Diet Myths: Are You Eating Enough Calories?
For decades, we’ve been bombarded with messages about diets, weight loss, and calorie crunching. This led generations to feel constantly ashamed of their bodies like they always needed to lose weight, and that they must keep track of every bite they eat.
For many people, this has caused distorted body images, eating disorders, or simply not enjoying food the way it’s meant to be enjoyed. This school of thought needs to be reprogrammed, and at the base of it is how much we eat.
Chances are your relationship with food has also had its ups and downs, so here’s the question – are you actually eating enough calories?
What Are Calories?
Before we can dive into philosophies and approaches towards eating and calorie consumption, it’s essential to understand exactly what a calorie is. It’s common for people to think they need to eat fewer calories or this and that, but oftentimes they don’t even know what calories are or what they do.
Simply put, a calorie is a measurement of energy.
Calories measure how much energy we get from food and drinks. They are essential for energy, organ function, and keeping us alive. The science behind calorie intake and weight management seems simple.
To maintain relatively the same weight, the energy you intake should be about the same as the amount of energy exerted through exercise and normal body functions. People assigned female at birth should average about 2,000 calories per day. This number changes depending on your activity level and individual needs.
This seems simple enough, but lived experiences are obviously more complicated.
Why You Might Need to Eat More
Whether it’s because diet culture has made you feel like you need to eat less, or because life has been keeping you busy – it’s pretty common that people, especially cis women, are not eating enough. We’re constantly juggling so many things – work, family, school, a social life, hobbies, and sometimes nourishing our bodies comes last in our priorities.
But a properly nourished body means that you have more energy to do the things you need to do and enjoy the things you want to enjoy.
Here are a few signs that you’re not eating enough:
- You feel fatigued or tired throughout the day
- You’re losing muscle or not gaining muscle when you try to
- You have thinning hair, acne, or brittle nails
- Your hormones are off
- You skip ovulation
- Painful or irregular periods
- Weight gain
- You feel dizzy, shaky, or irritable when you haven’t eaten
- Brain fog
- Gut imbalances
- Impaired immune system
You might be confused why weight gain is on this list. Shouldn’t eating more make you gain weight? Not necessarily.
Calorie restriction sometimes tells your body to go into starvation mode, which means it breaks down lean muscle to conserve energy. Without enough calories, you can experience an increased level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which can cause weight gain.
Not eating enough can also trigger hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain. More so, if you don’t have enough energy to stay active and go about your life, you may find yourself gaining weight.
Calorie Deficits and Weight Loss
On the other hand, yes, some people need to lower their calorie intake to lose weight. It goes back to the equation of calories in versus calories out.
That being said, we’re not here to focus on weight loss or weight gain, we’re talking about nourishment, feeling good in your body, and having enough energy to enjoy your life.
Focus on Nourishment, Not Numbers
Calorie intake isn’t about making your body look a certain way, although it’s totally fine to have healthy goals. Instead, we’re focusing on how the food you eat makes you feel.
For most people, counting numbers is a thing of the past. Instead, it can be a lot more helpful to prioritize essential nutrients and track how what you’re eating makes you feel.
Focus on eating whole foods, minimizing added sugar, and getting these essential nutrients:
- Protein from eggs, legumes, seafood, meat, and more serves as a fuel source for cells and tissues, along with plenty of other roles.
- Fat from nuts, olive oil, and avocados helps with brain function, muscle movement, brain functioning, and balancing blood sugar.
- Carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables help support the immune system, nervous system, brain function, and digestive function.
- Water helps to hydrate, flush toxins out, transport nutrients, and a whole slew of other things.
- Vitamins from fruits and vegetables help to boost the immune system, metabolize carbs and proteins, support healthy blood, and strengthen teeth and bones.
- Minerals from dairy products, eggs, whole grains, leafy greens, and red meat help to improve bone health, balance water levels, aid in blood clotting, support healthy blood pressure, and carry oxygen.
It can also be incredibly helpful to learn about balancing your blood sugar, which also plays a huge role in your energy levels.
Eat For Your Body and Your Life
You receive so many messages about what we should or shouldn’t be eating, we understand that it can be overwhelming. That’s we want to empower you to tune into your body’s needs, symptoms, cravings, and more to help guide your food choices.
You’re the only one living in your body, and living your life, so ultimately only you can decide on what foods work for you, and how much of them you need. Still, it can be helpful to have guidance about the basic principles of nutrition or how to find foods that feel good for your body.
Not that you needed permission, but here’s your reminder to see food as nourishment, focus on the way your body feels instead of how it looks, and enjoy your life!
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.