These days, you can’t run to Home Depot or put gas in your car without snacks on display. At the same time, diet culture is obsessed with telling us we’re eating too much. It’s confusing and contradictory. But here’s the irony: many of us aren’t eating enough. Unfortunately, we’ve been jaded by weight loss articles, misinformation, and a friend’s restrictive habits. We’ve been told to watch our calories, count our macros, and burn more than we consume. None of these behaviors are healthy, enjoyable, or sustainable. Ultimately, they lead to chronic under-fueling. Today, we’re diving into the topic of sustenance. Are you eating enough food? Let’s dig in.
How Many Calories Do You Need to Eat In a Day?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule. Depending on your genetics, goals, activity level, and circumstances, it completely varies. That said, calorie counts are usually based on your BMR. This is the energy (calories) needed for your body to perform daily functions, like breathing. And that’s simply the bare minimum. Not only is the bare minimum not sustainable, but for many, it’s not healthy. Research shows that eating under 1,400 calories per day—for women—is not enough to support the menstrual cycle. Furthermore, a woman who is an avid exerciser, is currently pregnant, etc. needs a much higher number of calories.
The Power of Intuitive Eating
Rather than count calories—an exhaustive, impractical task—consider a more balanced approach. Hello, intuitive eating. This style of eating makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals. It’s the opposite of a traditional diet. It doesn’t impose guidelines on what to avoid or when to eat. Instead, it teaches you that you are the best person (the only person!) to make those choices. Rather than hop on the latest diet trend or mimic your favorite influencer’s style of eating, get back to the basics. Check in with your body. Without realizing it, your body is innately intuitive. However, many of us struggle to stay in sync with our natural hunger signals, given all of the messages we read and hear. If you’re curious about intuitive eating, here’s where to start.
does undereating cause a slow metabolism?
Yes. Eating too few calories can cause your metabolism to slow down. Meaning, you won’t burn as much energy when you engage in physical activity. Your body requires energy for everything—thinking, breathing, exercising, sleeping, etc. When you deprive your body of the fuel it needs to burn calories, it will begin to store food and enter a sort of “survival mode.” So even when you exercise, your body will protect the fat it’s stored. This can cause a sluggish metabolism, chronic fatigue, food cravings, and more.
8 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough
Beyond the toxicity of diet culture, illnesses, grief, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life can take a toll on our appetites. These factors can affect how our bodies regulate hunger, which often leads to us not eating enough (or at the very least, showing the signs of not eating enough). Whatever the cause, depriving your body of important nutrients can manifest in ways that wreak havoc on your metabolism and hormones. Both of these may take longer to notice if you’ve been consistently under-eating for your body type. Are you eating enough food? Let’s take a look at the not-so-subtle signs that your body may not be getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Do you feel tired no matter how much you sleep? One of the earliest signs you’re not eating enough is having less energy than usual. Our bodies break down foods (mainly carbohydrate-rich foods) into glucose and then burn them for fuel. One of the side effects of not having enough fuel could be a dip in energy levels. Think of it this way: if you don’t get enough nutrition, you could end up feeling tired all the time. Intentionally or unintentionally, you can develop chronic fatigue. With chronic fatigue, you may begin to notice that even daily activities are tiring you out. Of course, you’ll notice less motivation at the gym, too.
We all have moments of forgetfulness, but frequent brain fog could be your body’s way of telling you to check in with how well you’re nourishing yourself. Interrupting your normal meal times delays the energy your body needs to keep going. So if that 3 p.m. lull hits hard and you realize you haven’t had lunch, that’s your cue to head to the kitchen and make a hearty snack. Wearing a continuous glucose monitor, you’ll know exactly why a blood sugar dip is causing your brain fog!
FLUCTUATING GLUCOSE LEVELS
Undereating could can cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. If you experience dizziness, sweating, or sugar cravings, you may want to consider a blood test to check your glucose levels. Otherwise, start wearing a continuous glucose monitor!
UNHEALTHY HAIR AND NAILS
Over time, one of the signs of not eating enough calories—or getting proper nutrients—is hair loss and brittle nails. Naturally, highest priority organs (brain, lungs, heart, etc.) will take the lead in getting those nutrients. Your hair, skin, and nails will get put on the back burner. That’s why you may notice your physical appearance takes a hit when your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Hair, skin, and nail health is so closely tied to what you eat along with how many minerals, healthy fats, protein, and overall nutrients your body is absorbing.
Want more healthy hair tips? Check out my guide to hair health.
Speaking of a continuous glucose monitor, if your glucose levels are too low, it can make it difficult for your body to produce enough serotonin. This can cause a cycle of mood swings and irritability. Add to that the dissatisfaction you feel about your body, and you’re stuck in an infinite loop. You may end up eating too little to feel nourished, quite literally making you hangry.
IRREGULAR (ABSENT) MENSTRUAL CYCLE
This deserves a post in and of itself, but here’s the gist: Undereating can lead to amenorrhea. This is the scientific term for an absent menstrual cycle. Women may miss their periods for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy, changes in diet, and stress. Specific health conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, can also affect your hormone levels. However, amenorrhea is one of the signs of not eating enough (or having low body fat). Being underweight can stop ovulation and cause abnormal changes in your hormones, which is why some women with disordered eating habits or women who are high-performing athletes may often miss their periods. In some cases, their bodies also aren’t getting enough nutrients to carry out normal bodily functions.
If you constantly feel cold, not eating enough food could be the cause. Your body needs to burn a certain number of calories in order to create heat and maintain a healthy, comfortable body temperature. In fact, even mild calorie restriction has been shown to lower core body temperature.
Making sure you eat enough is one way you can manage your hydration levels. After all, many of the electrolytes you get in food affect thirst—sodium, potassium, and magnesium. If you still feel thirsty after chugging a glass of water, it’s a red flag that you may not be consuming enough calories. Sometimes, your body can also mistake thirst for hunger and misguide you away from the water bottle. Just remember to limit sugary energy and sports drinks, sodas, and fruit juices. Dehydration can also lead to constipation.
How to Eat Enough Food
If you’re not sure how much to eat, when to eat, and what to eat, you’re not alone. If you think you exhibit signs of not eating enough, it’s time to crowd out the unnecessary noise and reconnect with your body’s natural appetite.
Stop restricting yourself... It’s not easy to stop restricting after a binge—after all, you’re feeling incredibly full, and incredibly guilty for being so full. Know that this is a normal reaction. However, realize that by restricting one meal (or one day of eating), your body will require extra calories in the future. This, ultimately, can lead to a binge. And thus, the cycle starts all over again.
Show up for the next meal... Even if you ate past comfortable fullness earlier, make sure you show up for your next meal. Plan what you’re going to eat, at what time, and get someone in your support system to hold you accountable for that next meal, if you need it. The more you can create consistency in your meal times, the more your body will crave food every 3-4 hours.
Eat every 3-4 hours… Or have a snack! Instead of eating nothing for an entire day, thus setting yourself up for a binge at night, plan out your day’s food intake. That way, you establish a regular eating schedule. You should eat every few hours. And each day, you should be consuming an adequate amount of food for your personal needs. Are you eating enough food? Watch this. Consistently fueling your body every 3-4 hours keeps that extreme, binge-triggering hunger from taking over.
The less you restrict, the more you’re able to live in alignment with the natural rhythm of your mind-body connection. Ask yourself: are you eating enough food? Be honest. As humans, we are always growing and evolving. Go against the grain of diet culture and fuel your body properly. You’ll feel vibrant, energized, and happier—promise.