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Side Effects of Undereating: What Nobody Talks About

by Haley Osborn

In a world that often emphasizes the importance of healthy eating and maintaining a balanced diet, the harmful effects of undereating are easily overlooked. While overeating is a well-known concern, undereating is a silent peril that can wreak havoc on both physical and mental well-being. This blog will delve into the side effects of undereating, shedding light on the consequences of not providing the body with the nourishment it needs.

the side effects of undereating: what nobody talks about

Undereating takes many different forms in many different types of people, but it’s general definition is consuming fewer calories and/or nutrients than what your body needs in order to function properly. This can include one specific food group, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Undereating can cause many problems if not regulated by a professional. Listed below are some of the ways undereating can negatively impact your way of life, and why you should consult a dietitian before deciding to change your diet.

Our bodies depend on a substantial amount of energy which we get from food to function optimally. Undereating deprives the body of this energy, resulting in fatigue, weakness, and a general lack of vitality. Individuals who consistently undereat may find themselves struggling to focus, experiencing dizziness, and feeling constantly fatigued. These symptoms can affect daily life at work, school, or exercising. This study by Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine focused on relationships between dietary habits and the prevalence of fatigue in medical students. The researchers arrived at the conclusion that skipping breakfast and taking meals irregularly are directly associated with the prevalence of fatigue in medical students.

Undereating often leads to insufficient intake of essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats. This deficiency can result in a range of health issues, including weakened immune function, brittle bones from lack of calcium, and impaired cognitive function. Nutrient deficiencies can also manifest in the form of hair loss, skin problems, and slow wound healing.

A narrative review performed shows evidence that “Maintenance of muscle mass relies on a dynamic equilibrium between muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown with the external influences on skeletal muscle being physical activity and nutrition.” When the body doesn’t receive enough food, it starts breaking down muscle tissue for energy. This process, known as catabolysis, can lead to muscle wasting and a decrease in overall strength. Over time, this may contribute to a compromised ability to perform daily activities and hinder physical performance.

A study done at the University of Alberta found that  “Very restrictive diets can result in a transient decrease in metabolic rate.” Undereating sends signals to the body that it is in a state of scarcity, prompting it to conserve energy. As a survival mechanism, the metabolism slows down.

Undereating doesn’t only affect the body; it can also take a toll on mental and emotional well-being. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to mood swings, irritability, and increased stress levels. The NEDC has an article on how what we eat can determine the way we think. Here are some symptoms that result from semi-starvation of the brain according to the article: “depression, anxiety, irritability, increased mood fluctuations, intense and negative emotional reactions, decreased enthusiasm, reduced motivation, impaired concentration, problem solving and comprehension, increased rigidity, obsessional thinking and reduced alertness.”

blog post quote: Undereating doesn't only affect the body; it can also take a toll on mental and emotional well-being. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to mood swings, irritability, and increased stress levels.

Adequate nutrition is crucial for the proper functioning of hormones that regulate various bodily processes. Undereating can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones. This may lead to irregular menstrual cycles in women, decreased libido, and increased stress hormone levels. These imbalances can have cascading effects on mood, energy levels, and overall mental health. Female hormones specifically are majorly impacted. See this concept explained in this article by Registered Nutritionist Sophie Gastman and Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan.

Based on the side effects, we can conclude undereating is detrimental in a variety of ways for health. The side effects of undereating are significant and deserve attention. Achieving a balanced diet and nourishing the body with the right nutrients is essential.

If you need help knowing if you’re meeting your nutritional needs, support from healthcare professionals is crucial. This is also the case if you are struggling with disordered eating habits. Remember, a healthy relationship with food is key to a happy and healthy life!

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