The Harmful Effects Of A Restricted Calorie Diet

Ever since the misconception that ‘thin is in’ crept into the minds of people across the world, many people are starving themselves to death by consuming very little calories. The first thing that people do to lose weight is to cut the calories in their diets. Carbohydrates, fatty foods, meat products, snacks and other protein-rich products are avoided in order to stick to a low-calorie diet plan. They restrict their diet plan to just low-calorie salads, steamed vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products. Some obsessed people may even skip meals without realizing the dangers that an extremely low-calorie diet can cause. There is a huge difference between a healthy diet and a low-calorie diet.

A calorie of sugar is definitely not the same as a calorie of broccoli or spinach. Reducing calories to lose weight may show some results temporarily, but generally is unsustainable. People must look at what they are eating, and not just numbers. Consuming a wholesome diet recommended by a nutritionist will help in weight-loss without adversely affecting the person’s health. Consuming more calories than your body requires

causes weight gain mostly in the form of body fat. Eating fewer calories than what your body needs causes weight loss.1 2What you must reduce or avoid are fast foods, junk foods, processed foods and refined sugars. But, cutting down on calories unscientifically can cause numerous health problems such as weak bones and infertility. Here are some major health drawbacks of restricting the calories.

What you must reduce or avoid are fast foods, junk foods, processed foods and refined sugars. But, cutting down on calories unscientifically can cause numerous health problems such

as weak bones and infertility. Here are some major health drawbacks of restricting the calories.

1. Restricting Calories Causes Nutritional Deficiencies And Fatigue

Restricting calories can lead to fatigue and nutrient deficiency

Consuming fewer calories than what the body requires causes fatigue and leaves the body unable to meet its daily nutrient needs. A calorie-restricted diet may not contain the required quantities of iron, folate or vitamin B12, which can cause anemia and fatigue. 3 4 5

Moreover, the carbohydrates you consume has a direct impact on fatigue. While some studies suggest that calorie-restricted diets that are low in carbs may cause feelings of fatigue in some individuals, other studies show that low-carb diets reduce fatigue. So, the effect

of carbohydrates on fatigue differs from person to person. Restricted calorie consumption can also restrict the intake of other vital nutrients.

  • Protein: Lack of protein-rich foods may cause muscle loss, hair thinning and brittle nails.
  • Calcium: Insufficient calcium intake may reduce bone strength and increase the risk of fractures.
  • Biotin and thiamine: Absence of these two B-vitamins can result in muscle weakness, hair loss, and scaly skin.
  • Vitamin A: Not eating enough vitamin A-rich foods can weaken your immune system and lead to permanent eye damage.
  • Magnesium: An insufficient intake of magnesium may lead to fatigue, migraines, muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms.

2. Restricting Calories Weakens Your Bones

Restricting calories can cause weak bones and lead to osteoporosis

Consuming insufficient calories can lead to weakened bones. A restricted-calorie diet reduces the levels of the two reproductive hormones called estrogen and testosterone. This results in reduced bone formation and increased bone breakdown, resulting in weaker bones.6 7

Severe calorie restriction combined with physical exercise can increase stress hormone levels, which may also cause bone loss.8 9 Bone loss is a painful condition that is often irreversible and increases the risk of fractures. When nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and phosphorus are deprived to the body due to calorie restriction, it makes the bones fragile and increases the risk of osteoporosis.

3. Restricting Calories Lower Your Metabolism

Calorie-restricted diet can lower your metabolism

When restricted calorie diet becomes a habit, your metabolism

can drastically slow down if you consume fewer calories than required by your body. To compensate the low intake of calories, the body burns fewer calories and the drop in metabolism can be as much as 23%.10 11 12 And once the body reduces its metabolic rate, it may stay that way for a long time even if the person gives up the restricted calorie diet. This is one of the main reasons why more than 80% of people regain the lost weight even if they return to their normal dietary habits.13

Muscle loss is one of

the ways that calorie-restricted diets slows down the body’s metabolism. The problem is magnified if the calorie-restricted diet is low in protein and combined with the lack of exercise, resulting in the loss of muscle mass.14 15 By ensuring that you consume the minimum amount of calories required to sustain your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), you can prevent your weight loss diet from affecting your metabolism. Including resistance exercises to your workout regime and increasing your protein intake can also help maintain optimum metabolic rate.

4. Restricting Calories May Cause Infertility

A calorie-restricted diet can lead to infertility

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A diet that does not contain sufficient calories to suffice the body’s metabolism affects both men and women. A calorie-restricted diet may even have a negative impact on fertility, especially among women, as their ability to ovulate depends upon their hormone levels. An increased estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) level is a prerequisite for ovulation to occur.16 17

Some studies have shown that LH levels are also dependent on the calorie intake in a woman’s diet.18 19 Many studies also point to the fact that the reproductive function is suppressed in women who eat 22–42% fewer calories than required by the body to maintain their weight. Reduced calorie intake can also reduce estrogen levels, which is known to cause a long-term negative impact on bone and heart health.20

Some signs and symptoms of reduced fertility may include irregular menstrual cycles or a complete lack of menstrual cycles. But, subtle menstrual disturbances may not display any symptoms and may require medical examinations.21

5. Restricting Calories May Lower Your Immunity

Restricting calories can adversely affect your immunity levels

Restricting the calories can have serious health implications and may increase your risk of infections and illness. The effect is magnified when infections caused by viruses like the common cold and flu is combined with intense physical activity levels.22 23 In a specific study, researchers compared athletes in various disciplines that places emphasis on a lean physique, such as martial arts, boxing, gymnastics or diving, to those in disciplines that focused less on body weight. The study observed that the athletes in disciplines that required leanness had to make a constant effort to lose weight and their possibility of being sick in the previous three months was almost double.24 Another study performed on taekwondo practitioners who observed restricted calorie diet to reduce their body weight in the week before a competition experienced lower levels of immunity and an increased risk of infection.25

With all the research backing the drawbacks of a calorie-restricted diet, it can be summarized that eating a balanced diet comprising all the nutrients and minerals is essential for a healthy body and mind. Most importantly, exercises must be incorporated into our daily schedule to prevent bone and muscular degeneration and for improved metabolism. The simple motto should be “eat well and burn better’.