8 ways your body is telling you that you aren’t eating enough
by Emily DiNuzzo
-Being moody is a sure sign of under-eating.
-Some people are guilty of eating too few calories.
-There are both short-term and long-term warning signs, including headaches and constipation.
-Professionals recommend eating a certain number of meals per day to make sure you get enough calories.
Calories are a hot topic of conversation in today’s diet culture. And although many people focus on eating fewer calories to reach their weight-loss goals, not eating enough can have a serious impact on your health. Your body even warns you when you’re not getting enough nutrients through symptoms like constipation and headaches.
INSIDER spoke with doctors to determine the most common signs of under-eating. Here are eight ways your body tells you that you’re not consuming enough calories.
Your mood will be severely impacted by a lack of calories. Shutterstock
Feeling “hangry” or cranky is one of the first signs that you aren’t eating enough calories, according to Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. This may seem obvious, but this crabbiness — and related fatigue and irritability — are sometimes ignored. Feeling hungry will only amplify these feelings in addition to making you anxious, Apovian told INSIDER.
“You have anxiety, and basically your brain is telling you your body isn’t getting enough calories and that there is something wrong,” she said. “It’s a fallback from prehistoric times when we didn’t have enough food to eat, so people became anxious and stressed […] which made you go out and kill a deer to eat.”
You feel weak.
Calories are how we measure the energy food provides our body. Without this energy, physician and wellness expert Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe said your body will start feeling weak and you simply won’t function as great.
“One of the earliest signs that your body is low in calories will be a continuous feeling of weakness and lethargy,” she said. “Simple tasks that didn’t take much effort to complete before, may become more of a challenge.”
You constantly get headaches.
Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can cause migraines. Shutterstock
Migraines and headaches are another way your body tells you that you aren’t eating enough. Fasting, skipping meals, and rigorous dieting can trigger these headaches, according to The Migraine Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to supporting people affected by migraines. This is usually due to people’s blood glucose or sugar levels falling too low which is also known as hypoglycemia.
“If you don’t eat enough you’re [also] not getting enough fiber and you’re going to have less insulin coming from the pancreas,” Apovian said. This lack of insulin leads to water loss which is necessary for a soft stool, she explained. “If you lose water you won’t have water to mix the food with the stool, it will get hard, and you’ll get constipated.”
You’re losing your hair.
Hair isn’t as vital as organs.PopTika/Shutterstock
Hair loss could indicate that you haven’t been eating enough over an extended period. Apovian said that your body has to decide where to send essential nutrients, like protein, when you are under-eating.
“Your body is very smart, it is going to try to keep alive, so it takes the protein that you eat and gives it to the most vital organs,” Apovian said. “Your hair is not that important in the general scheme of things.”
Instead, those proteins and other nutrients go to the heart, liver, and kidneys, Apovian said.
You always feel cold.
Consistently under-eating will lead to weight loss, intentionally or not. This can impact your metabolism and, thus, your body temperature. Apovian said this is because your body will always fight against you during weight loss.
“Your body thinks that you are starving so it’s going to lower your resting metabolic rate and you are going to start to get cold because you aren’t making heat,” she said.
Restricting your body of calories also means you’re limiting which vitamins and nutrients you’re getting. And Health reports that if you aren’t getting enough iron or vitamin B12, you may feel cold. Iron helps your red blood cells carry oxygen to the body which is part of the warming process. According to EverdayHealth, a deficiency in iron could also lead to anemia.
You get sick very easily.
It’s harder to fight infections when you don’t get enough to eat.monkeybusinessimages / iStock
This sign is also related to a lack of vitamins. Your body has to pick and choose what parts receive vital nutrients, and your immune cells likely won’t make the cut causing you to be more susceptible to getting sick, Apovian said.
“The cells that fight infection may not be as important as other organs, so your body starts to make less of the cells that fight those infections, and your immunity is definitely compromised,” she said.
You hit a weight loss plateau.
Decreasing your calories to lose weight will only work up to a certain point. Then, you either you hit your healthy maintainable weight or you reach a plateau.
“When you lower your metabolic rate you fidget less and […] your body is going to go through a plateau,” Apovian said. “Your body is trying to match the number of calories you are taking in with what it expends.”
This means your metabolism will slow down since you’re eating less. Your body will adapt and require fewer calories to power you through your daily activities, Apovian explained.
Another factor in weight loss and calorie intake is the thyroid. Dietitian Lisa DeFazio previously told INSIDER that the thyroid regulates your metabolism and under or overeating could lead to thyroid issues as well as a weight loss plateau.
Prepping your meals can make eating enough calories easier. Shutterstock
Apovian suggested spreading your meals throughout the day — and never skipping any — to ensure you eat enough. This way, you won’t go through long periods of time without food. She also recommended eating a high protein diet, so that you lose fat and not muscle mass. Eating a variety of different foods is another way to make sure you’re getting in plenty of calories. It’ll also help you consume key nutrients like iron that help keep your body running well.
Remember, no matter your physique goals, your overall health is important — and it’s harder to reach those other goals without a healthy and well-fed body.
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