How Eating MORE Calories Can Make You Lose Weight (seriously)

I like to think most people understand that they need to eat LESS calories to lose weight, right?

We’re all aware of this, aren’t we?

What’s that now? We’re not?

Most people think it’s carbs, sugar, fat, gluten, fruit, fructose, dirty foods and/or foods that cavemen didn’t eat that we need to eat less of in order to lose weight?

Oh. How wonderful.

Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall to forget this reality.

Okay, I’m back.

As I was saying, fat loss and fat gain are determined by calories in vs calories out. Create a deficit and you lose, create a surplus and you gain. If you’d like a more thorough explanation of this (and why it’s NOT carbs, sugar or whatever else), read this one: How To Lose Fat.

And that brings us to the subject of this article.

Which is… the idea that there are times when eating less calories STOPS you from losing weight, and then eating more calories causes you to START losing again.

Let’s begin with the first half of that statement.

When Eating Less STOPS Weight Loss… aka “Starvation Mode”

Have you ever heard of the mysterious state known as starvation mode? If not, please allow me to fill you in.

Starvation mode (sometimes referred to as “survival mode”) is the idea that not eating enough calories will cause a person to STOP losing fat or possibly even GAIN some despite being in a caloric deficit.

As in, if you eat too few calories, your metabolism breaks or completely shuts down or some such nonsense, and, in an effort to keep you alive, your body will hold on to all of your body fat and prevent you from losing any of it until… wait for it… you eat MORE calories.

This concept/myth then leads to the following type of conversation on diet forums (I’m looking at you, MyFitnessPal) and throughout social media…

Person A: “I’m eating [insert some excessively low number of calories here… typically 600, 800, 1000 or 1200] calories per day, but I’m not losing any weight! What’s my problem?”

Person B: “Your body has entered starvation mode because you’re not eating enough, so it’s holding on to all of your body fat and stopping you from losing weight.”

Person C: “Yeah, Person B is absolutely right. I was in starvation mode myself at one point, and it sucked! Eventually I was in it for so long that I started gaining fat because I was eating so little! Once I started eating more, I instantly began losing weight again.”

Person D: “Um, you people have no idea wtf you’re talking about. Read this starvation mode article.”

Thank you, Person D.

It’s because of the many Person Ds of the world and the fact that they frequently link to my starvation mode article (which then sends traffic to my website from these sources) that I know just how often these stupid conversations are happening.

Why do I call them stupid? Because the entire concept of starvation mode – that not eating enough will stop fat loss (or cause fat gain) – is as stupid as it gets.

In that aforementioned article of mine, I reference Holocaust victims, starving children in Africa, reality show contestants, anorexics, the infamous Minnesota Starvation Experiment, and a whole lot of commonsense to show why starvation mode is nothing more than a stupid myth.

Feel free to read it for all the fun details.

But… But… But…

Now I know what you might be thinking.

If starvation mode isn’t real, then how do I explain how there are so many overweight people who are eating as little as 600 – 1200 calories per day but still aren’t losing any weight?

That’s easy.

They aren’t actually eating 600 – 1200 calories per day.

Instead, in the VAST majority of cases, there is some kind of mistake being made somewhere in the tracking of the person’s calorie intake/output that is causing them to unknowingly eat more calories than they think they are, burn less calories than they think they are, or some combination of the two… and no deficit exists.

This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME and various weight loss studies confirm it. (Additional details here: The 1200 Calorie Diet)

But Wait, There’s More!

Less commonly, though, there’s actually a slightly different second scenario taking place that leads to this same nonexistent starvation mode bullshit.

That is when the person is indeed eating the (often excessively) low number of calories they claim to be… on certain days.

BUT, they are then overeating (or binge-eating) on the other days to a degree that cancels out whatever deficit they created and causes them to end up breaking even at maintenance for the week.

And when you’re at maintenance instead of in a deficit, you stop losing weight.

Taaadaaa!

This is how you get people (fun fact: it’s almost always women) who claim to be on some crazy low-calorie starvation diet eating 600 – 1200 calories per day but still aren’t losing any weight.

In reality, they’re either eating more than they think they are, or they’re legitimately eating the amount they claim some of the time (be it as little as one to as many as six days per week), but then overeating by thousands of calories on the other day(s) due to the excessive hunger that the previous extreme restriction caused.

Sometimes it’s so bad that this restrict-and-binge cycle doesn’t just land the person at maintenance for the week and prevent fat loss… it actually puts them into a surplus, thereby causing fat gain.

This, along with other related problems (e.g., water weight gain), is how you get people saying “I starved myself eating 800 calories per day but I still gained weight! It must be starvation mode!!”

No, it’s not.

But wait! I know what you’re thinking now: what about the second half of that original statement?

Ah ha! Good question.

Why Do People Claim To Lose Weight Again When They Start Eating More?

If what I’m saying is true (and it is), then how does any of this explain the next claim these people often make, which is that they finally started losing weight again as soon as they began eating MORE calories?

Doesn’t this prove that I’m wrong and that there are times when eating too little stops weight loss, and eating more restarts it?

Eh, not quite.

There are actually two very logical explanations for why people think eating more made them start losing fat again:

  1. First, because the “more calories” they are eating eliminates the excessively low-calorie days they previously had, which prevents the massively large binges those low-calorie days were previously causing. Meaning, the person actually ends up eating LESS total weekly calories now than they had been, despite thinking they’re “eating more calories.” And so, a deficit finally exists. Thus… weight loss happens.
  2. A second possible explanation is that if the person is legitimately eating more now after a period of eating significantly/excessively less, it would cause cortisol levels to drop. Guess what happens when cortisol levels drop? Water retention subsides… thus causing instant “weight loss” strictly in the form of water weight, not body fat. And if the deficit is as excessive as it usually is in these cases, the water retention can be quite substantial.

What Does All Of This Mean?

I’d sum this topic up like this…

  • A caloric deficit is the sole cause and requirement of fat loss. Always. For everyone. So, if you think you’re in a deficit but aren’t losing fat, you’re not actually in a deficit after all. Double and triple check the tracking of your calorie intake/output, because there’s most likely a mistake being made somewhere that’s causing you to eat more/burn less than you think you are. Again, this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. Yes, even to people who swear they obsessively track everything down to the very last gram and couldn’t possibly be making a mistake like this.
  • Starvation mode doesn’t exist. Just… no. For the love of all humanity… no.
  • People who think that eating more caused them to start losing fat again after a significant period of no fat loss (which was supposedly caused by “not eating enough“) are always wrong.
  • In reality, if they did indeed start losing fat after “eating more,” it’s because they actually ended up unknowingly eating less than before. Not more. Or…
  • In other cases, eating more after a period of eating excessively low calories has legitimately caused a loss of water weight, and the person is mistaking that water loss for fat loss.

Got it? Good.

By the way, if you’d like to lose fat while avoiding all of these annoying myths, mistakes and problems, and pretty much everything else that sucks about losing fat, feel free to check out my new program: Superior Fat Loss

I created it for this very purpose.

33 thoughts on “How Eating MORE Calories Can Make You Lose Weight (seriously)”

33 Comments

  1. Can you tell me how do I correctly count my calories intake? I know that MyFitnessP*l and many other apps are just a no. But other than using apps, I don’t know how can i track. Thanks

    • Eat only what you can measure using a food weight scale and published nutrition facts. Don’t eat out unless that restaurant publishes its menu’s calories and macros. And don’t forget to measure the oils you cook with. They can be forgotten but they are calorie laden.

    • MFP is just a tool, super-convenient and useful as long as you understand its limitations. It’s not perfect, but it gives you a good “ballpark” idea of where you are. Try overestimating your food calories and underestimate your exercise calories and you should be OK.

  2. ” Starvation mode doesn’t exist. Just… no. For the love of all humanity… no. ”

    For the love of all humanity … that was priceless 😀

  3. Hi Jay,
    Great article again. I’m a regular reader and you’ve played a part in my transformation over the last few years (https://www.instagram.com/p/BTHA8IQgPLn/). Thank you so much.
    I now work out regularly and run quite a bit. I’ve noticed that I gain weight much more slower than I lose weight. That is, while in deficit, I lose weight at ~5000Cal/kg, whereas when in surplus, I gain weight at around 7000Cal/kg. This is even during a deload, or when I’m on vacation and not working out actively and binge eating a bit (probably not gaining muscle). While I know it is an enviable situation, it still confuses me. Any theories about why it might be happening?
    Regards,
    Manjit

    • Amazing transformation dude! Glad any of my stuff helped in any way!

      As for your question, those are some pretty insane calorie numbers there, and you mentioned you “run quite a bit.” So, that would be my first guess… you’re simply burning a ton of calories. Endurance sports tend to warrant extra high calorie intakes.

      If that’s not the case, my second guess would be that those numbers are off and you’re actually eating less than that.

      If that’s not the case, I’d wonder what your thyroid levels are.

      • You know what they say about how bouncing ideas off of another person helps? Completely true.
        All through my weight loss I’s been very careful about not letting hidden calories sneak in. So while I’d measure most of the food I ate, when I ate out or ordered out or was on vacation, I’d have to eyeball, so I’d generously overestimate. And I’m still doing it. Looks like that’s the cause.
        Your second guess is spot on. Would never have thought of it myself because I was being so careful :p.
        There’s a lesson in that somewhere. Counting it wrong can go both ways. Thanks for your help. Again. 🙂

  4. THANK YOU!!! I am in a restrictive diet for leaky gut and only eat between 900-1200 calories per day. I’m fine with my weight but people who don’t know shit keep telling me I’m starving myself!! I probably eat better than most through variety!!!! Thanks, again.

  5. Can’t believe how much everyone is misinformed regarding fat loss and making stupid assumptions, theories and confusing others. Thanks jay for making people understand the simple rules of fat loss.

  6. Great article as always Jay!

    As for the people who use MyFitnessPal, their calories are drastically off, however, the most accurate way to calculate the right amount of calories using the app, is like this. After you add entries into your diary, click “edit” “select all” “save meal” you’ll see protein, fat, carbs, multiply each by the appropriate calorie per gram amount and add them all up, that equals the correct amount of cals for the whole day… because myfitnesspal rounds numbers up when you click “nutrition” this can make cals higher than they usually are or, in some cases lower (when you’re actually eating more than what it says)…

    Hopefully that helps other MFP users..

    • Although the accuracy is still slightly off this way, by usually, about 10 grams or so, but it’s a least closer.

  7. Interesting comments, I have a slightly different theory. I think when one goes on an extreme low cal diet, their energy levels are shot, and they wind up not being as active as they used to be. So they are overestimating their calories burned. When they return to normal eating, energy levels, and thus activity increase, helping to burn off the additional calories they are now consuming.

    • Lethargy/decreased NEAT is definitely something that happens in a deficit, and it’s definitely something that is worse the more severe the deficit is. So it can certainly be a part of this, though it’s unlikely to ever be enough to be the biggest part of it.

  8. I’m a regular reader who looks so much better than what I did because of all your advice jay. But what your articles also do is make me chuckle sometimes even laugh out loud. Remember the 4 foods that burn belly fat and the Holy Mother of God?? That made me laugh and I am a practicing catholic!!! I shouldn’t have but you’re so funny jay.

  9. Thank you for this! I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people say things like don’t go below x net calories or you will probably gain! I feel like I’m going to be linking to this post a lot 🙂

  10. Jay,
    Another good piece. You get this all the time, but I want to say thank you. After stumbling upon your site four months ago I was changed. I bought a power rack, took an informed look at my nutrition and have been motivated ever since. I’m stronger, healthier and happier. In retrospect the whole process was very easy, mind you I have an athletic history, be it ancient. I tell everyone that says “You look good” all about your plans. I’m 45, setting a year long goal to see the best version of me at 46. Can’t thank you enough, spreading the word.
    Ivan

  11. Heh … I love this! Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of “Kindle Unlimited” books about dieting and weight loss, to help motivate me. (There’s a lot of dreck out there, as I’m sure you know! But every once in a while I find a really good one, so I keep searching.)
    Anyway, ever since I discovered your blog, I AUTOMATICALLY return any Kindle book in which the author worries and moans about “starvation mode” – thanks to you, those are my new “trigger words” ! 😀

  12. by eating less (a lot less) a person energy level is going to be low right?(not to mention morale),so his/her workout in gym is not going to be effective compered to a person who eats 20 percent less the then his maintenance calorie?

  13. I always love your no nonsense, no holds barred way of tackling these topics. Really, I wish I could point so many people with the wrong ideas to your blogs. (I always mention your website when discussion in the lunchroom at work turns to diets)

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