Under eating can be defined as the process of eating less than the amount of calories your body requires. In short periods, under eating can be synonymous with dieting and often used as a means for losing weight in people who are generally healthy overall. Unfortunately, undereating can also become dangerous and destructive if done for too long. The following is a list of potential problems that individuals can experience if under eating for longer periods:
Low Levels of Energy
Severe caloric restrictions, and long term undereating, can lead to feelings of lethargy and tiredness[i]. This is mostly due to your body not getting enough calories, which the body uses as energy to perform its basic functions. Low energy levels will prevent you from exercising regularly and feeling like you have enough stamina to get through the day.
For women, long term undereating can cause issues with their reproductive system which ultimately, leads to them being unable to get pregnant[ii]. Severe caloric restriction causes an imbalance in the release of reproductive hormones, which can prevent women from having menstrual cycles and getting pregnant.
Recent studies have discovered that undereating (severe or long term caloric restrictions) can cause sleep issues. These interruptions in our sleep cycles lead to a reduction of deep sleep and feeling rested or refreshed in the morning[iii].
Chronic undereating can cause a wide range of psychological problems, which can lead to moderate or severe bouts with the following moods and feelings[iv]:
Irritability – when eating significantly less calories, under eaters can experience severe bouts of rage and irritability. Additionally, they feel less likely to tolerate or be patient with situations or people.
Depression – chronic or severe undereating starve our bodies of essential nutrients that can affect parts of our brains that control emotions. This can lead to bouts of depression, sadness or feeling hopeless.
Panic, Anxiety – a lack of nutrients can cause the body to feel imbalanced, sending it into stress or panic mode causing panic attacks. Additionally, under eaters may also experience panic attacks or bouts of anxiety at the thought of gaining weight or eating too many calories, despite the fact that they are still under eating.
Obsessive, Compulsive – one of the most dangerous psychological impacts from severe and chronic undereating is the development of obsessive, compulsive tendencies. Under eaters may become obsessed with how much they eat and what they eat. This could open the door to severe eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.
In addition to the previously mentioned physical issues, chronic or severe undereating can lead to the following health problems:
Increased Cortisol Levels – eating less calories actually causes cortisol levels to rise, which leads to the body storing more fat especially in the abdomen region.
Eats Muscle Tissue – instead of consuming fat, your body will actually start consuming muscle tissue when experiencing severe bouts of undereating[v].
Bone Health – undereating causes various levels of malnutrition where the body isn’t getting enough key nutrients like calcium. These nutrient deficiencies can affect the overall health of bones making us more susceptible to injuries and conditions like osteoporosis.
Organ Health – extreme bouts of undereating can cause damage to our hearts and other organs as they are weakened over time due to a lack of essential calories and nutrients[vi]. Additionally, undereating can have a negative effect on our blood pressure and circulation.
Thyroid Problems – undereating has been linked to under active thyroid hormones, which can decrease your libido and cause hair loss.
Don’t under eat, Just eat smart
As you can see, undereating can cause serious short term and long term consequences. If you are trying to lose weight or eat healthier, but are unsure how, it’s best to speak with a medical professional before embarking on a potentially harmful path. The idea is to eat smart, not starve yourself.