Part 2 of our Undereating Series brings us to the effects of undereating and nutrition deficiency. Read our previous post on Eating Too Little Calories But Not Losing Weight – Undereating and Why to fully understand what undereating is.
From feeling tired all the time to having dull, tired skin and an irregular menstrual cycle, here are 7 effects of undereating:
1. Mental Health
As humans, we have all been wired to eat when we are hungry until we are satisfied. By constantly depriving your body of the nutrition it needs, you are taking a toll on your mental health. You are constantly in a state of extreme hunger, lack of energy for physical activity, tired and have strong intense cravings. While there have been a lot of memes on people who are constantly hungry, a significant calorie deficit will take a toll on you mentally.
Not eating enough food can lead to hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar. The brain requires blood sugar to function optimally and self-control is one of the first cognitive processes that suffers when you are not getting sufficient calories. This can cause difficulties in controlling your attention and regulating your emotions, cope with stress and reduce impulsive and aggressive behaviour.
2. Irregular Period Cycles & Infertility
Low calorie dieting and inadequate body leads to insufficient nutrients and hormonal imbalance in the body. This causes hypothalamic amenorrhea – and symptoms include irregular periods and low energy. The danger with menstrual irregularity isn’t limited to missing your periods; it can also mean that a woman is having an anovulatory cycle, meaning there is no egg released during the ovulatory period.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea caused by chronic caloric deprivation can also cause physiological changes like hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis overactivity (also known as adrenal fatigue) and disturbances in the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (also known as euthyroid sick syndrome). All these difficult terms simply refer to unexplained body fatigue, sleep disturbances, nervousness, digestive problems and hair loss. Prolonged undereating can lead to all these symptoms and you feeling tired all the time, without even knowing why.
3. You Always Feel Cold, Even in Sunny Singapore
A sufficient level of calories is required to maintain a healthy body temperature – this is known as thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the process that produces heat in the human body – and a sufficient level of calories is required to maintain a healthy body temperature. Hormonal changes that result from caloric restriction such as thyroid hormone reduction and low insulin can also lead to low body temperature.
While one may think this is the ideal solution to combating the heat in Singapore, I’m not sure this is a worthy trade-off because the cold is not going to be a comfortable one. You will feel shivers, shaky and cold.
4. Significant Hair Loss
Nutritional deficiency causes hair loss and it is worsened by hormonal changes that result from chronic undereating – this includes a drop in sex hormones like progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. Hypothyroidism can also be developed from chronic calorie restriction and lead to hair loss. Consuming sufficient calories that is rich in nutrition and proteins is important to regulating your hormones and reducing hair loss that has resulted from undereating.
5. Chronic Constipation
This one may seem straightforward – if you don’t eat the food that makes up the waste, you are going to have a difficult disposal system. However, there is a more serious problem with chronic constipation – undernutrition on thyroid hormone. Undereating causes hypothyroidism; which in turn causes constipation as the active thyroid hormone helps stimulate peristalsis in the gut, which aids digestion.
This leads to gut health and digestive problems – not to mention painful or non-existent bowel movements. We all love a good dump and the first step to that is ensuring you are eating healthy food to not only nourish your body and all the important functions it has to perform, but also to have a strong bowel movement.
6. You Are Always Tired, And Can’t Sleep Well
Undereating leads to reduced blood sugar – as your blood sugar drops overnight, your liver must release its stored glucose to keep your blood sugar steady. Undereating and/or over-exercising will reduce the glycogen stores in the liver and your body must subsequently release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to promote gluconeogenesis, the process of creating new glucose. You can be woken up in the middle of the night if these stress hormones elevate high enough.
7. Dull & Tired Skin
Again, undereating leads to nutritional deficiency and poor performance of body functions. Your body needs to constantly work to renew your skin cells and keep your skin looking radiant and glowing – without sufficient nutrients, your body reduces performance and lead to dull, tired skin.
In addition, without enough Vitamin E, your skin becomes weakened and more easily damaged by inflammation and UV exposure.