You exercise regularly, keep your stress under control, and eat a nutritious diet. However, you notice that you still feel a little strange. You are constantly in a bad mood and your weight seems to be piling up. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably for a reason: not eating enough.

And you are not the only one who has to deal with this frustrating scenario. Ironically, many people who follow a healthy lifestyle have these symptoms.

We all know the dangers of overeating. But eating too little on a daily basis also has its consequences. Studies show that this could slow down your metabolism, put you at risk for muscle loss, and cause a host of other symptoms that will affect your well-being. 

Fortunately, once you understand the biology involved in undernutrition and recognize the warning signs, it will be fairly easy to find your personal caloric need so you can lose (or maintain) your weight and feel better overall.

What happens in our body when we do not eat enough

Our bodies evolved during an era when food was scarce. As a result, we are “programmed” to maintain our weight. The brain can’t tell the difference between healthy weight loss and starvation, so when we begin to lose body fat, it detects problems and triggers a variety of complex hormonal mechanisms designed to keep us from losing too much.

In other words, almost all weight loss efforts ultimately fail not because people lack willpower, but because they are literally battling primitive biology and programming whose job it is to keep us alive.

Eating too little activates this powerful anti-hunger system and can sabotage your efforts to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight in a number of ways. For example, when you start to lose weight thanks to most traditional diets, your metabolism slows down.

That happens in part because your body shrinks, and a smaller body will burn fewer calories. But it turns out that many people experience an additional metabolic boost that cannot be attributed to reduced body size.

In fact, the number of calories you burn during the day can decrease by as much as 40 percent. Thanks to this, even if you eat less, you could get stuck with your current weight or start to accumulate it .

Can lead to loss of body mass

Eating too little can also lead to loss of muscle mass, which not only lowers your strength and fitness, but also contributes to decreased metabolism as muscle is the tissue that uses the most calories.

As soon as the size and quality of your muscles decrease, your ability to burn energy from the food you eat will decrease. And therefore you will store the excess calories in the form of fat. On the other hand, eating little also causes your body to start producing more hormones that promote hunger and decrease those that are responsible for the feeling of fullness.

They can increase cravings for unhealthy foods

The result: not only will you feel hungrier, but you’ll also have cravings for high-calorie foods. And when you’re eating, it will take longer for the feeling of fullness to appear, making you more susceptible to unconscious overeating .

Fortunately, this problem can be avoided. The Paleo diet , which includes lots of healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, will naturally fill you up. So you can feel satisfied with fewer calories, without going over the limit and eating less. 

Because the Paleo diet eliminates processed and refined carbohydrates, most people end up eating fewer carbohydrates overall, which can keep insulin and blood sugar and hunger in check.

In fact, research shows that, calorie for calorie, the Paleo diet is more satisfying than the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. And because it contains a healthy amount of nutritious protein, which has all the building blocks your body needs to maintain muscle tissue, when trying to lose weight, it helps you maintain your muscle mass along with a healthy metabolic rate.

The top six signs you’re not eating enough

When you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, it can be easy to end up restricting your food intake too much. These are the most common warning signs that you are eating too little.

1. You have no energy

Calories are a fuel, the source of energy that keeps everything going, from the brain to the muscles. When you don’t eat enough, the level of glucose (the sugar your body uses for energy) in your blood plummets, and your energy levels drop dramatically as well.

2. You experience mood swings

Eating too little can put you in a bad mood. Which will make it easier for you to get angry at your partner or angry at the slow driver in front of you. And this happens for a very good reason. Serotonin, the brain chemical related to mood and appetite, is greatly affected by hunger and can play a role in anger caused by hunger.

When blood glucose drops, all the organs in your body lack fuel, including the brain. And one of the first effects of this is the reduction of self-control.

3. You don’t sleep well

If you’ve ever gone to bed while hungry, you know that it can be difficult to fall asleep. But eating too little can also make it difficult to maintain the dream state. 

Studies have linked a lack of food to a reduction in deep sleep, the sleep during which your body makes critical repairs to muscle tissue and other organs, as well as poor quality of sleep. The good news: high-protein diets, including the Paleo diet, can help reverse this evil.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 44 overweight or obese people were put on one of two calorie restriction diets: one with normal amounts of protein and the other with high levels of protein. 

Each month for four months, the participants completed a standard sleep quality questionnaire. At the third and fourth month follow-up, people who followed the diet where they ate the most protein (1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight) reported having better sleep compared to those in the group consuming the least protein. Which consumed about half the amount of protein.

4. You feel cold all the time

Calorie restriction lowers core body temperature. Feeling cold 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not comfortable at all. And it could be a warning sign that thyroid hormones are not working. 

Studies show that the reduction in body temperature appears to be due, at least in part, to a decrease in T3, a thyroid hormone that helps maintain a healthy body temperature. Since reduced thyroid function is linked to low energy levels, low mood, and decreased overall health, constantly feeling cold can have a big impact.

5. You suffer from hair loss

If you start to notice that more hair is left on your brush or comb, it could be due to inadequate calorie consumption. Hair loss is a sign of both eating too little in general and consuming too little protein. So following a Paleo diet, which is packed with nutritious protein, can help you address this problem.

6. You have a lot of food cravings

Studies show that weight loss triggers cravings for high-calorie foods. According to another study , even after 62 weeks, the participants’ levels of hunger and desire to eat were higher than before losing weight. 

Similarly, in one of the earliest and best-known studies on starvation , conducted in the 1950s, researchers found that when the body is malnourished, it is natural to start having lots of thoughts about food and cravings.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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