Reflecting on the most common problem amongst women that I see, I realized that it all stems from the distorted belief of how much you should eat.
The thing about undereating is that the reasons behind WHY it’s happening tend to seem logical to outsiders….
“I don’t have enough time”
“I just don’t get hungry”
“I don’t like how I feel when I eat more than two meals”
“I just forget because I’m so busy”
“I don’t get a break during work so I just don’t”
The list goes on and on…
To the friends, coworkers, and the significant others of these women – these “reasons” don’t seem unreasonable at all. Probably because the majority of us (women) have been conditioned since elementary school age to act a certain way, especially when it comes to our appearance.
And what affects our appearance the most? Yep, food.
Think about the commercials targeting young girls, what do they encompass? What do the toys look like?
From such a young age majority of girls constantly compare themselves to these images, as well as others.
As stated in the Social Comparison Theory, “We determine our own social and personal worth based on how well we stack up against others. As a result we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, success)”
So instead of asking women consistently “Why aren’t you eating enough?”
We need to be asking ourselves (as a nation) “What are we doing to cause this and how can we change it?”
With the mass amounts of women who hop from diet to diet, vegan to paleo to pescetarian, to WHATEVER the heck else is out there…. the common theme is every ‘diet’ they are attempting to follow restricts or eliminates calories.
However, in many cases, the particular diet also completely eliminates certain food groups or macronutrients, resulting in huge nutritional deficiencies (see article here).
Yes, the whole calories in – calories out ‘thing’ is a good rule of thumb, but there are always exceptions to that rule.
In my career, I would say I have seen MORE females lose fat/increase lean mass by adding in calories rather than eliminating them. This concept is very hard to explain to people (I used to be one) because it means doing what most women fear the most – eating more, and sometimes a lot more.
If you are reading this thinking to yourself that you might just fit into this category – read the list below and see how many of the characteristics you embody.
6 Common Characteristics of Chronic Under-Eater
- Your weight won’t move –Despite how ‘hard’ you diet and exercise, you can’t seem to get the scale to budge. You are in a constant state of frustration and don’t understand what you could possibly be doing wrong.You see at this point, you have participated so many times in diets where you drop calories below a safe threshold – that your hormones have changed. Your cortisol has risen which has led to chronic leptin and insulin resistance. (see here & here for the date)
- You lost your period –
This is commonly referred to as The Female Athlete Triad. To keep it short, basically your body is attempting to conserve energy because of the harsh demands you are putting on it. With constantly restricting food and expending energy through exercise, your body goes into survival mode and holds on to the calories you do eat for dear life.Literally, for the processes that keep you alive, like breathing and pumping blood and all that important stuff. For more in depth information on this topic and how to get your period back, check out this article here.
- Your energy and mood is always up and down –
Along with restricting calories (most often carbohydrates) comes the loss of steady blood sugar. When you eat foods higher in carbohydrates it spikes, and then you again restrict your intake and it plummets.When this happens and you become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) your brain doesn’t function optimally (since it needs sugar to operate) so the first of operations to be thrown off is that of mood regulation.
- You have trouble falling or staying asleep –
One of the biggest problems we have in America is that of sleep deprivation. We are a culture that is constantly on high alert and this leads to the inability to rest and recover, which our bodies NEED to function optimally.If you think about it, your body is fasting while you sleep. That being said, if you are already restricting calories your body probably won’t be too happy about this, right?You see, if your blood sugar drops while you’re sleeping and you don’t have any liver glycogen to disperse (your backup fuel) then what happens is your body releases cortisol and adrenaline to promote gluconeogenesis. If these hormones rise high enough, they will literally wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Your Digestive System is not regular –
Probably the most tell-tale sign of an under-eater/over-exerciser is the inability to pass a bowel movement. Why? Because it’s definitely the first thing people will complain about!Besides the sensible fact that the less you eat, the less you have to get rid of as waste – if you’re chronically undernourished then your T3 levels will drop. T3 is the “active thyroid hormone” and it is what stimulates movement in the bowel (called peristalsis).
If you feel you fit amongst this category, or know somebody who does – these tips I have written below should help you immensely.
Coming from a background full of eating disorders, body image issues, and over-exercising I understand how the mental switch can cause full blown anxiety.
However, that does not give anyone the excuse to disregard health. Knowing the right thing to do is one thing, but owning your problem and fixing it is a whole other (personal responsibility).
The tips I have listed below have greatly helped myself and many other women I work with integrate more food into their diets without gaining excess body fat.
4 Steps to STOP Chronic Undereating…without gaining fat
1. Start with What You Lack
Does your diet include an immense amount of colorful starches, fruits and veggies? If not start there! A great add in is fruits of all sorts, root vegetables, squash, purple sweet potatoes.
Choose 2-3 new foods you haven’t had in a long time and add those into the meals you’re already eating.
Not only will you feel more energized by the nutrients you’re adding in, but you will realize how much your taste palate appreciates these unique flavors as well.
2. Eat Your Carbs with a Protein
When adding in more carbohydrates, you’re going to want to regulate your blood sugar.
Too often women indulge or add in huge pieces of bread, cake, pastries when I suggest to add carbohydrates. However, this will just work against your goals by spiking and dropping your blood sugar once again.
Intentionally decide that if you are to add in a higher carbohydrate food, that you will pair it with a lean protein as well. If you keep all your meals centered around a protein source (including those with higher carbs) you will stabilize your blood sugar and eliminate the mood and energy drops you’ve been experiencing.
3. Eat More Carbs Before/After Your Workout
This is probably my most common advice to women and it has the BIGGEST impact on their body composition.
I’ve had women simply change the timing of their carbohydrates to more before/after their workouts, and watched them drop inches from their ‘stubborn’ areas.
When you properly fuel yourself for a training session – you will then have more energy – you will EXPEND more energy through increased power output – and in all burn more calories in a healthy manner. Post workout – your body needs to replenish its glycogen stores that you have previously depleted, therefore higher carbohydrate foods are appropriate here as well.
4. Increase your NEAT
NEAT = Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis***
Think about it, when you’re constantly restricting your calories, you’re constantly tired and probably aren’t up for going on a walk, paddle-boarding with your friends, or walking the dog. However, when you increase your carbohydrates and suddenly have more energy –
chances are you’re going to send your NEAT skyrocketing. The easiest way to stay lean while increasing your calories is just by moving more! The cool part is, most of the time this happens subconsciously because you just have more energy and motivation to move, but it doesn’t hurt to remind you of it! You see, the energy you expend throughout the day by participating in active living activities actually totals to more expenditure on average than your exercise. So it would make sense we would want more calories to increase this, right?
Not sure how to implement this into your life? Nervous about where to start?
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