It’s a growing concern that Americans are eating too many calories. Thanks to huge portion sizes and the rise in processed food, our average daily caloric intake has increased by nearly 27 percent since 1961—from 2,880 to a whopping 3,639 calories. And now, one-third of adults in the U.S. are considered obese.
But is it possible to eat too little as well? Under-eating can be a serious issue—maybe one that isn’t even easily recognizable. Thumb through any women’s fashion or fitness magazine, and you’ll inevitably stumble upon an eating plan that claims to help with weight loss or beat bloat. Typically, these plans pride themselves on containing less than 1,200 calories. But technically, that’s the smallest number of calories most people can get away with eating. In fact, many people—especially active men and women—need to eat more.
Not eating enough can have some serious side effects on your health, and ironically enough can even sabotage your weight loss goals. If any of these situations resonate with you, you might not be eating enough.
Can’t lose weight
Although cutting calories might initially help you lose weight, eventually your body will plateau. In fact, you might even gain weight because your body will try to conserve as much energy as possible because it thinks you’re experiencing starvation! Instead of drastically slashing the usual amount of food you eat on a regular basis, work with a Health Coach or nutritionist to find an eating plan and fitness regimen that works best for your body.
Dragging your feet as you get up to grab your third cup of coffee before 10 a.m.? You might be low energy because you’re not eating enough. Remember: Food is fuel. It should energize us—not zap out energy! Instead of relying on caffeine to power through your day, try noshing on power foods like proteins and healthy fats to keep your energy levels up all day long.
Trouble recovering from workouts
For those trying to lose or maintain a certain weight, diet and exercise go hand in hand. But if you’re cutting back on calories while upping your workout schedule, odds are good that your muscles aren’t getting the nutrients they need to recover and grow. That’ll leave you feeling low-energy, weak, and prevent muscle growth (which is the whole point!). Eat high protein foods and complex carbohydrates at least 30 minutes after a workout to really reap the benefits of exercise.
Trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the whole night can be traced back to hormonal issues—which in turn can be caused by lack of nutrients and under eating. When you don’t eat enough, your body’s blood sugar levels become extremely unstable; steady blood glucose levels help regulate circadian rhythms, which are connected to everything from energy levels in the morning to the ability to fall asleep at night.
Ever been caught “hangry”? Yep, hunger has a serious effect on our moods. Not only will it make you more likely to snap at a co-worker or annoyed by your significant other, but constant hunger makes it way more difficult to control emotions and make decisions. Science shows that we lose self-control when we haven’t eaten enough—basically, as the Snickers commercial says “you aren’t you when you’re hungry.”
Can’t go to the bathroom
Your digestion can tell you a lot about your health—for most people, a normal bowel movement occurs once or twice a day. But if you’re not eating enough, you might go days without a normal poo. It could be because of a lack of fiber and matter in the digestive system, but constipation can also be linked to thyroid dysfunction that sometimes occurs in under-eaters.
If you’re trying to lose weight, attempting to be healthier or just plain stressed and forget to eat, it can be useful to talk to a professional like an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach about getting enough good nutrient-dense calories in your diet. They’ll support you to find your own bio-individual approach to food. Eating should be enjoyable and it should serve you—when you’re getting the right nutrients for your body, you look good and feel good! No calorie counting required.
How do you best listen to your body to ensure it's properly nourished throughout the day? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!