*Disclaimer: If you have previously or are currently suffering from an eating disorder, please consult your doctor for medical advice. This information does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals.
Have you ever gotten to around 4PM and thought: ‘Wow, I just realized that I haven’t eaten yet today!’. Sometimes it happens accidentally; it seems like life is too busy to take the time to grocery shop, prepare, and pack a meal to-go. When we’re running late, or out of the house all day, it’s more convenient to grab something quick (and usually not so healthy!) and rely on our large iced coffee(s) to power us through the day. However, under-eating can have drastic effects on our overall health: from low blood sugar levels which lead to cravings to a decreased ability to focus, our bodies are significantly impacted by a lack of adequate food.
We know we all need to eat. The question is truly: Howmuch do we need to eat to be able to optimize our days, keeping both our mental and physical health in mind? While this differs from person to person, the US Department of Health set baselineminimums of 1200 calories per day for women and 1800 calories per day for men. These numbers should be viewed as theminimum amount of calories we need to be awake and perform normal bodily functions, like breathing, walking, and digesting. In fact, studies show that adult women actually need between 1,600-2,400 calories per day and men need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. Your personal calorie number depends on a variety of factors, including age, activity level, and overall lifestyle.
Some diets or health trends can indirectly promote undereating by containing inappropriate nutritional advice or not mentioning the side effects that come as a result of these fads. In other cases, life gets in the way, and some of us may unintentionally undereat as a consequence of a busy day or by forgetting to pack to-go snacks. However, our bodies demand a certain amount of calories, which are a form of energy, to aid in normal bodily responses, as well as to give us fuel to exercise and participate in other activities that make us happy! By not nourishing our bodies, we’re doing a lot more damage than just dealing with a grumbling stomach.
Hungry for more? Keep reading to learn about the dangers of not eating enough, as well as our snack-packing tips to make sure you’re keeping your body, and brain, full.
Signs and Symptoms:
Whether we’re intentionally being mindful of our calories, or not paying enough attention to our caloric needs, there are a number of ways our bodies will let us know that we’re not eating enough.
- Fatigue: Everything we do requires energy, and if we’re not eating enough, we’re not giving ourselves energy to function throughout the day! This may have a severe impact on energy levels, leading to feeling physically and mentally tired.
- Constipation: Undereating can actually lead to our bodies experiencing less bowel movements; our bodies don’t have enough food to convert into stools. Eating too few calories can significantly impact our digestive health, leading to a plethora of other health problems.
- You’re Always Cold:A 2011 study found that long-term undereating reduces core body temperature by lowering the stimulation of T3, a thyroid hormone. If you’re feeling like you need a sweater in mid-July, this could be a good indication that you need to raise your caloric intake.
- You Get Sick More Often:Our immune system needs energy, too, to fight off diseases and keep us healthy. When we don’t eat enough calories, our body takes energy stores away from our immune system in order to use for our brain, heart, and lungs. In turn, we are more susceptible to infection and get sick more often.
- Brain Fog: Our brains require a lot of calories to function; after all, our brains are always on, telling our bodies what to do, all the time! Brain fog is a broad category that encompasses problems with memory, focus, cognitive thinking, and having conversations with others. Decreased caloric intake can make us feel sluggish and hazy, leading to poor concentration, decision making, and worsened mood.
The most effective, and easiest, way to combat undereating is to increase the total amount of calories consumed. However, it’s important to do this in a healthy way! While foods high in sugar and fats may seem like an easy route to increase caloric intake, they can actually lead to us feeling even worse. These foods–like processed foods, candy, and snacks–can contribute to a number of health problems, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Some tips for healthfully increasing caloric intake include:
- Eating breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner
- Eating meals high in protein, like Greek yogurt and lean meats
- Eating more complex carbohydrates, like whole grain breads and rice
- Aiming to eat a colorful diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables
To learn more about meeting your specific calorie needs, schedule a Free Discovery Call today with Dr. Kelcie, Arrae’s own Naturopathic Doctor.
Soare, Andreea et al. “Long-term calorie restriction, but not endurance exercise, lowers core body temperature in humans.”Aging vol. 3,4 (2011): 374-9. doi:10.18632/aging.100280
“The Effects of under-Eating.” National Centre for Eating Disorders, 2 Sept. 2019, https://eating-disorders.org.uk/information/the-effects-of-under-eating/.
“9 Signs and Symptoms You're Not Eating Enough.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322157.