People often wrongly assume that my job involves loads of “you can’t eat that” statements, and that I’m going to tell them they can’t eat loads of foods that they like, or ever enjoy a meal out again. Nope. I’m all about making smarter choices and finding out which foods work well for you, but I am absolutely not ok with long term unnecessary restriction.
I would say at least 50% of the people I work with now, are people who are chronically under eating and don’t realise it.
The thought process for people often starts like this:
“I need to lose weight so I’m going to cut out (insert various foods or food groups e.g. all carbs, sugar, dairy, grains)”
“I’ve got some digestive issues and skin issues so I’ll take out (insert various food group)” and this process continues until they end up eating only 4 different foods. Ironically even when very restrictive they are often still experiencing symptoms.
Now in some cases I will work with clients to temporarily avoid foods that we suspect might not be helping you to feel your best. For example foods that may be causing digestive upset or skin break outs. Once we have figured out what is or isn’t causing an issue I try to help people open up their diet to ensure there is as much variety and as many nutrients as possible. Quite often there are other underlying reasons why you are having health issues and it is less about the food itself.
Temporarily removing foods can be effective if you actually:
a) see improvements during the time you removed them
b) reintroduce foods to see if they really are causing you problems.
What happens a lot is that people KEEP restricting, and a lot of the time I don’t think this is necessary. Sure I’m not saying sit back and eat KitKats or cake all day and feel your best, but a lot of the time the work to be done to support your health is not found in constant restriction.
Here are some of the things that can happen if you are under eating:
a) nutrient deficiencies – you may not be getting enough iron, choline, B12, protein, calcium, zinc, iodine….the list could go on. Nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling knackered, prevent proper sleep and start to cause imbalances in your system that can lead to more serious health problems down the road. No one wants osteoporosis or anaemia.
b) a chronic calorie deficit – not ok long term. If you are consistently eating less than 1500kcal per day and constantly on a diet you are at risk of reducing your metabolic rate, your thyroid function and contributing to all the other problems on this list. Think you’re ok on 1200kcal diets? 1200 calories per day is what is recommended for 2-3 year old children. As a grown woman (or man) 1200kcal is not enough. For weight loss a deficit of 300-500kcal per day is as far as I would go if you want to avoid health issues.
c) eating too low in a specific macro nutrient e.g. protein, fat or carbs. Many people don’t eat enough protein, but vegetarians and especially vegans can be at risk of a low protein diet. If you were brought up in the era of low fat diets you may subconsciously fear fat and not choose to eat fatty foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil or fatty fish. Now low carb for many people can be great. I do use this for clients with PCOS, in some cases for weight loss, type 2 diabetes etc. HOWEVER not everyone in the world will feel good on a low carb diet. Many people will feel worse and it is not for them. Quality trumps quantity for carbohydrate every time, and finding what level makes you feel best is beneficial. But forcing yourself to do keto or super low carb and exercise loads is often a recipe for disaster.
d) problems with your blood sugar levels. If you are eating low calorie, low carb or low protein this is essentially starvation and that is not good for anyone. Your blood sugar can drop out a lot as you aren’t giving it enough food to be able to sustain you and manage your blood sugar. Low blood sugar levels require cortisol to come into action to keep you alive. Cortisol production due to regularly low blood sugar levels can make you feel bad – poor sleep, poor skin, inflammed, moody.
Restricted eating can also contribute to:
- poor sleep
- heart palpitations and rapid heart beat
- panic attacks
- feeling on edge and weird
- irritability and mood swings (feeling “hangry”?)
- altered gut function – constipation and bloating in some cases
- altered gut bacteria – low levels of fibre due to restriction reduces food for beneficial bacteria
- hair loss
- disordered relationships with food – don’t let fear of food rule your life
- binge eating when you do eat, feeling out of control around food
Here is the thing – I often hear people talk about having lots of food sensitivities when in many cases it’s actually poorly regulated blood glucose levels and cortisol. But they feel strongly it’s a food. It is often NOT the food – it’s your bodies complex hormonal systems, often begging you for more fuel. And it can be hard to get out of that state, as that fear of the food becomes really ingrained in many people,
But it can be done! I regularly work with people who feel much better simply by eating an appropriate calorie, nutrient dense diet. A diet that is not low in any one particular macro nutrient, and is appropriate for their level of activity can have really profound effects on people’s health. Skin health improves, digestive health improves, fatigue can resolve, hair loss improves, mental health improves and yes, in some cases people can often lose a few pounds. All this by eating more!
I have seen this completely resolve a number of people’s symptoms simply because their body is being properly fed and not fighting with them anymore. I virtually never see anyone who comes to me on an already restrictive diet, who is eating enough.
This is why I truly spend more time taking people off very restrictive diets that putting them on them. Otherwise it can become a very disordered and fearful way of eating that can make health worse rather than better. Eating natural, largely unprocessed foods means eating in significant quantities to make up enough calories and macro nutrients for many people. No small sparrow portions here please.
Now I’m not saying go out and eat rubbish foods all the time, please do avoid foods you know you need to or foods that make you feel awful. However please keep in mind what might be a true symptom that a food doesn’t agree with you, and what symptoms might be your body begging you to nourish it a little bit more.
If you are worried you might be under eating, do get in touch to book an appointment.