We hear a lot of talk in the fitness world about over-eating and there are countless blog posts and YouTube videos on tips and tricks to curb snacking and keep the late night snacking to a minimum.
Unfortunately what I see MOST often with my clients is actually a chronic habit of UNDER-eating. Under-eating is not only the most common cause of over-eating, but also can lead to a variety of health issues that prevent most from reaching their goals and achieving their best health.
In this article we are going to look at:
8 signs that you may be under-eating!
1. You are tired all the time!
Chronic daytime fatigue is something almost all of us can complain of these days, but under-eating doesn't just cause mid-day dips. Under-eating can also contribute to poor quality of sleep, and less time spent asleep. This is, in part, because under-eating can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies that play a role in hormone production and regulation. These hormones not only directly impact your ability to get good sleep, but also are regulated the most WHILE you are sleeping. This can lead to a devastating cycle of poor sleep that in turn leads to poor hormone regulation, that in turn leads to poor sleep.
2. You can't seem to lose weight.
Your body's ability to lose weight is directly dependent on it functioning as it was designed. If you are chronically under-eating, then your body is not going to get the nutrients it needs to function as it should. Hormones regulating metabolism and hunger cues are going to be disrupted at the same time as your body will begin to adapt to the lower calorie range you are taking in. This is when "calories in/calories out" begins to get complicated. While it is ultimately true that your body stores and uses energy as fuel in relation to how many calories you eat versus how many your body uses to function- that functioning begins to shift under chronic under-eating conditions. This can also be true of someone who has been in a calorie deficit for too long. That is why every season of fat loss should be followed by a "maintenance" season to help ensure that your body is not adapting to lower calorie ranges and continues to get the nutrition it needs to function at its best.
3. You are getting sick a lot.
Frequent illness or sickness is common in individuals who chronically under-eat. Why? Because the body is not able to fight off bugs without the necessary vitamins and minerals to do so. Think of all the nutrients that come from our food as an arsenal of weapons to use against invading viruses and bacteria. If you are not providing your body with the fuel it needs to fill and stock its arsenal then you are going to be more vulnerable to attack, especially during cold and flu seasons.
4. Infertility and Reproductive Issues.
While it is an unfortunate consequence of malnutrition, it is also understandable that if you are not feeding your body enough nutrients to take care of itself, it is not going to be likely to support the nutrition needs of a growing babe. As a Pre/Postnatal Certified Trainer, I NEVER advise any of my clients who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant to engage in weight loss efforts. Chronic under-eating can have serious negative affects on fertility efforts and drastically impair reproductive functions in both men and women.
5. Digestive Issues and Constipation.
The food we eat is a primary source of nutrition not just for us, but also for all the billions of bacteria in our gut that make regular and healthy digestion possible. Under-eating can greatly contribute to digestive irregularities including constipation and now that we know how crucial of a role gut health plays on hormone production and regulation- prioritizing gut health can have a greater overall impact on our health as a whole.
6. Hair loss.
Hair loss can be attributed to many different causes, but chronic under-eating has been shown to contribute to hair loss as your body does not have the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy production and maintenance of hair growth.
7. Feeling cold all the time.
Your body needs calories to maintain a consistent core body temperature. When these calories are insufficient or disrupted, it can lead to an altering of that core body temperature as shown by a 2011 study that demonstrated how long term calorie restriction lowered core body temperature.
8. Skin Issues.
Dry, itchy, or flaky skin can also be a result of chronic under-eating. Your body needs essential vitamins and minerals in order to maintain healthy skin including Vitamin E, Niacin, and essential B vitamins.
What NOT to do when you begin to eat more.
If you have read the above signs, assessed your own nutrition habits, and are thinking "Okay so I am under-eating, what do I do?", then let's start with talking about what you should NOT do.
It is easy and tempting to think that the solution is just to eat more! And while that is definitely an easy solution, it does not necessarily address the exact issues that under-eating causes. Eating "more" is only effective if what you are eating in the first place is nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, and comes from whole food sources. If you are relying on highly processed foods as the bulk of your diet then eating more of it will likely not reduce the symptoms above and will more likely lead to unwanted weight gain. So what next steps should you take if you want to reverse the impact of under-eating?
First steps you can take to increasing your food intake in a healthy way.
These are the first steps I encourage my clients to make when coaching them through a "reverse diet" or an intentional increase of calories.
Begin with the basics of nutrition and prioritize a minimum of 20 grams of protein in each meal.
Focus on nutrient-dense, whole food sources.
Eat a green vegetable at every meal.
Track food intake so you can be sure exactly what you are eating and that you are increasing your calories at a slow and steady rate.
Eating more can be intimidating, especially since most of us were raised with the constant pressure to eat less! But eating enough to support our body's core functions is key to establishing the basic health you need to live long, happy lives. If eating more seems complicated or you still don't know where to start then you can use my E-book "All You Need to Know About Macros" to help you identify the exact steps you need to take for your goals. In this E-book, I break down exactly what macros are, how to use them to reach your specific goals, and how to adapt them as your goals or season of life changes. You can learn more here.