Calories: How to Know if You Go Too Low

Is it possible your calorie counting may be the root cause of your health problems? Learn how a calorie-deficient diet could hamper your desire to lose weight.

Our modern lifestyle does everything to discourage healthy eating and the vast assortment of junk food available at every street corner, too many people are struggling to keep the weight off, often calling for more severe measures to shed the extra pounds.

The solution to weight loss as the “experts” explain, is to cut down on daily calorie intake and essentially consume fewer calories than you burn each day in order to trigger a natural process where the body starts to burn stored fat to compensate for the apparent calorie deficit.

Under-eating is in fact a chronic problem affecting scores of people from all over the world, and often times the symptoms go unnoticed. Here’s how to tell if your diet is dangerously low on calories:

Your weight stalls indefinitely

weight stalls indefinitely

It’s a strange and yet common symptom of a person who is under-eating and in many instances it goes hand-in-hand with over-training. A minor caloric deficit can have a significant effect on body weight but more extreme deficits can induce changes to your metabolism, causing your body to remain in a homeostatic state.

Interestingly, our bodies do not respond well to random, drastic changes and will make subtle modifications to the adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones in order to minimize your overall caloric output. Some of these changes include a reduction in active thyroid hormone, a complete shutdown of sex hormone production, and a significant increase in stress hormones- such as cortisol.

These are major hormonal changes that when ignored, can and often lead to stalled body weight and fat retention, that along with a myriad of health complications. So have you been starving yourself and spending endless hours at the gym in a futile attempt to drop a few pounds? Consider how this strategy may hurt you in the long run.

Your Blood Sugar Starts to Fluctuate

Blood Sugar

The average person experiences considerable highs and lows as far as blood sugar is concerned and many of us blame our wild blood sugar swings to reckless consumption of carbohydrates. However it may surprise you to learn that low calorie consumption can cause similar effects- such as in hypoglycemia cases.

Your doctor defines hypoglycemia as blood sugar recorded below 70 mg/dL, although people can experience symptoms at higher blood sugar levels. The most commonly attributable symptoms are dizziness, anxiety, weakness, confusion, shakiness, hunger, and noticeable shifts in mood. Under-eating is often times the root cause of hypoglycemia – and more so when combined with exercise- and because hypoglycemic experience a temporary “high” when they consume sugar, it can lead to a cycle of high and low blood sugar levels -and sometimes binging.

Your Mood Becomes Unpredictable

Unpredictable mood

You may have heard the urban slang “hangry”, which refers to a state of irritability or anger resulting from simply being hungry. While the word is completely made up, there exists scientific evidence suggesting that inadequate food intake can cause this volatile state of emotions. The process starts with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and the brain needs a steady supply of blood sugar to function properly. A sudden drop in blood sugar leads to a decline in cognitive processes, and the first to be impaired is self-control.

A person’s ability to exert a level of self-control means it’s possible to get a handle on emotions, resist impulsivity, cope with stress and avoid aggressive behavior. So if you’re constantly battling mood swings and it feels as if you are constantly on a short fuse, chances are it has something to do with your diet.

You Have Trouble Sleeping

trouble sleeping

Insomnia and other common sleep problems are in some cases an indication of low-nutrient dieting and in particular, low caloric intake. A slight boost in caloric intake (especially from carbs) can facilitate improved blood sugar control. Blood sugar drops during sleep and the liver supplements by releasing stored glucose (it comes in the form of glycogen) to sustain normal functioning.

When you consume dangerously low amounts of calories and continue to exert your body, the liver won’t have any glycogen reserves to keep blood sugar regulated, meaning the body will have to release more cortisol to trigger gluconeogenesis or the process of making new glucose. High amounts of stress hormones can cause disturbed sleep but a fat-dense and carb-friendly snack taken just an hour before sleep can help keep your blood sugar regulated, leading to deeper and more restful sleep.

You’re Always Constipated

Chronic under-eating can also cause a serious case of constipation. When your stomach lacks enough solid food, it causes constipation among other problems. Constipation can also indicate hypothyroidism, as healthy amounts of T3 in the blood helps stimulate peristalsis, in order to keep digestion running smoothly. A reduction in T3 reduces gut motility, and this can sometimes lead to severe constipation so if you are experiencing reduced bowel movement, start by checking your caloric intake just to make sure you are not under-eating.

You’re Constantly Cold

feeling cold

Extreme caloric restriction can lead to drop in body temperature and although some proponents of caloric-restriction suggest that it’s only evidence of projected longevity, common sense suggests that it’s not a comfortable way for anyone to live. The human body requires a certain amount of ingested calories to be able to create and sustain heat, which means a high calorie deficit ultimately hampers thermogenesis. 

How Much Should I Consume?  

It’s not easy to determine exactly how many calories you should be eating every day because so many factors come in to play; but there are ways to estimate what you need to function every day. Talk to your doctor before attempting any form of diet and particularly if you undertake an aggressive form of caloric restriction. Factors such as age, physical activity, stress levels, sleep adequacy and history of chronic disease- all these issues can affect your ability to lose weight.

Bear in mind eating too little is just as bad as over-eating, so find the right amount for you and consider how the food you eat affects your ability to control weight gain, that way you avoid junk food and high energy drinks.

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