What if you're not eating enough?

Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Written by Lindzie O'Reilly

We are constantly bombarded with messages that we are eating too much – too much salt, too many calories, too many carbs, too much fat… I see students each week who want guidance to cut back in order to improve their health.  It might surprise you to know that many of the students I see are actually eating too little. It worries me that we have started to think that less (fewer calories, lower weight) is always better.

Regular messages about dietary overindulge have led to two extremes. There certainly are students on campus who struggle to learn to cook for themselves and find themselves eating take out every day. I see many more students, however, who are consuming less food than their body would like resulting in any of the following symptoms:

  • Low energy even though you have good stress management strategies, you get lots of sleep and you’ve had your iron levels checked
  • Decreased mood and lower motivation compared with how you used to feel
  • Muscle fatigue and heaviness that lasts for days after a workout
  • Irregular menstruation in females
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Intense cravings that feel out of control
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Feeling shaky or faint

We need a certain amount of energy to just survive – to keep our hearts beating, our organs functioning, and our hair and skin healthy. Any movement, starting with simply stepping out of bed in the morning, requires additional energy.

Our bodies are smart. If your body perceives that it’s not getting enough energy, it will start to be very careful about how it uses that limited energy. This is called starvation state and your body will try any of the following:

  • Slow down your metabolism, hold on to, and store the food that you do give it.
  • Down regulate functions that are not essential to life – your body will make fewer hormones and will spend less energy on keeping hair and skin healthy
  • Disrupt sleep so that you will wake up and search for food
  • Go on autopilot during workouts. You might notice that you have plateaued meaning that your cardio or strength is no longer improving.

The reality is that we are all different. You know your body best and it’s important to experiment to decide what works best for you rather than attempting to follow a plan that may have worked for your friend, your room mate, or your mom. Everyone has a different weight that is right for them and where their body functions best – for a lot of people that may be above, or below, what we are told is ‘normal’.

I encourage you to experiment with food, exercise and lifestyle habits to decide what makes you feel your very best, physically and mentally, rather than setting a weight or calorie-based goal. If you’ve noticed any of the above symptoms, it’s quite possible that you might be eating too little. Try branching out and experimenting with new foods and with the amount of food that you are eating in a day and see if you notice a change in your energy levels or your mood. Challenge yourself to see what might happen if you let yourself listen to hunger cues and eat until you feel truly satisfied, rather than stopping because you think you should. If you’d like specific nutrition advice or support along the way, please book a free one-to-one appointment to see me at Health Services by calling x52131.

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