Regardless of your diet, it's important to know two main things when it comes to calories: 1) Ensuring that you’re getting enough calories for your basal metabolic rate and 2) your current activity level. Both of these can be calculated using our macro blueprint (even if you’re not interested in knowing your macros) to ensure you're eating enough every day. If you think you might not be, here are some signs you're not eating enough and what you can do to fix it.
#1) You have that 2pm crash
Calories are energy. So if you’re not getting enough calories you’re not going to have enough energy - it's that simple. Even if you’re not exercising or dieting, you need to be able to consume enough calories per day to support basic body function (known as your basal metabolic rate). If you're not exercising and eating below 1,000 calories this can slow metabolic rate and cause fatigue. Additionally if you are exercising but not eating enough to support that activity, surprise! You'll still feel tired. We see this most in people who say they hit that 2pm lull. So it's obvious that not adequately fuelling your body will effect your energy levels, causing physical tiredness and mental fatigue. So rather than relying on an additional cup of coffee in the afternoon, ensure you're getting enough calories.
How to avoid this: Be sure to eat early in the morning, especially meals containing healthy fats (like nuts and seeds, olive oils and avocados) that promote cerebral function. Additionally, if you know you're prone to the hitting an afternoon wall, prepare an afternoon snack.
#2) You're ravenous by late afternoon/early evening
Hunger is an obvious sign of under-eating, but it's been found that hunger and specific food cravings increase in response to restricted calories due to changes in different hormones that control hunger and fullness. Additionally, under-eating will likely increase the production of cortisol, which is also linked to hunger.
How to avoid this: Eat in the morning, even if you're not feeling particularly hungry. Eating early will help control cortisol levels and go along way to managing hunger throughout the day. Ensure you're eating foods that are high in protein that will keep you feeling full.
#3) You're irritable
Hanger is for real people! If you’re not getting enough calories you can have a drop in blood sugar levels which can cause irritability. This can even extend further into headaches, feeling lightheaded and nausea. No one
How to avoid this: Try eating smaller meals more often. Also, don't forget the obvious solution and eat as soon as you feel irritability setting in.
#4) You're not regular (period and/or poop wise)
It’s not surprising that if you don’t have enough going in, you’re not going to have enough going out. And while some people may not be comfortable talking about, your stool/bowel movements and your period (for the ladies) say a lot about your diet.
When it comes to your poop: When you have less food to convert to stool, it can mean having fewer bowel movements and/or harder stool. Though fibre is considered the most important in maintaining regular bowel function, even eating enough of that won’t help if you’re not eating enough calories in general. This can lead to constipation (classified as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week) and harder stool that's difficult or painful to pass.
When it comes to your period: Not getting enough calories can also negatively affect your hormone production and thus your period, and more seriously, your reproductive success. This is because if your body feels it's not getting enough calories, it will "think" that something’s wrong and start prioritizing your physiological needs. This means basic acts like breathing, swallowing and circulating blood take priority over non-essential functions like getting your period. Hormone production becomes impaired and you may lose your period and/or feel reduced sexual desire. This can also happen to especially active individuals or those with low body fat percentages.
How to avoid this: Eat! Ensure regular meals and calories that meet your daily demand and account for your activity level. And don't forget water and fibre!
#5) You're not sleeping well
You know how they say "when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it's very hard to sleep"? Well we know that the first part of that saying is definitely true. Studies have linked strict dieting and reduced calorie intake to poor sleep, in addition to making falling asleep more difficult and spending less time in deep sleep. If you feel hungry when you're trying to fall asleep or first thing in the morning after you wake up, it's a sign you're not getting enough to eat. This can then also feed in to the other signs we mentioned above like irritability and lack of energy.
How to avoid this: Don't be afraid to eat at night! First of all, calories don't know what time it is, so that myth that eating after dark will cause you to gain weight has been long since debunked. Instead ensure you get enough protein and healthy fats before bed to ensure proper restful sleep and avoid late-night hunger and the common associated problems like late-night binge eating.
Moral of the story
It’s easy to see how all of these things can affect other areas of your life include mood, anxiety, school/work performance and your social life. Therefore it's important to be aware of your body and what it's telling you. Note if you have any of these signs and consider if it could be because you're getting enough calories. Remember that calories are not the enemies and you need to be eating enough of the right foods to maintain your metabolism, physiological functions and energy levels.
Lastly, remember that it's so important to be smart about weight loss. You should never just stop eating in order to lose weight. Your body needs calories to survive and the proper proportions of macronutrients (yes, even carbs) to support your body and daily activities. If you have questions about how much you should be eating to reach your goals, feel free to leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org