No, you read that right...there's no mistake in the title of this article. You might think it should ask if you're eating too much. The American obesity rate is on the rise, and it often seems that even if you're active, you can't seem to make much headway with your weight. But more than you think, the problem isn't that you're overeating; it's that you aren't eating enough!
I know that we all occasionally have that special occasion where we do eat entirely too much, or mood changes or stress make us binge on sweets, but what I'm really talking about is on a day-to-day basis, do you eat enough?
Though everyone's exact diet needs are different, the average woman should be eating around 1,800 calories a day. This number is based on your basal metabolic rate and your "Activities of Daily Living." This is the number you body needs to survive. Now add in to the equation that if you regularly exercise, your calorie expenditure will be even higher once you add the calories burned during your workout and then the subsequent after burn.
So what happens if you aren't eating enough to support all you do on a daily basis? You may lose some weight to begin with, but your body will catch on, and it will adapt to the decrease in calories. Your metabolism will slow down so that your body will burn fewer calories as you complete everyday tasks. Over time, your body will start burning off muscle mass for fuel which will drop your metabolism even further (since the more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate).
Because of the reality that obesity is a serious issue in our country and that many people suffer from weight-related health issues (diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.), it seems like cutting back on calories should be the right thing to do. However, maybe what you need to focus on is not the quantity but the quality of your food and how it's balanced throughout your day.
Research has shown that if you take a group of people and put them on a diet of 1500 calories a day, and then further split that group so that half of them have three 500 calorie meals a day, and the other half have five 300 calorie meals a day, the group eating more often will lose more weight and be overall healthier with a higher metabolism than those eating only three meals a day.
And, if you're eating more processed food than natural food, your calorie intake - even if it's acceptable for the amount of activity you do - may still not meet your needs. A good rule of thumb is to limit the amount of foods you eat that come in a container with a bar code! If you're cleaning up your diet and find that you're becoming hungrier, then by all means eat more - add an extra snack to your daily schedule or add a larger portion to your lunch. Just make sure it's as natural as possible!
So how do you know if you're eating enough? First, get a better idea of how much you're actually taking in and burning off. You don't need to be obsessive about your calorie counting, but you do need to be reading labels and for a short period of time you should keep track of what is going in your mouth. If you need an idea of how many calories you're burning throughout your day, you can use an online tool or talk to a personal trainer, who should have a formula to help you figure it out. Bottom line - your daily calorie intake should not be consistently less than what you are burning.
The second thing to do is to gradually start eating more. Adding calories to your diet is not easy - your body and mind need time to adapt to the new changes and regulate. You don't want to start eating too much! So instead of adding whole meals right away, add calories to an existing meal, or include a small snack at a time when you previously didn't have one. Once that has become easier and you don't feel over-full then add again somewhere else! Finally remember to keeps food clean. Adding extra calories does not mean adding things that are bad for you. Instead add extra calories from fruits, nuts, whole grains, sweet potatoes or lean meats and fish.
Five Signs You Are Underfueled
- You're losing or not gaining muscle: If you are working out hard and eating enough protein, but seem to be getting weaker or losing definition, your energy intake is low.
- You're tired all the time and you’re not sleeping well: If your body constantly lacks fuel you will find it harder to recover from your workouts. Over time, undereating can also rob you of sleep, which is when you build and repair muscles.
- You can't get rid of that pesky belly fat: While it may seem to go against everything you have ever heard or believed, it all comes down to hormones and your metabolism. Undereating promotes muscle loss and raises levels of the belly-fattening stress hormone cortisol.
- Your period stops or becomes irregular: Active women should still have their periods. If yours is becoming erratic or has stopped entirely, or if you are having problems getting pregnant, it could be a sign that your body doesn't have enough fuel to produce key reproductive hormones.
- Your bones are showing weakness: If you've had a recent stress fracture or an unexpected broken bone from a fall, this could be a sign that your bones are weakening, a side effect of low calories and possibly low estrogen levels.
Cathy Derringer is an Expert Trainer at Five Seasons Dayton. As a mother of three, Cathy knows how important an active, healthy lifestyle is to parents to maintain balance and focus. Cathy's positive attitude motivates her clients to push themselves farther than they may have thought possible. Her specialties include weight loss, general fitness, weight training and group exercise. Let her passion for exercise help you achieve your goals.