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12 signs you may not be eating enough

Not eating enough can affect your entire body, from your weight to your fertility to your mental health. Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont, shares the most common signs a person isn’t eating enough:

  1. Anxiety and depression. “Studies have shown that not eating enough can cause prolonged periods of anxiety and depression in teens and adults,” says Beal.

  2. Being underweight. If you have a body mass index under 18.5, you may be underweight. Being underweight can increase your risk of malnutrition, developmental problems, infertility, bone fractures and osteoporosis, anemia, increased risk of surgical complications, and a weakened immune system.

  3. Constipation. “When you have less waste product to form stool, it causes slower movement of your food through GI tract,” says Beal. You may be constipated if you have three or fewer bowel movements a week, if your stool is small and hard, or if you have a difficult time passing stool.  

  4. Difficulty losing weight. “Not eating enough can make it harder to lose weight,” she says. “If you’re not taking in enough to meet your daily requirements, your metabolism may slow down as your body goes into conservation mode.”

  5. Fatigue. “You need a certain number of calories for basic function,” says Beal. “Most people require at least 1,000 calories per day—more if you’re active. If you restrict yourself to lower than that, it can lead to fatigue.”

  6. Feeling cold. When your body doesn’t get enough calories, it can lead to a decrease in body temperature.

  7. Frequently feeling hungry. “Numerous studies show that appetite and food cravings increase in response to calorie restriction,” she says.

  8. Hair loss. “Our bodies are smart and will prioritize what’s most essential, like heart and lung function,” says Beal. If you’re deficient in the nutrients your hair needs to grow, you may experience hair loss.

  9. Infertility. “We have a complex system that controls reproductive health,” she says. “When we don’t take in enough calories, our hormones may become imbalanced and without the proper balance of hormones, pregnancy can’t occur.”

  10. Moodiness. Beal says studies show caloric restriction can lead to moodiness and irritability. If you’re ever experienced “hanger” when you’re in need of a meal, you likely know how this feels.

  11. Sleep disturbances. Caloric restriction can lead to sleep interruptions, poor quality sleep and difficulty falling asleep.

  12. Weakened immune system. If you don’t get enough nutrients, your immune system may have a harder time fighting infections. If you’re frequently sick or illnesses take a long time to go away, you may want to take a look at your diet.

If you think you may not be eating enough, Beal recommends consulting with a dietitian, primary care provider or credible online sources, like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Your insurance plan may cover consultations with a dietitian, she adds. Check with your insurance provider for more information. You can search for dietitians near you on Eatright.org.

“There are periods of our lives when our eating habits will change and that’s totally understandable,” says Beal. “But if you experience these symptoms over time and see a pattern, definitely seek help.”

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