It's true that we need to burn calories in order to lose body fat. But, our body still needs a certain amount of calories, or "energy" in order to carry out its basic functions. The common misconception that is if we just eat less and less and exercise more and more, we'll continue to shrink until we've attained our goal weight. Not so easy. Once we deprive the body of the energy it needs to function, we go into conservation mode. The body senses that we're starving, slows the metabolism, and conserves stored body fat.
Think of calories like the gas in a car...if you continually put too little gas in the tank, the car will stall. Calories are needed to support our organs, muscle, immune system, hormones, etc. When we undereat, we aren't supporting our organs, and eventually, they'll shut down.
Most women need at least 1,400-1,500 calories a day and most men need at least 1800-1900. However, if you're active, you'll need many more. Consult a dietitian to be sure that you're eating enough. Or, you can use this quick and dirty tool online http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calorie-calculator/NU00598.
If you think you may be undereating, you should consider these common signs and symptoms:
Are you constantly tired, cranky, or cold?
Is your hair thinning, or have you been ill more frequently than usual?
Do you have intense cravings and trouble concentrating?
If this sounds like you, focus on structured mealtimes. Most people skimp on breakfast, eat a little more at lunch, then feast at dinner time. Try to have at least 400-500 calories (for women) or at least 600 calories (for men) at every meal, plus snacks. Remember that breakfast skippers are more likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes. Get in some morning grub within 1 hour of waking up and aim for fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein. Try Greek yogurt with almonds and a piece of fruit. Or, grill up an omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese. Get in the proper amount of calories by picking healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and string cheese. "Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live."-Jim Rohn.
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN