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A salad bowl filled with a tape measure, with a salad fork and spoon resting on the bowlWe already know what you’re thinking. You figure “Well, as usual, I ate waaay too much! I’ll just skip breakfast, eat a little something for lunch and an apple for dinner, and I should be okay.”

Ummm, no.

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If you’re like most people who want to lose weight, you want to lose it fast (or quickly counter the effects of a larger-than-life meal). So you may be tempted to make drastic changes in your diet to dramatically reduce the number of calories you consume. But what you may not know is that eating too few calories can actually backfire and sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

“It would make sense to stop eating [when you are trying to lose weight], but it actually works in the opposite way,” says Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, Texas Dietetic Association media representative and public relations coordinator at the Austin Dietetic Association in Austin, Texas.

Calories and You

The most effective way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you expend, creating a calorie deficit. But if your calorie intake dips too low, says Lummus, your body could go into starvation mode. “Your body will start to store fat because it thinks it is not going to get anything,” says Lummus. “You will be at a point where your body is kind of at a standstill.”

Lummus says that when your body goes into starvation mode, your metabolism slows to a crawl, burning calories as slowly as possible to conserve its energy stores. This is why people who cut their calories too much may reach a plateau and stop losing weight.

Eating too few calories can be the start of a vicious cycle that causes diet distress. When you cut your calories so low that your metabolism slows and you stop losing weight, you probably will become frustrated that your efforts are not paying off. This can lead you to overeat and ultimately gain weight.

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