If you’re on a weight loss journey, you might be scaling back on how much you eat and the types of foods you eat, as well as increasing your daily activity through exercise. And while that’s typically a good thing, you can overdo it and start to lose weight too rapidly, which can actually lead to adverse consequences for your health.
What might too much weight loss in a period of time look like? Despite what certain diet programs advise, it’s never recommended to consistently lose more than two pounds per week, according to Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
“And when it comes to that amount, it isn’t recommended in those with high levels of activity,” Jones said. “Rapid weight loss can lead to muscle loss, not just fat [loss], as well as chronic dehydration, poor immune system function, and even a slowing of baseline metabolism."
So, it’s better to be patient with results and think, “Slow and steady wins the race,” rather than rush movement on the scale.
Beyond just looking at a number on the scale each week, look for these red flags, and speak to a dietitian, physician, and trainer if you need some guidance in finding a healthy program that will work best for you.
Signs Your Weight Loss Journey Has Gone Too Far
1. You Are Moody
“Low energy availability — or not eating enough to support training and basic body functions — means your body may not prioritize creation of important hormones, including those that regulate your mood,” Jones said.
On top of that, if your diet is too restrictive for your activity level, you may also not support your gut bacteria, which can influence mood and wellbeing.
“Low blood sugar itself, and the body feeling stressed out from quick weight loss, leads to excess release of cortisol and epinephrine, which are stress and anxiety hormones,” Jones said.
“Instead of doing a fad or crash diet that promises fast weight loss, start with small changes in portion sizes, reducing added sugars, and swapping out high-calorie foods in a way you can maintain,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
2. You're Losing Hair
When engaging in both a training program and a calorie deficit, your body will begin using protein for energy.
“While muscle can become an energy source for a deprived body, unnecessary body proteins — such as your hair — may be compromised too,” Jones said. "As a sports dietitian, I’ve often seen triathletes, runners, and those participating in fitness or physique competitions complain of excessive hair loss, or at least brittle hair, dry skin, and brittle nails."
The fix? Add in protein.
“Make sure to consume enough protein spread evenly throughout the day, and do strength training activities a few times per week,” Harris-Pincus said.
Related: 3 Protein Myths to Stop Believing
3. You Can't Keep Up During Training Sessions
An inability to maintain a high level of intensity or a need to call training sessions short indicates you aren’t eating enough to keep fuel stored in your muscles.
“Glycogen, the storage form of carbs in your muscles, is the quickest and most efficient energy source for exercising muscles during high-intensity activities,” Jones said. “Feeling low-energy or hitting a wall during workouts while also losing weight indicates you aren’t eating enough to support your training or your body’s fuel needs outside of training."
4. Your Post-Workout Soreness Is Drastic or Lingers Too Long
“You may make it through workouts relying on caffeine or small doses of carbs before and during, but if your overall daily calorie intake is too low while losing weight, you’re likely to be using muscle as an energy source,” Jones said.
And this means you’re not able to use protein for muscle recovery and repair post-training.
“Poor recovery and excessive fatigue indicate you need to eat more total calories, even if your protein intake is high,” she said.
So, add in some extra calories to support your recovery plan.
“Eat a meal or snack containing around 20 grams of protein within 30 to 60 minutes of a strenuous workout to support muscle growth and repair,” Harris-Pincus said.
5. You're Constipated
Less food volume means less waste to bulk up your poop. If you drastically cut the amount of food you eat, you probably won’t be able to poop as easily.
“Make sure to eat lots of lower-calorie, fiber-rich plant foods such as non-starchy veggies, fruit, and beans, and drink lots of water to keep things moving,” Harris-Pincus said.