Is Over-Dieting Ruining Your Workout Goals?

If you're not seeing results at the gym, it might be time to check in on your eating habits.


Photo by: torwai


You may have heard that diet outweighs exercise when it comes to weight loss, but what happens when you go ham on reducing calories while upping it in the gym? I mean new year, new you, right? Think again. According to experts, over-dieting can be detrimental to goal-crushing while putting you at risk of being sidelined from “getting after it” altogether.

“Your relationship with food can directly affect your ability to exercise — from reduced performance and endurance to minimized results,” says Elizabeth Kehoe, RDN, LDN, non-diet dietitian and co-founder of EKG Nutrition. “All too often, food is viewed as the antithesis to exercise since we have come to believe you must burn off all the calories you eat to lose weight and perform at your best.”

Spoiler alert: You need food to work out in the first place. “The food you eat provides the energy (in the form of calories) your body needs to perform at its best,” explains Kehoe. “Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy for exercise, so eating enough calories — particularly as carbohydrates — can improve performance and give you the energy you need to push through a workout.”

“Dieting can cause more problems than a few extra pounds would,” adds sports dietician and certified intuitive eating counselor Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD. For example, while many dieters may still able to work out, cutting calories too much can lead to fatigue — limiting the level of intensity required to create a strong, lean body composition. In short, lacking the tenacity in the gym — instead, simply going through the motions — doesn’t and will not equate to the physical transformation you’re looking for in the mirror.

Cutting too many calories come mealtime can also create a domino effect — increasing soreness and the risk for injury. “If a person is not getting the calories they need, then they will not utilize protein for muscle-building,” explains Dallow. Instead, the protein will be used to meet energy demands.

As you can imagine, the impact of over-dieting goes far beyond skin deep. “Over-dieting causes caloric and nutrient deficits, putting you at risk for low blood pressure, bone fractures, lightheadedness, nutrient deficiencies and more,” says Kehoe. Poor sleep, moodiness and anxiety are also noteworthy implications.

“All too often, we see clients who are aiming to lose weight by limiting calories and exercising to extremes, only to be frustrated when their weight plateaus,” says Kehoe. “It may sound counter-intuitive, but your body needs those calories to burn them. Without adequate calories, your body will go into starvation mode and hold onto each calorie you eat, causing your weight to remain stable.”

So how do you know if you’ve taken things too far? Listening to your how you feel during your workouts can keep you in check. Oh, and if you’re thinking of food all of the time? It’s probably your body’s way of telling you to up your portion sizes.

Lauren Seib is a pug mom, personal trainer, online coach and group fitness instructor based in Stamford, Conn. Her credentials include NASM CPT, Spinning(R), RYT 200 and Barre by exhale.

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