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?
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)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Anorexia nervosa
- Impaired memory and cognitive function
- Metabolic syndrome
- Accelerated aging
- Addison’s disease
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)
- Cardiovascular disease
- High cholesterol
- Pituitary tumors
- Low immunity
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.
- Lack of concentration
- Weight concern
- Cravings for sugary or fatty foods
- Loss of libido
- Irregular heart beat
- Sluggish circulation
- Slow digestion
- Thin hair/dry skin
- Fragile bones
- Disturbed sleep
- Cold extremities
- Hormonal imbalances
About Amy Lynn
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.
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