By Amy Lynn, BNatMed
Overeating is a global concern and an ongoing phenomenon, which has caused researchers to investigate the impact it has on society, the medical community and the individual body (1). Within the last decade alone, we have seen diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, high cholesterol, obesity, kidney failure, metabolic disruption and colon cancers skyrocket due to the increasing food intake the western world, in particular, have been consuming (2, 3). Several studies prove over eating is an epidemic and needs ongoing guidance to educate the populous how to consciously decrease meal portions. As the awareness grows and education around food consumption expands, a more balanced and healthy lifestyle grows worldwide (4). However, there is a flip side with nutrition and food intake, which many people and medical industries overlook. What happens when we under eat?
As the media continues to remind us what a perfect body ‘should look like’, crowds of people strive for this delicate, small figure without researching the ‘how to’. Although there are many diets nowadays describing the perfect way to lose weight, these diets don’t always explain the correct and healthy way to do so without losing important macro- and micronutrients.(5, 6) Often when we decide to go on a diet, we may suddenly stop eating and go from one extreme to another by nibbling on carrots and nuts (healthy, but not enough!).
We may also associate under eating with diseases such as anorexia, however, this imbalance can disguise itself in many ways. With mixed messages in social media regarding carbohydrate, protein and fat intake, we can often eliminate one or more without understanding the importance of these macronutrients before embarking on the weight loss journey. (7, 8)
Sometimes, some of us may not think about eating because life is just too busy. With overeating taking the limelight in both natural and orthodox medical professions, understanding the effects of undereating seems to be on the sidelines. However, there are several diseases and health conditions pertaining to under eating, or nutrient deficiency that need to be addressed. Undernourishment is a common denominator for ill health.(9, 10)
Depression is a common side effect of nutrient deficiency.(11) Neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, rely heavily on micronutrients to function at it’s best. A deficiency of any one single vitamin or mineral can alter brain function, affectively ‘numbing’ the actions of serotonin and other important hormones.(12, 13) Unfortunately, when we suffer from depression, we often reach for comfort food, or no food at all leading to a perpetual downward spiral. When we don’t get proper nutrition, we inhibit full potential of the inner workings of the body, which can raise depression levels even more. Often diet and lifestyle changes can assist those who suffer from depression to start feeling hope again. To assist with proper serotonin release, optimum levels of folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, chromium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are necessary.(7, 10)
Hormonal imbalances are common amongst those who under eat and are nutritionally deprived. For example, more than half of the working population suffers from tired and disrupted adrenal glands.(9, 14, 15) Often when this happens, we are not secreting enough adrenaline, which in turn drops our energy levels. As a snowball effect, we start craving foods such as sugar and fat to boost our energy.(16, 17) As the spike in energy drops off, more often than not, we consume more of what we crave to pump it up again. This vicious cycle can trigger hormone dysregulation switching our body into autopilot until we consciously begin to up our nutrition intake and eliminate the triggers. Ongoing distress to hormone function can be related to several diseases:(18, 19)
Under eating and exercise (particularly in women) can lead to a condition called Female Athlete Triad (FAT).(20, 21) The main component of FAT is energy deficiency.(21) This happens when energy dispensed is greater than energy consumed. With the ongoing health trends, research shows an increase of FAT especially in young females who strive to have a perfect figure or are simply too busy to eat nutritionally dense meals while they pursue daily aerobic exercises.(22, 23) If we continue to neglect adequate nutrient consumption (especially for athletes and exercisers) the more susceptible we are to chronic health conditions that can ultimately be fatal. (24) Female athlete triad will also usually include menstruation irregularities and low bone density.(24) This leads us back to another form of hormone dysfunction, which can eventually cause serious health consequences. These include:(18, 19)
In conclusion, while overeating and the epidemic of obesity and metabolic disorders are extremely worrying, overeating when in fact undereating is just as dangerous. Often we may not recognise under eating patterns until it is too late and disease has set in. More research and media coverage pertaining to nutritional deficiencies relating to undereating is necessary to bring greater awareness of the severity of problems undereating can cause. In order for our body to thrive, we must learn how to create balance with the foods we eat and how much of those foods we consume.
If high stress levels creep into your life, pay close attention to your diet and monitor any changes. Although many times people do not recognise their own stress, if any of the following symptoms are experienced, evaluate your nutritionally dense food intake and speak to your trusted nutritionist or naturopath who can guide you back on track.
Amy was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in active Kitsilano Beach of Vancouver, Canada where health and fitness were the norm. She frequented the famous vegan restaurant The Naam along with creative raw food cafes around the city. She also spent quite a bit of time in NYC as a head chef at endurance races where it was imperative the athletes received balanced nutrition through vegetarian meals. During the last 17 years here in NZ, she owned and operated a vegetarian cafe as well as opening the first raw food cafe in Auckland. She then went on to study Naturopathy. Amy is currently seeing clients as a Naturopath and cook for retreats and families that prefer plant based, gluten free, sugar free and low carb diets.
1. Song Y-M, Lee K, Sung J. Eating behaviors and weight over time in a prospective study: the Healthy Twin Study. Asia Pacific Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2014;23(1):76-83.
2. Glastras SJ, Chen H, Teh R, McGrath RT, Chen J, Pollock CA, et al. Mouse Models of Diabetes, Obesity and Related Kidney Disease. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(8):1-15.
3. Laermans J, Depoortere I. Chronobesity: role of the circadian system in the obesity epidemic. Obesity Reviews. 2016;17(2):108-25.
4. Visscher TLS, Heitmann BL, Rissanen A, Lahti-Koski M, Lissner L. A break in the obesity epidemic? Explained by biases or misinterpretation of the data? International Journal of Obesity. 2015;39(2):189-98.
5. Betoni F, Zanardo VPS, Ceni GC. Evaluation of the use of fad diets to patients at an outpatient specialty nutrition and its implications in metabolism. ConScientiae Saude. 2010;9(3):430-40.
6. Thalheimer J. Ketosis Fad Diet Alert. Environmental Nutrition. 2015;38(9):3-.
7. Houston MC. The Role of Nutrition, Nutraceuticals, Vitamins, Antioxidants, and Minerals in the Prevention and Treatment of Hypertension. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine. 2013;19:32-49.
8. Houston MC. The role of nutrition, nutraceuticals, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in the prevention and treatment of hypertension. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine. 2013;19(1):32-49 18p.
9. Bernal AB, Vickers MH, Hampton MB, Poynton RA, Sloboda DM. Maternal Undernutrition Significantly Impacts Ovarian Follicle Number and Increases Ovarian Oxidative Stress in Adult Rat Offspring. PLoS ONE. 2010;5(12):1-12.
10. Brito Noronha M, Almeida Cunha N, Araújo DA, Abrunhosa SF, Nunes Rocha A, Freitas Amaral T, et al. UNDERNUTRITION, SERUM VITAMIN B12, FOLIC ACID AND DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS IN OLDER ADULTS. Nutricion Hospitalaria. 2015;32(1):354-61.
11. Bottiglieri T, Laundy M, Crellin R, Toone BK, Carney MW, Reynolds EH. Homocysteine, folate, methylation, and monoamine metabolism in depression. Journal Of Neurology, Neurosurgery, And Psychiatry. 2000;69(2):228-32.
12. Zahavi AY, Sabbagh MA, Washburn D, Mazurka R, Bagby RM, Strauss J, et al. Serotonin and Dopamine Gene Variation and Theory of Mind Decoding Accuracy in Major Depression: A Preliminary Investigation. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(3):1-17.
13. Haberstick BC, Boardman JD, Wagner B, Smolen A, Hewitt JK, Killeya-Jones LA, et al. Depression, Stressful Life Events, and the Impact of Variation in the Serotonin Transporter: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). Plos One. 2016;11(3):e0148373-e.
14. Lee DJ. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, Part I: Pathophysiology and Diagnosis. Athletic Therapy Today. 2010;15(1):28-31.
15. Bachelot A, Nicolas C, Gricourt S, Dulon J, Leban M, Golmard JL, et al. Poor Compliance to Hormone Therapy and Decreased Bone Mineral Density in Women with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(12):1-9.
16. Inam Q-u-A, Ikram H, Shireen E, Haleem DJ. Effects of sugar rich diet on brain serotonin, hyperphagia and anxiety in animal model of both genders. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2016;29(3):757-63.
17. Moreno-Domínguez S, Rodríguez-Ruiz S, Fernández-Santaella MC, Ortega-Roldán B, Cepeda-Benito A. Impact of Fasting on Food Craving, Mood and Consumption in Bulimia Nervosa and Healthy Women Participants. European Eating Disorders Review. 2012;20(6):461-7.
18. Sarris J, Wardle J. Clinical naturopathy 2e: An evidence-based guide to practice. Chatswood, NSW: Churchill Livingstone; 2014.
19. Murray M, Pizzorno J. The encyclopedia of natural medicine. 3rd ed. New York, USA: Atria 2012.
20. Márquez S, Molinero O. Energy availability, menstrual dysfunction and bone health in sports; an overview of the female athlete triad. Nutrición Hospitalaria. 2013;28(4):1010-7.
21. Matzkin E, Curry EJ, Whitlock K. Female Athlete Triad: Past, Present, and Future. The Journal Of The American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2015;23(7):424-32.
22. Horn E, Gergen N, McGarry KA. The female athlete triad. Rhode Island Medical Journal (2013). 2014;97(11):18-21.
23. Hoch AZ, Jurva JW, Staton MA, Thielke R, Hoffmann RG, Pajewski N, et al. Athletic amenorrhea and endothelial dysfunction. WMJ: Official Publication Of The State Medical Society Of Wisconsin. 2007;106(6):301-6.
24. Bao J, Chen Y, Bao Y-X. Prevalence and risk factors of low bone mineral density in juvenile onset ankylosing spondylitis. Calcified Tissue International. 2014;95(2):108-11.
Research and popular science articles by the members and faculty of the Holistic Performance Institute.