Weight Loss: Are Calories the Enemy?

Have you ever thought about losing weight? To lose weight, you would have to burn off more calories than you consume. But this varies with everybody as your genetics and hormones also affect how many pounds you can lose. Some people go on low-calorie diets to lose weight, but calories aren’t healthy nor unhealthy themselves. A calorie is a unit of energy that our bodies need to do the things we do every day, from playing soccer to walking the dog.

Your body has a limit of how many calories it can lose while still being able to function. When you don’t eat enough calories, your metabolism or how fast your body burns energy starts to slow down. The body goes into “starvation mode” since it believes it won’t get fed. On the weight scale, it will seem as if you aren’t losing any weight at all. These are just a few ways beings on a strict low-calorie diet can come at the expense of your health:

  • You’ll feel miserable. Not allowing yourself to eat enough food can have an effect on your mental health. Since calories fuel you up, you might feel more tired than usual if you restrict too many calories from your body. Some people also get upset from how hungry they are or “hangry.” Avoiding your favorite foods creates a relationship with food that’s about punishment rather than enjoyment.
  • You lose muscle. Your body can start to break down muscles for energy. Since your muscles control your metabolism, you can gain weight because your body won’t be burning as many calories. At this point, you’d notice less muscle definition on your body and more body fat.
  • You can have trouble sleeping. Certain foods have hormones and nutrients that help you sleep. When you fall short on sleep, you might be more likely to eat more, leading to weight gain. Sleep deprivation can also weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick and cause anxiety and other mental health disorders.
  • You’re more likely to get an eating disorder. People with eating disorders don’t want to gain weight. They believe that no matter how skinny they look that they are still overweight. Those who have an eating disorder also avoid eating in front of others or may prefer to hide when they eat.


Health is more than just a number. Weighing less doesn’t mean that someone is “fit” or in great shape. Rather than counting calories, count how many wholesome foods and ingredients you’re eating. Count how much fiber, protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals you’re getting. Exercise to take care of your health instead of doing it to lose weight and make sure you’re sleeping a lot each night.


  • Weight Control. MedlinePlus (.gov), 2023.
  • Why people become overweight. Harvard Health, 2019.
  • Obesity and hormones. Better Health Channel.
  • Learning About Calories (for Kids) – Nemours KidsHealth. KidsHealth.
  • How Your Body Fights Weight Loss. Northwestern Medicine.
  • Nutrition and Mental Health (Food and Mood). Nutritionist Resource.
  • Get the Facts: Burning Fat without Losing Muscle. Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, 2017.
  • Your No-Nonsense Guide to Metabolism. UNC Health Talk, 2019.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Understanding the Hidden Consequences. Sleep Foundation, 2023.

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