Welcome! This is the second post in a series about why people have a hard time sticking to a diet long term. Make sure to check out last week’s post here.
This week we’re talking about malnourishment due to undereating. With so much food readily available, many people are still malnourished, and eating disorders are on the rise. Too many teenage girls are fanatically attempting low-calorie and nutrient poor diets, which harms their bodies as they grow through puberty. In fact, many people are eating less than concentration camp prisoners! I delve into this topic more in my post Dear Dieter – Stop Treating Yourself Like a Concentration Camp Prisoner so make sure to check that out. It really is scary and sad that while we have so much food available, many people are still malnourished.
The U.S. federal dietary guidelines recommend that people eat between 1.5 and 2 cups of fruit per day, and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. While, I personally feel like those guidelines are less that what many people need, a recent survey completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that just 13 percent of people consumed enough fruit to meet the national guideline, and 9 percent ate enough vegetables. (1) We’ve become completely reliant on nutrient poor convenience foods. Malnutrition is showing up in our culture in everything from heart disease to cancer to obesity and even more subtle annoyances like menstrual pain (no it’s not normal) and mood swings.
So what does this have to do with sticking to a diet? Low calorie dieting leads to malnourishment and even further depletes an already out of balance body. Beyond the basic idea that if you don’t eat enough, you’ll crave quick sources of foods, there are many nutrients that play a role in regulating our appetite. Zinc is a really good example of this. Zinc is a nutrient that is hard to get even in a nourishing diet. It’s found in red meat and egg yolks. Zinc has a well documented effect on our sense of taste. (2, 3) If we are deficient, our body can only register extreme sweetness, saltiness, or spiciness as having a taste. Simple, healthy food becomes unappetizing. When we restore our body’s zinc stores, our taste of healthy food revives itself. This is part of the reason that as we start to eat healthy food, we begin to crave healthy food.
Another way under eating can undermine our ability to stick to a diet long term has to do with our adrenal glands. Our adrenals secrete the hormones cortisol which is our stress hormone. Cortisol is secreted for all kinds of stress – emotional, mental, physical, and dietary. One key dietary stressor is under eating. Historically, cortisol was an important hormone to put us into the fight or flight response so we would have the energy to find food. Chronically high cortisol can lead to insulin and leptin resistance (4, 5, 6). Leptin is the hormone in charge of telling us we’re full. When our cells become resistant to leptin, we have a hard time keeping our appetite in it’s normal range and is part of the reason many people end up in the yo-yo dieting trap.
So, how many calories should you be eating, and what does a nourishing diet look like? I like this calorie calculator. It’s easy to input your height, weight, and activity level to get a general idea. Knowing exactly what’s going to work for you, can take a little bit of experimenting, but this is a good place to start. I use myfittnesspal.com to get an idea of how many calories I am eating on a daily basis. From my experience, most people don’t realize how LITTLE they are eating. For the ins and outs of a nourishing diet, check out our FREE Real Food 101 e-course!