There’s a health epidemic sweeping our nation. Chances are, you haven’t heard of it. It isn’t making any headlines. No, it’s not obesity. It’s not diabetes, or heart disease, or even cancer. The answer? Chronic undereating. Yup. Undereating, not overeating; as in not eating enough. Are you sabotaging your health and fitness goals by not eating enough? See for yourself. Check all that apply:
- My weight is not budging, no matter how much I work out, or how much I watch what I eat
- I can’t get pregnant
- I lost my period
- I am an anxious person
- I never feel fully rested
- I rarely feel hungry, or my appetite isn’t what it used to be
- I drag during my workouts
- I get weird cravings for sugar or salty things
- Drinking coffee or diet soda makes me feel fuller
- I’m not seeing the result I want in the gym
- I’m cold all the time
- My hair is falling out, or my nails are thin
- I feel constipated a lot
- I get sick pretty easily
- I often get bloated after I eat, even after healthy meals
If you relate to any or all of these symptoms, you could be chronically undereating. Chronic undereating is a common condition in an age when we are constantly told by the billion-dollar diet industry to watch our calories, cut out carbs, eat low fat, and track our macros. With all the money to be made from various nutrition marketing messages, it’s no wonder we’re over-conscious of what we eat! But the problem of chronic undereating isn’t limited to those trying to lose weight or restrict their food. How many times have you found yourself too busy to eat? Missed a meal because you were buried in a project for work? Ran out of time to go to the grocery store, or skipped breakfast to make it to the gym early? Chronic undereating can easily become a problem for anyone. In fact, undereating frequently can become your “norm,” so that you actually don’t realize you are not eating enough. Undereating can actually suppress your digestion, lower stomach acid and suppress your appetite. In almost every case that a client comes to me, frustrated with their metabolism, their stubborn body fat, or their lack of energy, or seasonal allergies or wonky periods, they are not eating enough. If you’re dealing with the symptoms I listed above, you may be looking for the secret sauce to boost your metabolism, gain more energy, get your appetite back, or have healthy, shiny hair. Before looking to lab testing, or what supplements you should take, or what diet you should try, consider taking a look at your daily intake and ask yourself: Am I eating enough?
How Much Is Enough?
There’s no one clear answer everyone, since everyone’s body is different. However, a baseline measure for women is at least 1800 calories. And that’s just for normal, everyday activities. While I am not a fan of calorie-counting for the long term, assessing how much you are eating as an initial assessment can be a real eye-opener for the chronic under-eater. Contrary to popular belief, less does not automatically equal more, when it comes to our intake. Your body can (and wants to) work for you, but it must have enough to fuel the fire. Calories are simply energy. Once you have a baseline of how much you are currently eating, and potential gaps in your caloric intake, a look at macronutrient ratios may also be warranted. There’s no denying the human body thrives upon balance. While varying dogmas and diet guidelines do exist, it’s vital to make sure you’re eating enough of each macronutrient for your body to function at its peak. This is less about specific numbers, ratios or rules, and more about finding and accepting what works for your body, and taking responsibility for your own health. That may mean surrendering the pride you take in being carb free, and incorporating some sweet potatoes, rice, or (gasp) fruit back in. Or, it may mean incorporating breakfast again, even if you’re not initially hungry. If you’re strictly vegan, it may include recognising that you are more prone to deficiencies in B12, zinc or iron, and being proactive by supplementing appropriately. Above all, let your body be the guide, and don’t be afraid to self-experiment. Trust your body enough to listen to the feedback it gives you, and to let you know when you’re getting enough food, and when you need to eat more.
Strategies to Start Eating Enough
Stop skipping meals. Eat at least three balanced meals per day, of adequate portion sizes. Perhaps you are eating three times per day, but only kid-sized servings. Consider upping the ante, including protein (about the size of your hand, or two), fat (1-2 tbsp. or 1/2 avocado), and half a plate of veggies or leafy greens or a fist-size portion of starches, like potatoes or fruits.
Incorporate healthy fats with every meal. Cook with ghee or coconut oil. Mash avocado on your chicken or burger patty. Drizzle olive oil on your veggies or salad. Top a sweet potato with coconut butter or grass-fed butter. And while you’re at it, get over your fear of carbs. Repeat after me: “low-carb is for couch potatoes.”
Stop comparing yourself. Your body is yours, and isn’t ever going to be much like anybody else’s. When it comes to your intake, the question to ask is “how does this nourish me?” If something isn’t helping you focus on that question, get rid of it; the scale, your calorie tracking app, all of it.
Finally, don’t go it alone. Work with a nutritionist to get your own customised nutrition and healing plan. With their help, you can get on a new track toward real health and increased fitness.