What’s the problem?
This is a big one. Not eating enough food is one of the leading causes of problem eating.
This is because thousands of us undereat on a daily basis – and, as sad as that is, a lot of us do it on purpose.
In an effort to restrict our food intake, we skip breakfast.
Then we have a light lunch and do our very best to avoid snacking throughout the day.
Once evening comes, we’re absolutely famished. This is when our bodies usually give in to our natural cravings and we suddenly find ourselves eating everything that we can get our hands on.
This is simply how our bodies work. They need food to survive and they fight us when we try to deprive them of nutrition.
Restrictive diets just don’t work. It’s a fact. They lead to weight gain and episodes of binge eating. When food is restricted throughout the day, bingeing becomes much more frequent. And the stricter this food restriction is, the stronger the binge urges grow in response.
These urges are biological. It’s how our bodies react to prolonged hunger.
It’s an instinctive response and has nothing to do with our psychological state.
If the healthiest, happiest person on the planet restricted their food intake, they would make themselves susceptible to powerful binge urges too.
Even minor undereating over a period of a few days can lead to bingeing. It’s no surprise then that weeks or months of intense dieting frequently result in serious eating issues.
Okay, what’s the solution?
The solution is to stop restricting.
You need to eat enough food to satisfy your biological requirements.
Now you’re probably wondering how much food the average person requires to get them through the day. Most guidelines state that the number of calories that a person should consume daily is 2,000.
However, it turns out that it isn’t that simple after all.
In 1993, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was originally going to state that the recommended number of daily calories for one person was 2,350. However, its officials then decided that this number was too cumbersome.
To make things simpler, a recommendation of 2,000 calories was adopted instead. That’s 350 calories, or one whole meal, less than the original calculation!
Recent research suggests that the original number was an underestimation as well.
Modern experiments have revealed that both women and men (who are moderately active and within a healthy weight range) expend around 2400 and 3050 calories per day respectively.
That’s a huge difference compared to the number that the FDA, along with so many others, is using!
The truth is that numerous factors affect the amount of food that your body requires.
These factors include age, height, weight, activity level, metabolic health and several others.
As a result, it’s nearly impossible to calculate how many calories you will digest, absorb and use up during the day.
That’s why calorie counting isn’t effective.
The best way to ensure that you’re eating enough is learning to listen to the natural signals that your body is sending you. And for these signals to get through to you, you first have to stop restricting your food intake.
I know that this might come as a bit of a shock, but it’s impossible to stop bingeing if you’re eating 1,500 calories a day when your body requires more than 2,000 calories. Yes, impossible! Personally, I don’t go under 2,200 calories. I’m a relatively active female, so this amount suits my needs perfectly.
However, it’s important to understand that everyone is different. You may need to adjust this number to meet your personal requirements.
Science & Studies
One study has revolutionised the way we look at food restriction and its effect on humans. It’s called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment took place in 1944. Its participants were put on a diet of 1,600 calories per day for 6 months. Over time, they began to suffer from various psychological side effects, such as anxiety, food obsession and depression.
Even more important to us is the fact that once the experiment had ended, some of its participants found themselves bingeing on more than five thousand calories a day.
Long-term restriction resulted in cravings that didn’t go away even when the stomachs of the experiment’s subjects were absolutely stuffed!
Another large study concluded that girls who dieted frequently were twelve times more likely to report binge eating (yes, that’s right, TWELVE TIMES!), while boys who did the same became seven times more likely to binge eat.
With results like that, it couldn’t be clearer that restricting one’s food intake really does lead to intense cravings, frequent overeating and other forms of problem eating.
If you held your breath for a minute, you’d feel a massive urge to breathe.
If you didn’t drink any liquids for a day, you’d obsess over water.
Why would it be any different if you didn’t eat enough food?
Pick a new habit
Choose a new habit to work on from the list below. Learn more about habits here.
Add one extra snack to your Heal Plan
You can try adding one more snack to your existing Heal Plan and see if it helps you to feel stronger and more in control of your binge urges. It might seem like a small change, but it can truly make a huge difference!
Some balanced and satisfying snack ideas include:
- Protein shakes.
- Green smoothies.
- Dried fruit and nut mixes.
- Vegetables with hummus.
Increase the portion sizes of your meals
If you want to ensure that you’re consuming enough calories throughout the day, you can try and increase the portion sizes of your main meals. Simply add a couple of new ingredients to them and see how your body reacts to a more substantial portion.
For example, if you’re having a tuna sandwich for lunch, include some veggies, cheese or boiled eggs in it. You’ll add more nutrients, as well as calories, to your meal and will have more energy to go about your daily tasks.
Eat more nutrient-dense snacks
A handy trick to ensure that you’re eating enough calories is to eat nutrient-dense foods as snacks.
Concentrate on foods that provide you with calories and a wide array of nutrients, such as protein and healthy fat. A combination of nuts, seeds, oil and nut butter works great in this case. It won’t make you feel overly full and it will help you meet your daily calorie needs with ease.
Here are some examples of nutritious snacks:
- Protein or granola bars.
- Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese with fruit.
- Nut butter and crackers.
- Trail mix.
Make your main meals more nutrient-dense
You can try and increase the quantity of nutrients in your main meals as well. All it takes is a couple of small adjustments – add them all up and they will result in a much more varied and satisfying daily menu!
Some easy ways to make your meals more nutritious include:
- Cooking your eggs with butter.
- Cooking your oatmeal with whole milk instead of water.
- Adding some olive oil and avocados to your salad.
Try eating 6 small meals instead of 3 meals and 3 snacks
If you’ve restricted your calorie intake for a long time, your body might struggle to adjust to having full meals at the start of your recovery journey.
One way of making this transition easier on yourself is having 6 small meals instead of 3 bigger meals and 3 snacks every day.
This strategy will allow your stomach to get used to digesting regular meals again and will help you to consume enough food daily.
Consume nutritious, high-calorie drinks
Another way of getting used to consuming more food is drinking your calories. If you don’t feel hungry when your next meal time rolls around, try and replace your main meal or snack with a tasty, nutritious, high-calorie drink.
When making these drinks, make sure that they provide you with the necessary macronutrients. For example, your portion of complex carbohydrates can come from fruit, your source of protein can be whole milk, yoghurt or protein powder, and your serving of healthy fat can take the shape of an avocado or a spoonful of nut butter.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for these drinks, here are two recipes of balanced, nutritious shakes:
- Chocolate, banana and nut butter: Mix one banana, one scoop of chocolate-flavoured whey protein powder, one tablespoon of your favourite nut butter and a glass of whole milk.
- Vanilla and mixed berries: Mix one cup of mixed berries (fresh or frozen), one scoop of vanilla-flavoured whey protein powder and a glass of whole milk.
- If you’re physically active, you may need to increase your calorie intake even further. Depending on your activity level, eating 2,500, 3,000 or even more calories every day might be completely natural – and indeed essential – for you.
- If you start feeling full too early on in your meals, consider limiting drinks during meal times. It goes without saying that keeping yourself hydrated is still extremely important, but many people find that drinking during meals reduces the overall capacity of their stomachs and causes them to feel too full.
- If you have problems with purging, try and stick to foods that you feel comfortable eating. You can tackle your trigger foods once you’re ready to do that, but it’s important to take it one step at a time for now.
- Don’t panic if you notice your weight fluctuating a little during this period – it’s completely normal and is usually caused by temporary bloating. However, if a slightly bigger number on the scale can trigger you to binge, purge or engage in other unhealthy behaviours, avoid weighing yourself for the time being.
- If you’re severely underweight and/or tend to consume less than 1,000 calories a day, you have to be very cautious when increasing your calorie intake. Your body might not be used to consuming a healthy amount of calories and it can be very dangerous for you to start eating bigger portions too quickly. Please consult a doctor before going forward with your recovery.
Ready to move on?
Here are some questions that can help you to decide if your daily calorie intake has to be upped:
- Do you feel genuinely satisfied after your meals and snacks?
- If you’ve experienced symptoms like dizziness, shakiness and the like in the past, are they gone now?
- Has the frequency and intensity of your binge urges considerably decreased?
If you’ve answered negatively to any of these questions, you’re probably still eating too little. You need to gradually increase your calorie intake.
If you’re still experiencing powerful binge urges, it might also be a sign that you’re not eating enough. Spend more time making sure that your calorie intake satisfies your biological needs.