to Cut Calories

The amount of calories you should consume each day depends on a variety of factors, including your age, height, weight and activity levels. According to Harvard Health, the first step is to figure out how many calories you need to consume each day to maintain your current weight.

The site suggests multiplying your current weight by 15, provided you're moderately active (they define this as doing about 30 minutes of activity each day, including brisk walking and climbing stairs). Your weight times 15 is a rough guide to your maintenance calorie number. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, eating 2,250 calories daily will help you maintain that weight. A weight-loss calculator can provide more information.

In order to calculate a safe calorie intake for weight loss, take between 500 and 1,000 calories away from that maintenance number. The site warns that calorie intake should generally not be lower than 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,500 calories per day for men.

You can also figure out your daily caloric needs by using a calorie calculator, or by speaking to your physician or a registered dietitian. And once you've figured out your ideal calorie intake, you can find meal plans online or create your own. You should make sure your dietary intake is balanced — providing you with enough protein, carbs, fiber and fats.

Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss

Using a Calorie Calculator

If you think you're operating under a calorie deficit but not losing weight, your first step should be to double-check your calorie intake. Check food nutrition labels on snacks and prepackaged meals to determine your intake of calories and nutrients. When cooking at home, you may be adding higher amounts of ingredients to your recipes than you think. Another possibility is that you're misjudging portion sizes at meals, consuming more than you've accounted for.

You can use a calorie calculator and a food scale to calculate the calories in homemade food as you're cooking, or follow online recipes that have a calorie count built in. When you're cooking at home, weigh each ingredient as you add it to your recipe to calculate the total calorie content of your recipe. Then divide that number by the number of servings you've portioned out.

Read more: How to Calculate Calories in Homemade Food

Under Calories but Gaining Weight?

If you're definitely in a calorie deficit but not losing weight — or find yourself gaining weight — you might have hit a weight-loss plateau. As the American Council on Exercise (ACE) explains, a plateau is a totally normal (but frustrating) part of weight loss.

After a few weeks or months of weight loss, it's common to find that you're no longer losing weight at the pace a weight-loss calculator computed — even if you're still under a calorie deficit and exercising regularly. That's because your body's metabolism has adjusted to burn fewer calories. A calorie intake that used to prompt weight loss might now be the intake you need to maintain your current weight.

There are two options for pushing past a weight-loss plateau. One is to further decrease your calorie intake, which is not recommended if your intake is already low. The second is to increase the amount of exercise you're doing, or to add different types of exercise to your routine. For example, if you've been doing mostly cardio workouts, it might be helpful to introduce strength training or resistance work. ACE explains that increasing your muscle mass can help boost your metabolism.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Fat Loss

Other Weight-Gain Causes

If you continue to gain weight even with added strength training and keeping an eye on your calorie intake, you might be suffering from a health issue. You can chat with your doctor about being evaluated for health problems that can cause weight gain. For example:

  • An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause fatigue and unexplained weight gain. The condition is common, affecting almost 5 percent of adults in the U.S.
  • Weight gain can be a side effect of some medications. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, some antidepressants, antipsychotics, steroids and medications for diabetes, epilepsy and high blood pressure can cause weight gain. Talk to your doctor about medications you're taking, and don't stop taking a prescription medication or alter the dose without your physician's explicit go-ahead.
  • Hormonal changes due to menopause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, hormones associated with menopause can contribute to weight gain, specifically around the abdomen and hips.
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