What Are The Physical and Behavioral Effects of Under-Eating?

In medical terms, when a person is under-eating, it means their energy intake via food is not enough to meet their body’s daily energy requirements. If a person is overweight and wishes to drop down to healthier body weight, they might decide to under-eat until they hit their goal weight. In popular culture, this form of controlled under-eating is referred to as dieting.

If you’re overweight, short-term dieting is usually a good thing, minimizing health risks and improving the overall quality of life. The problems begin when people who are already a healthy weight commence or continue to under-eat on a daily basis. This article will take a look at the two main effects of long-term under-eating and, in particular, how these effects impact people with eating disorders.

Physical Effects

Bone health: When people are under-eating, their body is deprived of the energy and nutrients required for everyday bone repair and growth. Incremental losses in bone density can eventually lead to the development of early-onset osteoporosis.

Hair loss: Under-eating typically causes a wide range of nutrient deficiencies. If under-eating leads to a drop in protein consumption, it can affect the body’s ability to produce keratin, potentially triggering hair thinning or loss.

Menstruation: Restrictive eating habits may interrupt regular menstruation. If a woman misses three consecutive periods in a row, they are experiencing a condition known as amenorrhea. Long-term amenorrhea can increase a woman’s risk of several major fertility problems later in life.

Blood sugar: In severe cases of under-eating, the lack of food can cause acute pancreatitis. The pancreas is in charge of producing insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating your blood sugar levels. When insulin production is disrupted by under-eating, people can experience dangerous swings in their blood sugar levels.

Behavioral Effects

Cravings: One of the strongest behavioral outcomes of under-eating is the development of food cravings. In addition to sapping people of their concentration, long-term cravings can also lead to the development of food obsessions or compulsive binge eating habits, potentially triggering episodes of bulimia nervosa.

Decrease in sex drive: Sustained periods of under-eating will affect the body’s production of sex hormones, lowering libido in both men and women.

Restlessness: Research into restlessness has found that starving rats are much more agitated and jittery than well-fed rats. The same phenomenon appears to occur in people who are under-eating, leading to jumpiness, mental anxiety, and nervous tics.

Irritability: Unsurprisingly, the combination of under-eating, cravings, and restlessness also causes generalized irritability. Broadly speaking, people who are under-eating are more likely to behave impatiently, be annoyed at other people, and react angrily to minor problems.

Sources: National Centre For Eating Disorders, Medical News Today

Photo: Pexels

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