Not Just Calories: Why Eating Less Doesn’t Always Equal Weight Loss

You’ve been trying for weeks to get rid of those last few pounds, but you just can’t seem to shed them. You’ve already cut way back on calories – which might be the reason why the scale isn’t going down. If you want to lose weight, it’s not just about eating enough, but also about eating right.

A big plate full of fruit

Regular meals give you energy

Your body needs sufficient energy to maintain all your body functions, immune system and metabolism. Your body gets this energy from the calories in the food you eat (Note: calories aren’t all that matters!).

If you restrict your calorie intake too much for a long period of time, your body will start to get the energy it needs from other places. This will cause you to feel weak. Daily tasks can prove to be quite strenuous because your body is using all the calories it can get to simply maintain its basic functions. In this situation, you won’t have any energy left for intense bodyweight training or a long distance run.

How many calories do you need per day?

Your personal calorie requirement depends on your basal metabolic rate and your physical activity level. What is basal metabolic rate? It is the number of calories your body burns at rest during a 24-hour period. You can calculate your personal calorie requirement with the following equations:

Basal metabolic rate (BMR):
Women: 655.1 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

Men: 66.47 + (6.24 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.755 x age in years)

Daily calorie requirement: BMR x PAL (1.2 – 2.4)

The PAL value (PAL stands for “physical activity level”) describes the physical activities a person does within a 24-hour period:

  • 1.2: primarily in a sitting and lying position, no recreational activities (e.g. elderly or bedridden people, wheelchair users)
  • 1.3 – 1.5: mainly in a sitting position with a little recreational activity (e.g. white-collar workers)
  • 1.6 – 1.7: in a sitting position at work with some standing and walking activities (e.g. assembly-line workers, truck drivers)
  • 1.8 – 1.9: mostly in a standing and walking position (e.g. retail workers, salespeople, tradespeople, waitstaff)
  • 2 – 2.4: hard and strenuous physical activity at work (e.g. professional athletes, construction workers, miners, farmers)

You can calculate your daily caloric intake with the following equation:

Man running in the city

Of course, it all depends on your goal: if you want to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. You have to cut a total of 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, we recommend that you cut between 300 and 500 calories a day. This way you will lose about one pound per week. The advantage of a slow approach to losing weight is that it makes it easier to maintain your weight loss and helps you avoid the dreaded yo-yo effect.

Did you know?

You have to cut 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.

How much is too little? You have to cover at least your basal metabolic rate. You shouldn’t go below 1,200 calories a day for a long period of time. Of course, the minimum requirement depends on a person’s gender, age and weight. But you should only seriously restrict your calorie intake in certain situations and then only for a couple of weeks and under the supervision of a physician or dietitian. One example of such a situation would be when a severely overweight patient has to lose weight quickly for a stomach operation. The lower the weight, the less risk during surgery.

Would you like to work in a healthy “1,500-calorie day” once in a while? Try one of these recipes to add some variety to your diet!

Three plates with salad and a glass of orange juice

A massive calorie deficit hurts your weight loss

If you restrict calories too much for a long period of time you will be plagued by constant hunger and feel weak, cold and moody. This is usually when people forget about all their good intentions and start to eat more again. And even if you begin to eat within your normal range again, you will still gain weight because your body is now storing the additional calories as fat in fear of another low-calorie period.

In addition, researchers have found that a severe reduction in calories can increase the production of cortisol in the blood. This stress hormone seems to be associated with high abdominal fat deposits and weight gain


We recommend that you do not restrict your calorie intake too much. Especially when you want to lose weight. Fill up on fresh, unprocessed foods and make sure to eat a good balance of the three major macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat). You can boost your calorie burn with regular and varied training. Plenty of sleep is also important if you want to lose weight.



Julia Denner As a dietitian, Julia wants to inspire others to eat a healthy and balanced diet. She loves cooking, being outdoors, and does yoga and strength training to relax. View all posts by Julia Denner »