It seems unusual to talk about under eating when over eating is the topic we hear about over and over again. Yes, there is an obesity epidemic, however, in my private practice, I have yet to work with a client who is an over eater.
I have worked with many individuals who have been able to rid themselves of their health issues that they came to me for just by simply increasing the amount of food they ate.
Since this is such a common problem in my private practice, I wanted to write a blog post about the signs your body may be giving you when you’re chronically under eating:
You’re always thinking about food.
This is a really common one my clients come to me about, especially those recovering from an eating disorder (ED). If you find yourself thinking about food more often than not and wonder why, it’s most likely due to the fact that you are hungry! Simple as that. When we are hungry and our blood sugar begins to drop, our bodies will naturally seek out calories (usually, by thinking about food). When you find yourself unable to concentrate on a task because you can’t stop thinking about food, this is a signal that you are hungry and your body needs food.
A starving mind will always be thinking about food. The more you choose to nourish it, the less you will think about food. Choose nourishment, always.
You’re always hungry.
It seems quite obvious, if you’re hungry, eat. However, it’s not always that obvious. I know of (and work with) a lot of people who are constantly hungry, but question their hunger cues rather than honour them.
We see magazines promoting 1,200 calorie diets or hear the lady in the gym locker room sharing with her friend that she fasts all morning and has one meal in the evening. We follow these diets and (obviously) feel hungry all of the time. If you are always hungry this is a clear sign that you are not eating enough food and trust me, sweetheart, 1,200 calories is not enough food for you.
If you are always hungry, despite eating balanced meals and a few snacks throughout the day, do not assume that there is something is wrong with you. It is more than likely your body’s way of telling you that what you are eating is not enough to meet your needs. Eat up and honour your hunger cues. As I said, choose nourishment, always.
You’re always cold.
Calorie restriction can cause our body temperature to drop and be the root cause as to why you’re constantly cold (1). Our bodies need a certain amount of calories to create heat to keep warm. Additionally, a diet too low in carbohydrates can also cause us to feel uncomfortably cold (2). So, in this case, you may need to increase your calorie and, particularly, your carbohydrate consumption in order for your body to produce the heat in needs to keep you warm.
You’re always tired.
Fatigue is a symptom of starvation. Just as your body needs an adequate amount of calories to keep warm, it also requires an adequate amount of calories to feel awake, alive, and energetic. When you chronically under eat, everything within your body begins to slow down – it thinks it is starving, so it begins to slow down as a way of preserving what it has.
Feeling tired on and off throughout the day is a sign of blood sugar imbalance, which can be caused by under eating. Low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, can be caused by not eating enough throughout the day, which is another reason why eating an adequate amount of calories throughout the day is so important. Eating enough keeps your blood sugar levels and hormones balanced.
Your sleeps are restless.
When I was under eating many years ago, I could not sleep without waking up in the middle of the night. Restless sleeps are a sign that your blood sugar is fluctuating dramatically. When we are woken up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back asleep, this is a clear indicator that your blood sugar has dropped and you need food. As I said above, low blood sugar is a sign of under eating. Eating enough throughout the day will ensure a full nights sleep. When I began eating more, my sleep was the first thing to improve and I was finally able to sleep for the entire night without waking up. In addition to increasing your calorie consumption, including a carbohydrate source at the meal or snack your have before bed will help lower cortisol levels, stabilize blood sugar levels, and promote a restful, full nights sleep.
You are anxious or depressed.
Anxiety and depression are signs of low blood sugar. Our brain requires glucose to function, which means, when our blood sugar drops, our brain and emotions are effected. I used to struggle with anxiety and depression and when I changed my diet (and started eating more), I was able to overcome these struggles.
You have adrenal problems.
You’ve been to your doctor and you have been told that your adrenals are not functioning properly. When we under eat, our adrenals perceive that our bodies are undergoing stress. This causes our adrenals to excessively pump out cortisol and, eventually, burn out. To avoid your adrenals becoming overworked, stressed, and fatigued, you must eat enough. Calorie restriction is not good for your adrenal health.
You have thyroid problems.
It wasn’t until my fifth year of post-secondary education, when I studied at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, that I began to learn about and truly understand the thyroid and why one might suffer from hypo- and hyperthyroid issues.
One of the main reasons for hypothyroidism is due to dieting and calorie restriction. Our bodies require glucose to convert the thyroid hormone, T4, to T3 in the liver. Without adequate glucose, the liver will struggle to convert T4 to T3, which is the form of the thyroid hormone necessary for healthy thyroid function. Without enough T3, hypothyroidism results.
It is so important that we not only eat enough calories, but carbohydrates, too.
For more on thyroid and how to keep your thyroid functioning optimally, listen to this podcast all about thyroid health.
You’re not getting your period.
Calories (and particularly carbohydrates) ensure the female body that it is fed. If the female body senses any sort of stress or if it thinks that it is entering a state of famine or starvation, it can (and most likely will) put a halt on it’s reproductive function, resulting in a loss of menstruation (also known as amenorrhea).
If you suffer from amenorrhea, it is most likely due to the fact that your body thinks it is not safe enough to reproduce. This is an example of how incredibly smart our bodies are. Our bodies do not (and will not) allow us to reproduce if the conditions are unsafe. Our bodies are seriously amazing and we need to start treating them in the loving way they deserve. How? By choosing nourishment.
Your workouts suck.
Whether your not progressing in the gym or you’re never looking forward to your workout, it is more than likely due to a lack of calories.
You need to be consuming enough energy in order to make progress in the gym and I guarantee you that working out will not sound appealing if you are under eating. With under eating comes fatigue and if you’re tired you’re not going to perform well during your training sessions nor are you going to want to go in the first place. Eat up.
As you can see, a lot can go wrong when we chronically under eat. Fortunately, the fix is easy – eat more. Not sure where to start? I get it. After years of under eating and following a meal plan, I “forgot” how to eat. I didn’t know how to build a properly proportioned plate. Looking at an empty plate made me feel overwhelmed and anxious. That is why I wrote this blog post for you. This blog post goes over how you should aim to structure your meals and snacks throughout the day to create balance and consume an adequate amount of food.
For more information on under eating, don’t forget to listen to this podcast! We talk all about under eating as well as carb and fat fears and how to get over them.
If you want one-on-one help with your diet and health issues, don’t hesitate to reach out. I offer one-on-one nutrition coaching and am currently accepting new clients.