It may surprise you to know that I spend the majority of my sessions with clients telling them to eat MORE and not less. When I say recommend eating more a very typical response is “but if I eat more, I will gain weight, right?” This is not always true.
Diet culture praises hunger, and shames fullness (read more here). It tells you the key is “calories in calories out” – that’s all there is to it, right? Wrong.
Our bodies are not robots. They are not a static machine that requires the same number of calories each day. Energy requirements vary based on activity level, gender, stress and sleep, illness, phase of life, and so much more. That is why listening to our bodies hunger and fullness cues is always the best indicator of our needs.
Unfortunately, diet culture takes you away from these natural cues, praising undereating and making consumers believe that being hungry all the time is a good thing. This puts us at risk for going into starvation mode which ultimately takes us AWAY from our goals. Undereating can also have serious health consequences.
risks of chronic undereating:
- Breakdown of muscle (including your heart!)
- Gastroparesis (slowed digestion causing symptoms such as stomach pain and bloating, nausea and vomiting, blocked intestines, and constipation)
- Development of eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa
- Obsessive food thoughts and difficulty concentrating (your brain consumes 1/5 of the body’s calories – without enough intake it cannot function properly!)
- Lowered sex drive
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Reduced resting metabolic rate
- Dry skin, brittle nails, and hair loss
- Decreased bone density (osteopenia and osteoporosis)
We find that undereating is particularly common with our clients that are athletes or people with a regular exercise routine such as HIIT workouts, group exercise classes, cycling, or running. This comes back to the calories in calories out philosophy of diet culture. Diet culture teaches us to burn as many calories as we can while taking in as little calories as possible.
Exercising while under fueling has additional risks including:
- Reduced muscle mass
- A slower metabolism and an increase in body fat
- Increased cortisol hormone (stress) – this can lead to insulin resistance and leptin resistance (leptin is the hormone that indicates you are full)
- Increased risk of stress fractures and decreased bone density
- Loss/decrease of performance
- Reduced T3 (active thyroid hormone)
In addition, under fueling for workouts can hinder your progress towards your strength and endurance goals. When calories are too low, the body prioritizes keeping you alive – meaning its focus is on essential functions such as breathing and regulating body temperature. It is not focused on rebuilding muscle tissue.
Working out without proper nutrition makes it nearly impossible to increase muscle strength or size.
Under fueling also makes recovery from workouts more difficult. During a workout, your muscle tissues break down. Without adequate calories, carbs, and protein, your muscles will not have the materials they need to rebuild. Instead, that muscle will just be burned for energy. Under eating also disrupts your sleep cycle which is an important part of the recovery process as well.
How do you know if you are undereating?
Signs that you are not eating enough:
- Low energy
- Loss of performance in workouts
- Mood swings
- Brain fog/poor concentration
- Depression or anxiety
- Hair loss and brittle nails
- Feeling cold
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Low sex drive
- Increased cravings (particularly for quick energy sources such as sugar and refined carbohydrates)
If you resonate with these symptoms, it’s likely you need to EAT MORE! Focus on eating regularly, every 3 -4 hours, using the balanced plate at meals and including balanced snacks of carbohydrate and protein between meals.
Before you work out, have a quick source of carbohydrates for energy such as a handful of cereal, piece of fruit, or slice of bread. After working out, we recommend eating a snack with a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein such as an 8oz glass of chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or fruit with nut butter.
If you are having a hard time increasing intake or reaching your performance goals, we would love to help!