Reducing calories is a key part of almost any weight-loss plan. But while cutting back a little may be good, that doesn't mean cutting back even more is better. Here are some warning signs you're not eating enough calories.
Calories = energy. When you fall short, you're more likely to feel wiped out. If you're feeling tired much earlier than normal, or if you're having trouble getting out of bed even after eight solid hours of sleep, take a look at what you're putting on your plate during the day. If it's extra tough to drag yourself through your day-to-day activities, that's another indicator you're not meeting your basic needs. (Find out some other reasons you might be tired.)
Your Workouts Are Suffering
Having fuel in the tank is essential for powering through your workouts. If you notice that you're losing steam quickly or if you're struggling to lift weights that would normally be no sweat, look at what you're putting in your mouth before and after you hit the gym. Consuming some carbs pre-workout and replenishing afterwards with a combo of protein and carbs will support recovery. That will allow your body to repair itself and build muscle to help you see the results you long for. (Learn how to recover from a tough workout.)
You Can't Focus
When you're low on calories (and energy), your mind may feel foggy. If that 80-calorie, fat-free yogurt barely gets you through the morning meeting, add some nuts for staying power. Or swap in a breakfast that provides a balance of protein, complex carbs, and fat. An egg on whole-grain toast or even a piece of fruit with some almond butter will give you a leg up. It's called "brain food" for a reason.
You're Always Hangry
If you're consistently hungry and irritable, it may be a sign that you're just not eating enough. Take a look to see if perhaps you could try slightly more substantial meals and snacks. Aim for a balance of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats within your calorie needs to provide stable energy.
Your Period Is Off—or MIA
Restricting calories too much can lead to changes in hormone levels, which can cause your menstrual cycle to go out of whack or take a hiatus. Adequate nutrition is important for normal hormone function, so a missed period when you're not pregnant or a sudden change if you're super-regular is a loud and clear signal that something is not right. Check in with your doctor. (Read some answers to other period questions.)
The Scale Isn't Budging
A sudden drop in calories can trick your body into thinking you're lost in the wilderness instead of just trying to fit into a bridesmaid's dress. So it goes into "starvation mode," clinging to every calorie it can. This makes it harder to lose weight over time because it slows down your metabolism. If you're not losing weight on, say, 1,400 calories per day, try 1,600 calories for a couple weeks and reevaluate. (Find out 6 reasons you aren't losing weight.)
You Just Can't Stick to the Plan
If your low-calorie diet plan feels impossible to stick to, it may not be just a matter of willpower. It might be that it's not the right plan for you. Even a small increase in calories may feel more sustainable. Ideally, the diet that helps you reach your goal should look pretty similar to the one that will help you maintain that success over time. When you enjoy what you eat and feel energized and satisfied, you're more likely to stick with an overall healthy diet that supports your long-term health goals.