Why Under-Eating is Making You Gain Weight

Recently, I have been reading more than you care to understand about nutrition. I know that I kind of do that anyway, I love food and how it works in our bodies. But I have recently switched my focus to macronutrient nutrition in the past couple of months and I am completely captivated.

As much as I’ve been reading and learning about macro and micro nutrition, I’ve also been talking to a lot women. I’ve been asking them how much they eat, how much they workout, what their protein looks like, and the same for carbs and fats.

You know what I’m finding out?

Most women are under-eating. 

Food is the enemy of the woman, right? Too much of this, too much of that…it all leads to the hips, thighs, and the stomach. And many women are just plain terrified of food.

Foods are labeled good, bad, healthy, high carb, low carb, low-fat, heart-healthy, or just plain terrible. Those are the ones we crave and we refuse until we give in and sometimes binge. Food makes us feel guilty if we splurge, great if we control our urges, and phenomenal if we drop a few pounds.

Most women have never figured out exactly how many calories they need to eat every day, much less have been told how many grams of protein her individual body needs, plus the calories from carbohydrates and fats that are equally important. We’re all different. There’s no article out there on Google that tells every woman specifically what HER body needs to do to lose weight. So we try low carb diets, high protein diets, Paleo diets, etc., all in search of that Holy Grail and maybe a six pack stomach.

But what happens when a person diets for too long?

I talk to two types of women. The ones who eat for athletic performance and the ones who eat to lose weight. And let me tell you one thing: every single woman wants to look good no matter what the bigger picture may be. Every single woman also likes chocolate, wine, or has a similar vice that she does not want to give up.

Where food goes wrong.

Most women who make the decision to lose weight and start dieting ASAP, all make the same mistake. They slash calories, deprive themselves of the foods they enjoy, and they lose weight while low on energy, missing out on parties, and eventually fail or plateau. What next? They may start exercising and keep the same caloric intake, they might start slashing calories more, they may do both, or they may just give up. And most of these women are extremely protein deficient, are eating too low carb or too low fat, and the end result is typically weight gain, depression, and the sense of failure.

I mean, that’s kind of my story before strongfigure. Before I had actual training goals, I was the exerciser who ate “healthy.” I wanted to lose the weight I gained in college so I ate low carb, Paleo, whole foods, avoided sugar, sometimes tracked my calories, sometimes I didn’t. I developed horrible relationships with food–the “healthier” I ate, the more I craved pizza, ice cream, and chocolate.

What do you do?

EAT. If you’re going to bust ass in the gym, eat to bust ass. Fuel your body. Load up good carbs, good fats, and lots of protein on your plate. Recover with protein and carbs. Eat a protein snack before bed if you’re hungry. Eat a lot of veggies every single day with every single meal. Don’t be afraid of your good carbs like sweet potatoes and oats, and eat a wide variety of protein foods with each meal and snack. Avoid processed crap and skip the coma-inducing sugar rich foods. You need to eat and eat well. Eat to support your lifestyle. And if that thought terrifies you? Cut back on the workouts so that your activity level matches your food intake. (Seriously, who wants to take that option?) Simply, stop dieting. Eat real food. Work hard and lift weight. It won’t be easy or a super-quick fix, but this solution is something you can very easily live with for the rest of your life. And THAT is a do-able solution.

Coming Soon

The nutrition section of our newest book, REVAMP, teaches women, athletes, and all types of people how to eat for his or her goals. Check out the details HERE. Most people, women especially, are shocked to find out how little they are eating in order to keep up with their busy lives. As I’ve learned how much food we need to be eating, the more I’m finding how low most people’s caloric intake is. We need to change this and start eating more food!

Stop screwing up.

Are you sick of being stuck at the same weight for a few years now? Constantly yo-yoing or plateauing? Maybe you’re a “scale junkie,” too focused on a number?

It’s OK. You can still drop a few pounds! 

Like too many women, I spent so long under-eating calories (carbs especially) and then binging on my favorite cheat meals that my metabolism was just too screwed up to fix. Or so I thought. The combination of too much exercise and not enough calories resulted in poor metabolic function. But through better and proper nutrition, I have been able to reverse most of the metabolic damage that I caused. Moreover, if I knew then what I know now, my metabolic damage would have been much easier to fix in a shorter period of time.

So now, one of my quests is continuing to fix my own metabolism and helping other women do the same. Ladies, listen to me, stop slashing calories and eat what your body needs. And if you have no idea what that should be, just contact me so I can help you.

What’s one more thing that can help you look good? A few good workouts. ;)
Here are your Strong Figure Conditioning Workouts for the week. Enjoy!

Workout 1:  For Time

  • 4 rounds of 200 meter sprints followed by 30 squats, then
  • 4 rounds of 200 meter sprints followed by 20 push-ups

Workout 2: Tabatas! 

Four rounds of each exercise, 20 seconds of work followed by a 10 second rest. Each exercise will last 4 minutes:

  • Burpees
  • Sit-ups (or planks)
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Sprints

Workout 3: 4 Rounds for time

  • 400 meter run
  • 30 kettlebell swings
  • 20 front rack lunges (use two weights if possible)
  • 10 V-ups

If you don’t have access to equipment, substitute squats and push-ups for the swings and lunges.

BONUS! Want to lose weight without exercising? No, we’re not throwing gimmicks at you either. Our friends at Fitness Jockey have composed a stellar article about all the things you should be doing in your life to help facilitate your weight loss efforts. From getting more sunlight exposure to having your hormones checked out, read their list of things that we ALL should be doing more of in order to get the best out of our health. 

Do you think you’ve been eating too low calorie for too long? Are you having a hard time losing fat and making progress in the gym even though you’ve been working hard and eating well? Get more help with our book, REVAMP!

In case you missed my popular, “Women: You’ll Get Bigger Before You Get Smaller” article, check it out! It’s “trending” right now and there is a LOT of great info in the “Comments” section of it. Check it out!

Make sure you don’t miss my upcoming feature that outlines all you need to know about flexible dieting/nutrition, and how to eat according to your own activity levels and performance. All you need to do is subscribe here!


  1. Holly says

    In high school, my food outlook was a lot different than it is today. But, that’s because I didn’t know better. As a tri-sport athlete for 7 years, and an avid pee-wee sports player for the 6 years before that, I ate anything that wasn’t nailed down. Because I was go-go-go all the time and constantly hungry. After graduating, eating that way drained me. I was still sports active, and had started weight lifting, but the food lifestyle I had, sucked. My 2nd semester in college, I took a Food Science & Nutrition class for a science credit, and my world was blown wide open. I inevitably took more nutrition based classes and got a degree in human nutrition. That one class, I can say not only changed my food lifestyle, but has helped me immensely in competition and in the gym. I’ve been eating a certain way for so long, it’s become like a second nature to me. Almost all of my clients, when they first come to me, have similar eating habits I had when I was younger. Eating all the wrong things. Bad fats. Lots of sugar, etc. Or they’re depriving themselves of calories and balance in their diet. Both sides of the spectrum all say the same thing: they just don’t have any energy. Food is fuel.

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Holly, I could not agree more. I wish wish WISH, I had known about my nutrition obsession back when I was in college so I could have majored in it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my English degree and I don’t mind learning about nutrition on my own; however, I just wish I could go back and dive in to it full time! If only nutrition were required courses–maybe so many of us wouldn’t have to fight it the way we do now. #changetheworld #requirednutrition ;) Oh and let me throw a caveat out there…only if it’s correct nutrition! Ha! Too many old school thinkers out there in some universities/colleges.

  2. eatsandexercisebyamber says

    STEPH, this is such a GOOD post, that rings SO true for so many women! To be honest, under eating is an issue many woman do accidentally, and unfortunately, on purpose. Magazines like Women’s Health boast 1,300 calorie flat belly day plan, when really if you’re active, work out, and have a full time job you NEED calories and carbs…I was afraid of carbs for so long…I saw no progress int he gym, now I know why! CARBS ARE OUR FRIENDS, NOT THE ENEMY, you’re a knowledge source I may contact int he future about nutrition and HOW MUCH a person truly needs, but I do know I NEED PROTEINA ND CARBS :)

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Thanks Amber!!! You are right — carbs need to be our friends and not necessarily the enemy. The more I learn the more I realize that carb timing the composition of the carb/food is really important when it comes to making gains. Definitely contact me sometime and we’ll talk numbers! Oh and 1300 calorie diets are crazy!!! Ugh.

  3. stephanie says

    I started at 138 pounds then dieted to get down to 123 for my wedding, after that i maintained 125-130 for 2 years then started cycling and gained about 5 pounds from muscle i assume, then I started weight training., Ended up gaining weight 137 then started getting scared of gaining more weight so i restricted calories and worked out even more and still was gaining. Now i’m at 150 approximately and reverse dieting to try and fix my metabolism. throughout that time I developed and ED (bulimia) and started seeking help. So now I am trying to get my body to trust me again in regards to food and exercise I am doing minimal cardio and lifting heavy. Also eating 1500-2000 calories a day, hoping i don’t gain any weight but that I actually lean out (I don’t care about the scale as long as my body composition is where I want it!)

    • strongfigure says

      Wow Stephanie thanks for being brave enough to share. It sounds like you are getting pretty good advice now (reverse dieting and fixing your metabolism.) Finding happiness with our bodies can be a very difficult task and often we resort to very difficult measures. Unfortunately, EDs and forms of calories restriction just screw us up more. There is so much BAD information out there that makes us resort to such practices and we often do not realize how awful they are for our health and even our body composition. Be patient with the reverse dieting, you may have a lot to overcome in terms of repairing your metabolism.

      I hope lots of our readers see that working out even more and calorie restriction does not help. It just destroys our metabolisms. The mantra calories in and calories out is a complete myth. EDs will absolutely wreck a metabolism. Your body is an evolved being. If you workout hard and do not feed it, the body will slow the metabolism and store as much body fat as it can so that it has energy to cope with the large amounts of exercise — this is especially true with prolonged conditioning type workouts. Your story is an excellent example of this.

      I am glad you are doing better. We wish you all the best!

  4. Genevieve says

    I am so inspired by this post and so happy to have discovered your website, Stephanie! I’m ashamed to admit it, but I legitimately starved myself for 2.5 years: I took appetite suppressants and ate only one meal a day—and even then, I was 127 lbs, which at 5’4″ is far from emaciated. Last October, I finally decided to clean up my act and become healthy, so I started eating regular meals (Paleo) and working out regularly. But as was to be expected, my metabolism did not know how to handle a “normal” daily intake of food and, so I started gaining weight. It’s now been seven months since my lifestyle change, and I’ve gained 10 pounds. I don’t fit into any of my clothes (the reason I was starving myself in the first place), and I’m becoming increasingly depressed and discouraged.

    Now, I’m not about to give up this new healthy lifestyle anytime soon, but you can imagine how demoralizing it is to feel like I’m trying and trying and trying to lose weight but I just keep gaining instead. So posts like this, and your recent one on how to fix a slow metabolism, are giving me an extra boost of motivation to keep working on myself. As long as I know that what I’m going through is NORMAL, I feel like I can keep hanging in there.

    I will definitely bookmark this page, sign up for your newsletter, and consider contacting you for coaching. I can hardly suppress my joy over stumbling across your wonderful website, Stephanie. Keep up the great work!

  5. Barbara A Richey says

    So glad to have found you,wanted your opinion.I am 58 years old have been doing Jazzercise for two years with high intensity cardio and resistance training,I have toned up alot but still have more to achieve lost a lot of inches and around 20 pounds I maintained about 138 for about 8 months then out of nowhere have gained about 3 pounds.I usually lift weights around 6 pounds each and then have added 8 pounds lately.I haven’t changed my eating,cut out all junk food . sometimes I don’t what to eat without gaining weight, sometimes I think I’m not eating enough. Can you give me some advice if it’s not to much trouble. Thank you Barbara!

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Barbara! First thing I would say is to up those weights! Start doing sets of 3×8 or 3×10 and make those last few reps so challenging that it’s hard to do them. The more/heavier you can lift, the more lean muscle you’ll create and lean muscle is what burns fat! In fact, last week I JUST published 3 workout programs–they’re each 12 week long programs–one for beginners, one for intermediate, and one for advanced. Check them out and start one. Next, I would say as long as you’re eating 25-35 grams of fiber (from veggies first, and whole grains second) and then eating roughly 120 grams of protein per day, that will probably help you as well–especially if you would rather eat “clean” without being super meticulous about everything else. Good luck!

  6. says

    Hello, I have been working out for 1 1//2 yrs, tae bo to be exact started slow and worked up to 30-45minutes a day, some days cardio some shaping with weights mixed cardio. I saw great progress lost a clothes size. But since I have started the shaping with weights for about 4 months I feel bigger …. My legs my stomach grrrr my pants at the thigh and calf are tighter and my stomach is not as flattened as was getting?… Should I stop the shaping ? I want to lose 25-30 pounds and be in better shape. Stoned ! But at this point I am. Just frustrated. What should I do diet first to lose fat! But I was losing until shaping with weights. But feels awesome to use weights. So complicated HELP

  7. says

    I was making this same mistake, I had 25 kgs to drop,so I ate at a certain deficit..which I kept even after I lost said weight and I was getting more serious with the weights…even started to do Crossfit…yeah,it’s just been 2 weeks that I talked to my coach ,he did some numbers and it turns out I need 2,200 calories,and I was eating around 1,400 on a good day. LOL poor body, and even so I managed to gain 4% muscle mass,imagine if I had been doing it properly earlier on,but hey now I don’t get low sugar at the gym and I sleep so well,I can lift more.

    • strongfigure says

      Hey Nancy thanks for the comment! I am curious, did you jump straight from 1400 to 2200? I know Stephanie recommends going up slowly (like adding only 100 calories a week.) If you did, I would love to hear more about your story! And as far as your sleeping better and lifting more — WOOHOO!!! Congratulations! This is great stuff. — Erik

  8. says

    Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I am going to send this post to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a great read. Thank you for

  9. says

    This is me. I ruined my metabolism with severe under eating around 2 years ago, and am not suffering the consequences. I feel pretty good most days, but water weight is almost always here, my period is gone, and I don’t go to frequently if you know what I mean. I’m 17 almost 18, and way more active than my most of my other friends yet they’re are thinner than me, and eat sugar quite a lot. They also do not lift, do pilates, run, etc…I feel I need professional advice but ah ingfkjgd

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Abbie, email me at strongfigure@gmail if you want to chat more or talk about nutrition. I know it’s frustrating! We’re all on a similar journey and you have to keep reminding yourself not to compare your uniqueness to others. You can overcome this!

  10. jackie says

    I am 62.Always a good eater and active until breast cancer.Lost over 40 pounds during chemo,gained it all back quickly as soon as I started eating.Could not eat as much as before,so under ate for several years.Had major surgery and digestive problems and really restricted for over a year.Lost 20 pounds the first month and stalled.The doctors were not concerned as I was a normal BMI,despite the fact I was passing out from not eating..they said I was depressed and to not eat gluten,dairy,etc….I finally found a dietician who got me eating…the weight flew on and I was not even eating 1500 calories and no junk….I am still under eating but terrified as I am 20 pounds over my heaviest weight and now obese….I have no energy and just feel like crap….do not do what I did…..

  11. Paula G says

    Highly interested in your findings. This has been boggling me for the past months. I’ve consulted trainers, tried different approaches to see how my body will feel, and to no avail , weight continues to increase… I’m monitoring my macros, 30fat, 35carbs,35protein… 1500-1600 caloric intake, ensuring I have at least a 3500 calorie deficit a week… Work out 6 days a week, 1.5 hours minimum a day, a mixture of fast pace walking, bootcamps, spin, barre, yoga/Pilates, step aerobics, biking, what every involves physical exercise I par take and I’m trying not to feel upset or sad, I know I’ve got to find the right tweek, I feel like I’m missing the connected dot! ..my last lab work this year is fine , no thyroid issues , I did recently came off plaquenil (I was on it for 3yrs) … My body feels stronger and have come a long way but my frustration and the scale and my progress is tied in one …:-/

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Paula….sounds like you’re doing a TON of awesome things in the gym…I wonder if you’re not eating enough to support all this activity? How tall are you, what’s your current weight, and your age? (If you don’t mind me asking.) You may benefit from something called a “reverse diet” where you increase your calories weekly instead of decrease them so that you can support your body in all its great workout efforts…then do a cut later that will help you burn fat. It’s a complicated process and I didn’t explain it well here, but contact me at strongfigure@gmail if you want to learn more.