7 Signs That Could Mean You’re Not Eating Enough

Hi!

I almost opened with “It’s Bre, the RD!” and then I audibly cringed. Anyways, I’m back to talk about food!

After we talked about protein last week, there were some comments asking me to talk more about portion sizes and how to avoid overeating. I thought a lot about the most helpful way to talk about this that isn’t the same advice you’ve probably seen over and over: chew x amount of times, sip water in between bites, take half of your food home…annnd so on.

Sure, those things can help… but IMO they’re kind of just of band aids. And who wants to count how many times they chew?!

Let’s fix the root of the problem.

Of course there are a lot of reasons why someone may struggle with overeating, but it often stems from a history of ignoring signs of hunger and fullness. We’re actually born with a really cool sense that tells us how much food we need. Over time, that sense fades for many of us. It happens for a lot of reasons, but dieting is a big one. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, there’s a good chance that at some point, you weren’t eating enough. And if you’re like me when I was stuck in a dieting cycle (thanks to growing up in a world RICH in diet culture), you were trained to ignore your body when it told you to eat more.

Which (finally) brings me to my point.

Maybe it’s time to stop trying to find ways to “control” how much you eat. Instead, let’s focus on giving your body what it needs.

Maybe it’s more water. More sleep. An outlet for stress, or more of a specific nutrient. To figure it out, you have to regain trust with your body instead of assuming it’s trying to sabotage your goals 😉

Learn to listen to your body again, starting with the signs that you’re not eating enough.

dieting meme signs you're not eating enough

1. You’re extra hungry in the evening

We’ve all seen this meme. ^^^

It’s relatable because most of us have tried and learned the hard way that simply eating as little as possible to lose weight just. isn’t. sustainable. But it’s also a good time to point out that when I say “not eating enough” I’m not just talking about dieting. I’m also talking about not eating enough at certain times of the day.

Back to overeating. If this is the issue you’re struggling with, think about when it happens most often. Is it later in the day? Or maybe when you go out to eat after “preparing” by not eating much the rest of the day?

I know this won’t be the solution for everyone, but if you turn into a snack monster every evening or feel like you have an endless pit for a stomach at dinner time, it’s a pretty good sign that you didn’t eat enough the rest of the day.

2. You’re always thinking about food

If you find yourself watching the clock until it’s “okay” to eat again, or spending wayyyyyyy too much mental energy trying to fight a craving, take that as a sign that your body needs something. Even if it isn’t food, it’s still worth paying attention to.

3. You’re tired

Your body needs calories for energy. There’s a minimum amount that it needs for essential functions (breathing, pumping blood, etc.), called your basal metabolic rate.

If you’re not eating enough, your body is going to respond by preserving energy. Fatigue is eventually going to set in. For some people, it’s almost instant (i.e. hitting a wall in the afternoon after you didn’t eat enough early in the day).

Or, the entire day might feel like a struggle mentally, physically or both. Some people don’t a difference in their normal day-to-day, but really feel it in their workouts.

4. Your workouts feel harder than usual

We all have days when a workout feels like moving through mud. If this is happening consistently, it could be because you’re not eating enough calories for your body to use as energy for exercise.

Of course it’s not quite THAT simple. Maybe you’re just not eating enough before your actual workout. Or maybe your overall intake is too low. The point is, how you feel during your workout is a great indicator of how well you’re fueling your body.

Think about it this way – your hard work in the gym is worth A LOT more if your body has the energy it needs!

5. You’re not seeing progress

This can go a couple of ways.

If you’re not seeing progress with building muscle – Check your nutrition. It’s easy to forget that building muscle is ADDING MASS to your body, which requires some kind of calorie surplus. It is possible to gain muscle in a calorie deficit, but the window is pretty slim. Eating enough is still key!

If you’re not seeing progress with weight loss – You’d probably assume you need to eat even less right? That’s not always the case! Sometimes you hit a plateau because you’re not eating enough. The mistake many people make is exercising more or with more intensity, without increasing calories. The result is a deficit that’s too big – AKA not eating enough. The body is super smart and doesn’t care what it looks like in a bikini, so it responds with the things we mentioned above like fatigue, and maybe even a slower metabolism.

Another possibility – maybe your plan is too restrictive, but you can stick to it most of the day….until you go ham on the snacks after dinner because your cravings are so strong (see #1 again). Not only is this just not the way to go if you want to feel your best, but you’re probably going to be frustrated with your lack of results.

6. You’re grumpy

Safe to say we’ve all experienced hanger, right?!

Cassey spoke on this when she explained how she wants to go about the “bikini prep” phase of her 90 Day Journey in a healthier way than she did in the past. She recalled being super grouchy before her actual bikini competition 10 years ago because she was severely under eating in order to cut weight.

Her situation is probably more extreme than what most people experience, but the overall point still applies. If you’re skipping meals or just not eating enough, your mood could be the first sign that something is up.

7. You’re catching more colds than usual

Your immune system needs fuel, just like every other system in the body! Technically your immune system isn’t as essential as your heart, lungs, etc. so when you’re not taking in enough calories to cover the body’s basic functions, the immune system takes one for the team.

breakfast quinoa 90 day journey recipe meals to make sure you're eating enough

Undereating can be serious

Of course things can get serious if under eating goes too far. I’m not going to get into too much detail here, but I wanted to at least mention the risks. If you experience ANY of these, don’t ignore them. Meet with your medical provider and/or an RD to help!

  • Becoming underweight
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Hair loss
  • Amenorrhea (losing your period)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anxiety/depression

The right calorie deficit will not deprive you

Here’s one of the things I get realllly fired up about when it comes to dieting. If your goal is weight loss, the appropriate calorie deficit should NOT make you feel any of the above. The equations and calorie calculators you find online can be a helpful place to start, but they don’t exempt you from listening to your body!

Feeling hungry, tired, grumpy, etc. are not “normal.” Constantly battling cravings is not just a test of your willpower. 

Your body is yelling at you, and you should listen!

K gonna back off of my soapbox now.

Of course food isn’t always the answer, because things like stress, sleep, medications, and health conditions all play a role in how you feel. Even if how much you’re eating isn’t the root issue, this is a good place to start recognizing what your body needs.

Hopefully this gave you a little insight into one root cause of overeating! What should we talk about next?!

breanna woods ms rd dietitian signature

11 thoughts on “7 Signs That Could Mean You’re Not Eating Enough”

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  1. happy wheels says:

    oh no, the problems I encountered were mostly the same as those mentioned in the article. I feel hungry so my training is also much more difficult

  2. Mark Tyus says:

    Thanks for this useful content. I shared this blog with my colleague. She was struggling to eat and maintain the diet plan.

  3. Rei says:

    Thanks for this post 🥲 I’m struggling so much with food and eating.

  4. CC says:

    Thank you so much for this. I struggle with my eating habits not due to body image issues but due to ADHD! Sometimes I’m so focused on work that I forget to eat, and then sometimes by the end of the workday I’m too spent to cook. Do any of your clients struggle with this? I recently tried relying on Revive Superfoods and Holos overnight oats (this isn’t an ad, I promise; I find them kind of pricey tbh) in an effort to make it more convenient for myself because planning ahead and staying consistent is really hard. Appreciate any tips..

    1. I’m so glad you brought this up! I meant to mention that dieting is not the only cause for under eating. It can be so many factors, including exactly what you described! You’re doing the right thing by planning ahead and making meals more convenient. There’s no shame in using as many shortcuts as needed – rotisserie chicken is one of my faves right now but I also make sure I always have things like frozen veggies, frozen rice, snack bars, etc. available.

    2. SJ says:

      I have a lot of the same problems! Letting myself get comfortable with frozen veggies, tinned beans/legumes and pre-chopped garlic and chillies was a game-changer. It makes it way easier to cook something quickly. Our favourite lately is one-pot red thai (style) curries. Also, when I’m really struggling during the day, I have a big Huel shake/smoothie and just commit to finishing by the time work is over. Not always easy (or super tasty), but it does help! Also! Invest in good snacks. We have a bunch of rice cakes, a good hummus and a bunch of good fruits and veg in easy to eat formats. With ADHD, it’s all about removing obstacles. Bought a bunch of carrots but never touch them because you don’t want to peel/wash/cut them? Just get them pre-cut. We don’t have the executive functioning margins to let that stuff get in the way.

  5. Michelle says:

    Bre, I loved this post! I hadn’t thought of this before. I am excited to learn about healthy mindsets concerning food.
    I’ve been the one who feels like I eat more than all the girls around me, who stress-eats too fast because I’m afraid of feeling hungry, and who gets really disappointed/sad when meals or treats don’t go my way (eating and happiness are closely related in my mind). But I’ve also always maintained my healthy weight through exercise; it’s my accountability because the time/energy spent working out is an investment I don’t want to “waste” by overindulging later.
    But I just had a baby two months ago and have two stubborn kilos left to shed. I’ve had to slowly get back into working out (I couldn’t for health reasons during my pregnancy). This slow back-to-normal really has me questioning my relationship with food, because I haven’t been able to control it through exercise. This article helped me realize I need to say “no” to the temptation to diet too hard/too fast just to fit my jeans again. Your point “your body doesn’t care how it looks in a bikini” was so perfect! 😂 Good message. Sorry this comment was so long! ♥️Love from Taiwan.

    1. Hi Michelle! I’m so glad the takeaway here was helpful for you. Congratulations on the new baby! Definitely take your time getting “back to normal” with fitness. I know from experience that it’s not easy, but I promise you’ll get there!