So you’re dieting. You cut back on the snacks, the cakes, the treats, the sugar, the soda, the fries, the carbs, the chocolate and the alcohol.

All of a sudden you’re feeling pretty deprived.

Looking good but feeling crap?

But you’ve been going great guns at the gym, and your body is showing some real results – you’ve lost weight, your muscles are toning up, and people are commenting how good you’re looking.

That feeling can become addictive. The “oh wow, you look amazing! What is your secret?” Who doesn’t appreciate recognition for their hard efforts. It feels damn good. 

But then you get a bit frustrated because the results have slowed, the plateau may have hit with the scales, and you’re feeling pretty crappy.

Your mood most of the time is pretty lousy. You’re irritable with your loved ones, you get stressed out easily, and you’re really tired.

Your muscles are constantly sore and seem to take forever to repair from your workouts. You feel really drained and you may even be struggling to get a good nights sleep. Then you realise you haven’t had a period for a while….

Eating well does not have to mean eating less

What happened? You think to yourself – “is everyone else walking around feeling like this too? What a nightmare!” But you push on, because you think that must be how it’s meant to be.

You think the lack of period is a bit concerning, but hey, going without that each month isn’t exactly a ‘problem’, right? 

Most of my clients that see me with these issues are all doing one thing wrong – they are under-eating! 

Are you eating enough? A blond woman eating a salad

Your muscles can’t repair

When you exercise, your body needs food to repair itself and help your muscles get stronger.

Straight after your workout you need a mix of protein and carbohydrates – your body is actually primed for it at this time – it wants the nutrients to build new muscle fibres, repair the muscle tissues and energise your muscles again (refilling them with glycogen).

As a result, insulin sensitivity is high, ready to suck up all the glucose you eat from your food into your muscles. The protein is broken down into amino acids to help repair your muscle tissues.

If you’re not eating enough, and skipping food after a tough workout, then you’re likely to be sore for longer, and be stuck lifting lighter weights and not progressing. 

See our piece on Recovery Foods for more on post-workout eating.

The Female Athlete Triad

Often overexercising and under-eating can lead to a condition known as the ‘female athlete triad‘:

  1. a lack of energy/food due to under-eating and burning too much energy with exercise
  2.  bone mineral density is reduced leading as far as osteoporosis
  3.  and the loss of a woman’s monthly period (disruption of reproductive hormones)

Not eating enough for the amount of energy and activity you do each day is the main trigger for putting you at risk for these problems. They’re not something to take lightly either.

You may not notice the signs for quite some time, and they don’t all happen at once, but continually eating below your needs can lead to these serious conditions. 

Brittle bones, the inability to fall pregnant and constant fatigue is not something a healthy lifestyle should be causing. 

Sleeping poorly

Heard of the saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’? When you’re pushing your body with lots of exercise, have a stressful job or lifestyle, and you’re a natural worrier – you’re putting yourself at risk of sleep problems.

Insomnia – difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, and constant daily fatigue may be a sign that you’re lifestyle needs an overhaul. Exercise is fantastic, but it’s a stress to the body.

Combining mental stress from your day-to-day life with physical stress on your body constantly, then not eating enough to support your needs is the perfect combination for a complete an utter burnout!

Your brain may not be functioning optimally – you’re forgetful, irritable, constantly feeling tired and exhausted, you get headaches, tension pains, and perhaps even increased daily anxiety.

Relying on black coffee will only help temporarily, but can cause even more problems with sleep and anxiety if you’re sensitive to caffeine and over consuming it. 

You may find that you’re struggling to shift those last few kilos too. The dreaded plateau. 

Sleep is so vital for muscle repair, healing of the body, and restoring your health that without enough good quality sleep, everything suffers. 

Mix up your routine. Add in some relaxation techniques – meditation, yoga, pilates. Take an extra day off from the gym.

Get outside and put your bare feet on the grass or the sand and reconnect with nature. Turn off your electronic equipment an hour before bedtime and leave them out of the bedroom! 

And ask yourself that difficult question – are you eating enough?

Increasing the amount of quality food you eat, and reducing the amount of stress in your life will do wonders for your health, energy levels and sleep patterns!

Warning signs

There are initial warning signs that you’re eating much less than what you need to be to thrive. The tiredness, excessive hunger, mood swings, etc.

Most people get these when dieting and they’re not exactly harmful. Your body adapts as best as it can in the short term. But massive reductions in the amounts that you eat, to a point where you are eating very little for your needs can lead to serious long term problems:

  • Heart erosion
  • Poor circulation
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Risk of bone fracture
  • Osteoporosis
  • Slowing of digestion
  • Dry hair and skin
  • Restlessness
  • Depression – Mood is badly affected by under-eating. Many of the nutrients in food affect the emotional centres of our brain and reducing these nutrients or affecting their balance has an adverse effect on mood. Under-eaters generally feel depressed, low, and prone to be easily irritated or enraged.
  • Panic attacks – Panic symptoms are not just emotional; they commonly arise if the body’s stress systems are not getting the nutrients they need to keep us balanced and able to cope with life
  • Obsessions and compulsions – often having a tendency to be inflexible and to carry out rigid routines
  • Lack of libido –  A loss of sex drive due to hormonal changes

Ditch the 1200 calories per day fallacy

Since when did 1200 become the magic weight loss number?

My suggestion – quit counting the calories. Count your nutrients instead.

How many veggies have you had today? How much colour have you got on your plate? Aim for 1/2 your plate to be filled with a variety of colours from non-starchy vegetables eg. zucchini, beans, carrot, tomato, cucumber, leafy greens, eggplant, pumpkin etc.

Then fill 1/2 with lean protein, 1/4 with a starchy carb e.g. sweet potato, corn or a gluten-free grain if tolerated, and the remaining 1/4 with healthy fats e.g. avocado, nuts/seeds, chia/flax, olive oil or nut butter. 

Snack on more veggies, have some fruit, and make sure you’ve got a protein source to ensure you’re getting your fill, so you’ll feel full longer!

Guacamole and baby cucumbers, hummus and carrots, mixed nuts and a piece of fruit, coconut yoghurt and some low sugar granola, Fine Fettle Flats and cashew cheese, a protein bliss ball, a small smoothie with nut butter or protein powder, etc. 

Finally, make sure that you are drinking enough water.

Calculate your needs

To calculate how much energy/calories you should be having, use this calculator.

To change kilojoules to calories, divide the number of kilojoules by 4.2. 

If you’re anywhere near around half this number, you need to eat more!


Protein Powder – Our Ultimate Guide

The ABCs of Healthy Eating Habits: (Improving Food Attitude, Behaviour and Coping Skills)

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7 Food Myths Debunked

Be a Mindful Eater Not a Mindless One

Applying the 80/20 Rule: How to Eat and Exercise with Balance and Control

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