5 Ways Eating Less Impacts Your Health

Not eating enough can cause your body long-term harm. Symptoms of underfueling include fatigue, lower metabolism, weaker bones or intense emotions like anger.

16 Sep 2022

Do you often feel exhausted and fatigued even after a good night’s sleep? Are you constipated most of the time or suffer from brittle nails and hair problems? These are signs that indicate that you have a low functioning metabolism. Your metabolism controls various organ functions and utilises foods to burn and convert into energy.


There is no denying that body image, fitness and nutrition play a huge role in any individual’s life. A common misconception that people have is thinking that gaining weight is always ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ and losing weight is for the best. Because of this misconception, there is a constant urge to count calories, in order to be ‘healthy’, especially if you’re struggling with body image. But following any diet or calorie-restrictive meal plans can be disastrous when you are not fully informed about them. It can result in you following a diet that lacks essential nutrients, among other things.


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The consequence of not eating right or following the wrong diet plan is under-fueling. So, this raises the question: how many calories do we need to eat in a day? The simple answer is–it's different from person to person. There is no hard and fast rule for this as the quantity of calorie intake varies for everyone. A 2018 report in Nutrients mentioned that an adult woman should not consume less than 1200-1500 calories per day and men below 1500-1800 calories per day.


Calories are needed whether you want to lose weight, retain your present weight, or gain more. Besides, calories or carbohydrates fuel the tissues of your body like your brain, heart, liver, and kidneys, helping you stay alive. Ingesting more calories than your body needs will cause you to gain weight, mostly in the form of body fat. We all pretty much follow the classic weight-loss equation: consume fewer calories than you burn. But, after following this routine, do you think your body is getting enough nutrition?


We spoke with Chennai-based internationally acclaimed sports nutritionist, Shiny Surendran whether it is okay to eat enough calories or if a calorie-deficit is required. On this, Surendran says, “People who try to lose weight often restrict the number of calories they eat. This puts their body in calorie deficit mode. However, they are unaware of the fact that restricting calories too much may harm their health”.


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What happens when you cut off carbohydrates from your diet?

1. Lowers your metabolism: Restricting your calories can decline your metabolism and may lead to muscle loss.


2. Causes fatigue: Calorie-restricted diets may not provide sufficient amounts of iron, calcium, Biotin, magnesium folate, or Vitamin A and B12. This can lead to anaemia and extreme fatigue.


3. Disturbs bowel movement: Another consequence of eating low carbohydrates is constipation. A diet lacking in carbohydrates and fibre can prevent your digestive system from moving efficiently.


4. Makes you feel on edge: Surendran says, when your calorie consumption drops too low, your mood may constantly be on edge. This is because of dietary restraints that trigger hunger pangs leaving you in a semi-starvation situation. Also, the psychological effects of depriving yourself, eating too few calories is an easy way to feel frustrated and edgy.


5. Weakens bones: Consuming too few calories can weaken bones because calorie restriction can reduce oestrogen and testosterone levels in the body. Low levels of these two reproductive hormones reduce the rate of bone formation and increase the fragility of bones, as per Nature Reviews Endocrinology.


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We all try to restrain ourselves from gaining more weight. An example of this would be when you have a high-intensity training session in the morning and have indulged in pasta, cheese sticks and wine the day before. How do you feel? Guilty? It can end up being the reason you skip breakfast the following morning, to ensure that you don’t gain weight.


When you are trying to build muscles, not only protein but carbohydrates also play an important role. If you’re wondering whether you need carbs to build muscle, sports nutritionist Shiny Surendran answers all about carbohydrates in your diet.


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Why do you need carbohydrates to build muscles?

Surendran says, “carbohydrates are essential for muscle development as they will fuel your muscles which will allow muscle growth. Also, it prevents fatigue during and after workouts. The main job of carbohydrates is to fuel or function the other physiological body functions. Since energy is required to complete an intense workout, carbohydrates release glycogen which is broken down to release glucose in the bloodstream that can be used as energy”.


Proteins are the major building blocks of the body consisting of smaller molecules called amino acids. These amino acids are linked together to form a chain-like structure to make muscles, tendons, organs, and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and various molecules. Sometimes, gym goers rely only on protein, to be active all the time. So, they are only dependent on eggs, chicken breasts, and protein shakes to build more muscles. This is the false idea that eliminating carbohydrates is the right way to achieve fitness goals. And, surprisingly, many fall victim to this theory and start underfueling.


She further adds, “If you wish to build muscle through long-term strength training then your glycogen stores may not be sufficient, in case you are consuming little to no carbohydrates in your diet. And, your body may beg to cut the fitness session short as you may not be able to build muscles due to lower performance”.


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Benefits of consuming carbohydrates

As per the 2020 Dietary Guideline for Americans, carbohydrates provide upto 60 per cent of the daily caloric intake for both men and women. However, many do not know that carbohydrates can do more than just muscle building.


1. Prevents muscle degradation: Consuming carbohydrates can prevent muscle loss or muscle degradation. A low-carbohydrate diet causes the body to excrete nitrogen in huge amounts. Nitrogen forms muscle proteins and is a component of amino acids, therefore nitrogen loss indicates that the muscles are breaking down.


2. Helps to recover from workout: Immediately after the workout, athletes need to replenish their glycogen stores in order to prevent glycogen depletion. When glycogen stores have run out, it causes gluconeogenesis, where the body forms glucose from new sources to compensate for the lack of glucose from carbohydrates.


3. Improves athletic performance: According to a 2019 study issued in the paper Nutrients, carbohydrates are associated with improved performance during high-intensity exercises. Some athletes take advantage of glycogen by consuming carbs a day or more before a workout to maximise the muscle glycogen stores. Since carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can be broken down quickly, this can delay fatigue and even improve athletic performance.


4. Repairs muscle wear and tear: It is common for muscles to get slightly torn and feel sore after an intense workout. This is mainly because of this minor damage that allows the muscles to exert more force than during regular activity. After exercise or during rest, the muscles need to be repaired and rebuilt. Just like for building muscle, protein and glycogen is needed for that muscle repair.


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What is underfueling?

Underfueling is when you are not consuming a complete diet enough to gather energy to perform a workout. As a sports individual or a fitness enthusiast, when they are skipping nutrition their body can become overstressed. This will be reflected in their performance in the form of fatigue and low intensity workouts.


Signs of underfueling (short-term)

High intensity exercises without apparent injury demand high energy and to fulfil the criteria, it is imperative to eat enough. There can be short-lived repercussions of underfueling that you need to look out for:


  • Feeling lethargic and fatigued easily
  • Sore muscles after high intensity interval training
  • Hair fall
  • Brain fog or temporary memory loss
  • Digestion issues
  • Poor sleep quality


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Signs of underfueling (long-term)

Underconsumption of calories or carbohydrates might cause serious complications due to chronic underfueling. Not including carbohydrates creates nutritional deficiencies that can have a detrimental effect on your body over time. Instead of losing fat, it might make it difficult for you to lose weight in the future and also lead to other prolonged health issues such as:


  • Weak immune system
  • Loss of bone intensity
  • Loss of thyroid function
  • Eating disorders
  • Lack of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)


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How to prevent underfueling?

Be sure to listen to your body and fulfil what it needs. Fueling your body will not only help in muscle recovery but also allow you to perform on your best level. Carbohydrates have got a bad name because it is reputed to increase weight and is considered unhealthy, but that’s not necessarily true. Ms. Surendran suggests, “to prevent underfueling, intake of healthy carbohydrates is important. Healthiest carbohydrates are unprocessed whole grain vegetables and fruits rich in Vitamins, minerals and fibres.


Here are some tips to to consider:

  • Eat when you're hungry: Your body has naturally occurring hunger hormones and when it needs more food, your hunger hormones will kick in to let you know. Restrict yourself from overeating more than is needed.
  • Start your day with whole grains: Instead of white bread, try hot cereal or old-fashioned oatmeals which are high in fibre and low in sugar. Eat the fruit, rather than drinking its juice to consume two times as much fibre.
  • Avoid potatoes: Potatoes have been notoriously known to promote weight gain. Rather, fill your plates with beans and legumes like chickpea.
  • Don't skip meals: Skipping meals can put you into an unnecessary energy deficit, where energy is not utilised for the requirement. To minimise the occurrence of underfueling, have some snacks available to fuel your body.
  • Take a rest day: A recovery day is mandatory to help with muscle recovery as well and allows you to prepare for bigger challenges.


Carbohydrates are not bad, you just need to understand which one is healthy and works for you. One should focus on carbohydrates that provide dietary fibre, such as whole-grain bread and cereals. Fruits and vegetables, as well as many dairy products, including milk and yoghurt, also provide carbohydrates. Both protein and carbohydrates are macronutrients that are essential for building muscle. If your problem does not seem to go away, then immediately consult a sports nutritionist for a detailed diagnosis.


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