Guest Post: 3 Signs You're Not Eating Enough

Today's informative guest post is from my friend, Hannah Campbell from Whole Food Whole You. Hannah and I connected on Instagram and I'm so glad we did. Hannah is a health coach and blogger with a degree in Nutrition and Health. We both have a passion for sharing our health journeys and educating and empowering people to improve their health.

Today, Hannah is talking about under eating. If you've seen my Instagram, you know how passionate I am about people choosing to fuel their bodies. I don't believe we have to "earn" our food or only eat 1,200 calories a day to be healthy. Personally, I think that those beliefs come from a fear of weight gain that's ultimately tied to an unhealthy relationship between food and our body image. I get it, because I've been there before, and some days I still am. I know what it's like to restrict my calorie intake to a ridiculously low amount all for the sake of 'losing weight'. But even after I started to shed those fears and adopt a healthier mindset, I was  still accidentally under eating. I'll be sharing my personal story soon, but I was completely shocked when I learned how many calories my body really needed each day to thrive. 

I hope this post is helpful for you! As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below! 

Tired? Can’t Lose Weight? Maybe You’re Not Eating Enough!

In the Standard American Diet of calorie-dense, over-stimulating, processed foods, it is really easy to over-eat.

But when we enter the “healthy eating” world, things get trickier. If you aren’t careful, you may find yourself struggling with the opposite problem! Why does this happen?

Well, under-eating is sometimes done with purpose: a restrictive attitude around food (even healthy food) may be at play. But often, it’s accidental: maybe you’re eating a lot of fiber-rich plant foods that fill your stomach without delivering very many calories (like salads and smoothies). Or maybe you’re just SO BUSY that an afternoon flies by and you forget to eat lunch.

Yes, many people find it incredibly easy to under-eat. I’m one of them. Before I started paying attention to nutrient density and calorie consumption, this is what a typical day would look like:

Breakfast: 2 eggs cooked in butter or olive oil + 1 apple - about 350 calories

Lunch: A couple of leftover salmon cakes on spinach salad, some fruit - about 530 calories

Snack: Lara bar, nuts, or jerky because of hunger (hmm, I wonder why!) - about 100-200 calories

Dinner: Chicken thighs, kale, and sweet potato with coconut oil - about 650 calories

All together, that’s a little over 1600 calories.

1600 calories may not be on the level of extreme dieting, but my caloric needs are about 2300 calories. That means on an average day, I had a deficit of around 700 calories or more. That adds up to a deficit of almost 5,000 calories a week! No wonder I was tired and suffering from hormonal imbalance!

The thing is, I wasn’t under-eating on purpose. I just really liked the idea of mindful eating, and I knew that people in the “paleo sphere” are often encouraged to avoid counting calories and focus more on nutrient density. Though I do agree that this is usually the best option, I think calorie counting is appropriate when you’re worried about eating too little and need to check in with yourself.

This is especially important if you tend to be a meal-skipper. It’s no use adding in extra exercise or taking 10 different supplements for your low energy levels if you aren’t even eating enough food.

These are just THREE of the issues that can occur as a result of under-eating - notice how all of them could take you down a rabbit hole of treating symptoms (“I need to balance my cortisol with herbs!” “I need to exercise more to lose 10 pounds!”) when the answer may be to simply start eating enough:

#1 You’ve lost your period (or you are experiencing other signs of hormonal imbalance).

Here’s the deal: your body needs to know that it is fed in order to know that it is safe to reproduce. A large deficit in calories creates a stress response that can trigger a shut down in ovulation (and menstruation), because your hypothalamus thinks you’re in a famine. This is actually a pretty amazing function, but it’s also why we MUST make sure that our bodies are well-nourished.

Even if you don’t care about getting pregnant any time soon, a shut down in reproductive function is still a big deal, because you NEED the hormones that are produced in a healthy cycle. A balance of estrogen and progesterone is critical for healthy mood, libido, sleep, hair, bones, and metabolism - among other things.

#2 You can’t lose weight.

I know this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but hear me out!

Yes, a small deficit in calories is needed to lose weight. But, as previously stated, the body reacts to a large caloric deficit as if you are experiencing a food shortage, which causes it to hold onto fat to survive. In other words, when the body encounters caloric restriction, it tends to “defend” its weight. It can do this by slowing thyroid function, which lowers metabolism (so you use less calories), and by raising levels of hormones that drive your appetite (such as ghrelin) to make you hungrier. Basically, your brain tells your body to override your attempts at calorie-restricted weight loss. It’s just trying to keep you alive.

#3 You’re experiencing fatigue, anxiety, and mood swings.

These are symptoms that I have often experienced if I don’t eat enough throughout the day. My husband and I joke that I’m a dramatically different person before and after a late night dinner (always after a long day of forgetting to eat enough food).

These symptoms are all a result of unbalanced blood sugar. Under-eating can cause a low blood sugar dip (hypoglycemia), which can present as irritability, fatigue, anxiety, and shakiness. Those are NOT fun feelings, and blood sugar swings are also incredibly stressful on the body. This is why it is so important to eat enough, and to eat preventatively (don’t go for long stretches without food)!

Those are only three symptoms. Other symptoms of under-eating include constipation, cravings, poor sleep, nutrient deficiencies, low body temperature, and poor athletic performance.

If any of those symptoms resonate with you, I suggest plugging your calorie goal and food intake into a tracker like MyFitnessPal for a few days. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re under your goal at first - just use the data you’re collecting to make positive changes and eat “all the healthy things”!

Hannah Campbell is a holistic health coach (and foodie!) with a passion for helping people create sustainable health for themselves. Whether someone is putting together a unique health puzzle or just looking to improve overall health, she acts as a resource and guide! Find her at wholefoodwholeyou.com, or on Facebook and Instagram!

Interested in with working with Hannah to get to the root of your health concerns? Learn more HERE!