When Eating Less Isn’t Working

I’ve had a number of clients and friends approach me and tell me that counting calories used to work for them, but doesn’t seem to anymore… or simply that they are eating less than ever and still not losing weight.

First, this doesn’t surprise me. If you’ve gone on and off diets and focused on cutting calories, you’ve most likely damaged your metabolism as well as your relationship with food.

At some point you reach a point when you can’t possibly cut more calories and you feel broken, either physically, or motivation-wise.

I’m not sure when exactly it happens (because any mother knows babies and toddlers certainly do not think like this), but at some point along our journey in life, most of us learn to see food as evil and the ability to eat very little as behaving. We learn to ignore the hunger and fullness signals from our bodies.

Toddler's Love Food

I had someone say to me the other day, “The problem is, I really like to eat.”

A few key words could be added to this sentence to change my opinion, but liking to eat is not a problem in and of itself. Food is obviously necessary for survival, but you should also enjoy the food you eat. If the majority of food you’re eating is fresh, real food, which provides you with nourishment and fuel for training (and breathing, living, etc.), why shouldn’t you also be able to enjoy that?

If your goal is to eat as little as possible, usually by cutting and/or counting calories, you will eventually fail. If you are trying to eat mostly foods that you do not enjoy, you’ll also fail.

Answer the following questions and be honest with yourself.

  • Do you feel excited about counting and cutting calories forever?
  • When you eat too few calories, do you achieve the results you’re looking for and feel genuinely happy?
  • When you’re on a diet do you enjoy the day-to-day journey? {…or are you just waiting for the day that you can start to eat normally again?}

If you answered any of these questions with a yes, you’re either not being honest with yourself or you just decided a few days ago that you’re committing to this whole not eating a lot thing. You’re still in the ‘super excited about your bikini bod’ phase. You know which phase I’m talking about, don’t kid yourself!

Generally speaking, you probably don’t hear the word ‘diet’ and think happy and fun thoughts. Instead, you most likely think restriction, boredom, misery and maybe even loneliness. Over time, you start to associate eating healthy foods with being on a diet. It’s becomes impossible to enjoy foods like vegetables, eggs and chicken if you associate these foods with the four-letter word DIET.

Most people are more excited about diets before they actually start them. In general, low calorie diets give people short-term hope followed by failure. Wouldn’t it be nice to come up with a long-term nutrition plan that will lead you to continued success, health AND happiness?

Improving your nutrition habits and becoming healthier overall is a life-long journey, not a quick fix. Start your journey now. Find one thing you can change this week that will improve your health. Nail that habit and then move on to another change.

Diets Don't Work Long Term

Maybe your first habit/change is something as simple as getting a fat jar, stopping the fat talk and just being nice to yourself. Then next week, if you feel like you’ve got that habit down pat, you can start upping your water intake. The week after that you can start eating more veggies. And so on…

Starving yourself sucks. It sucks for you and since you’re most likely pretty grumpy, that means it also sucks for your spouse, your friends and your family too. If you’re starving yourself by trying to stay under some ridiculously low calorie number (where did the 1,200 number come from anyway!?), you’re grumpy and it’s only gonna get worse. Stop. Just stop.

Dieting Making You Miserable

In Summary…

I know there are going to be some of you who comment that calorie counting works for you. I do absolutely think there is a time and place for calorie counting. In fact, I have my nutrition clients log their food during my programs so I can see what they are eating and we can work on changes based on individual needs.

That said, I also ask my clients a lot of questions about energy levels, deprivation, motivation and quality of life. We talk about how they are feeling in their workouts and if the way they are eating now is sustainable long-term. If the answer is no, something is still off. There’s a lot more that goes into a successful long-term nutrition plan than just a number. You need to be happy to be healthy and most people are not as happy as they could be if they are spending time every day counting calories! Spend those extra minutes giving out hugs, reaching out to old friends, talking a walk or sleeping.

Counting calories and restricting food intake reinforces the idea that being skinny is the ultimate goal and that eating less is the way to achieve that goal.

As much as I can’t stand the whole “strong is the new skinny” fitspiration stuff out there, it kind works here… is simply being skinny really the ultimate goal and key to happiness? Wouldn’t you rather be healthy, strong and happy? I honestly find that I’m a lot more lean  when I focus on strength goals and eating to fuel my body than when I focus on being restrictive or staying under a certain calorie number.

Over the last few years I have re-learned how to listen to hunger and fullness signals my body is giving me. There are days when I eat a lot more than others and that’s okay. I’ve learned that when I’m bonking during my workouts I may need to up my carb intake and my water for a few days. I know that when I’m not recovering well or I’m always feeling hungry, I’m probably not getting enough protein.

Strong is better than skinny

My suggestion is this. Take a good, honest look at what got you to where you are today. Take inventory of your current nutrition habits and work on small changes that don’t make you feel overwhelmed. Becoming healthy, strong and fit takes time. Learn to enjoy the journey instead of forcing yourself to do a compete overhaul of your nutrition habits. Change everything at once and you’ll feel restricted and eventually give up.

Need some help? I have a few more spots left in my next 12-week online nutrition group that starts on April 14th. I don’t promise immediate results (although the majority of clients lose 10+ pounds), but I do promise you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll learn some healthy habits that you can hang on to for life, not just the next 6, 8 or 12 weeks.

Remember, one thing at a time. What’s ONE, just one, thing that you can work on to improve your nutrition habits this week?


  1. LOVE every word of this post. as someone that has of course struggled with my relationship with food (thankfully no longer), and has calorie counted, I get this, in so many ways. It really is about listening to your body and getting to a point where you trust it enough to know that you are fueling it and feeding it, not depriving it (always wondered where the 1200 cals came from too, who can live like that!!) and getting to a place where you can be in tune with it more. I do agree that calorie counting and logging has a really good place in learning patterns, being accountable and getting to a healthy place with food though too, but when it goes beyond that to a point of deprivation or limitation, it’s no longer useful.
    Jolene recently posted..The MFEO Chronicles: Sarena & Tony

    • Thank you girly! I think everyone has struggled with their relationship with food at some point or another. :-) It’s really amazing when you do get to the point where you know what your body needs and craves. XO

  2. You rock! What a fabulous post. So true.

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