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How to know if you're eating enough for your exercise regime

Considering the endless fountain of misinformation out there, it can be really easy to fall into bad habits around diet and exercise.  

Often, the message surrounding food and fitness is ‘eat less, move more’. 

While, scientifically speaking, this mantra does ring true for people wanting to lose weight, it can be misleading at best and, at worst, dangerous.  

For many, like Ravi Davda, the CEO of a digital marketing agency, the idea of under-eating was simply part of the challenge of getting fitter and healthier, but he soon found that this mindset takes its toll. 

After getting into fitness in his 20s, Ravi became obsessed with the prospect of become lean, with a photoshoot planned to mark his finish line.  

By the end of this process, Ravi was drastically under-eating despite working out daily. 

‘Looking back, it was a horrible time,’ he says. ‘I was always hungry which made me easily irritable and my wife and I would argue a lot as a result.’ 

He adds that he would rarely go out to eat, was always cold and had depression-like symptoms.  

‘I was consistently low on energy and would spend a lot of the evenings and weekends sleeping or lying down,’ he adds. ‘[But] I wanted a six-pack and to be ripped because that’s what everyone on social media has, right?’

According to Kate Whapples, a strength and conditioning coach who specialises in training professional and amateur athletes, social media has a lot to answer for in the culture of under-eating that pervades the world of fitness. 

‘The body types that are idolised on social media are often very far from healthy,’ she tells 

‘Women and men with a dangerously low body fat are only a tap away, and the assumption is that if you work had in the gym and work within a calorie deficit [eating less calories than your body uses], it might be achievable. 

‘But realistically, this body composition isn’t sustainable for the majority of people.’ 

Left unchecked, this mindset can unravel into an eating disorder.

‘Systematic under-eating and over-exercising can often be a symptom of an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa, which may be caused by the aim of unattainable health and wellness,’ says Ruth Micallef, a counsellor specialising in eating disorders.

It can also be a symptom of a deeper issue.

‘Eating disorders are simply a way to cope with traumatic and challenging events,’ Ruth adds. ‘But they’re nothing to be ashamed of, and can be treated.’

How to know if you’re not eating enough

Our bodies will usually let us know when something isn’t right.

These are the signs and symptoms of under fuelling your body, according to strength and conditioning coach Kate Whapples.

Short term:

‘In the short term, you’re likely to feel very run down!

‘You will experience a lack of energy or motivation to train and when you do manage to train you’ll feel “weak”‘.

Long term:

‘As you begin to make this into a longer term habit, you’re likely to notice a difference in your ability to lift [weights] with the correct form.

Your immune system will also be impacted so you may be unwell more often and you will become more likely to sustain injury.

‘Women are also likely to stop getting their periods if they consistently under fuel themselves whilst completing regular exercise.’

How to make sure you’re fuelling your body properly

For people who exercise regularly, says Whapples, food should be seen as fuel for the body.  

‘Put simply, your body needs fuel to move and, without enough fuel, you won’t be able to exercise productively or safely,’ she says.  

‘When consistently under-fuelling your body while doing regular exercise, which increases your energy requirements, you are actually causing your body to shut down and switch to survival mode. 

‘As a reaction to this, your body begins breaking down muscle to release the glucose stored within your muscle fiber in order to use it as energy.  

‘This starvation leads to your body slowing your metabolism down to save on energy – this is not a good state to train in.’ 

She continues: ‘The best way to fuel your body is in a balanced way.

‘Make sure your plate has a mixture of protein, fats and carbohydrates, with good quality vegetables making up half the plate and you are onto a winning combination.

‘Remember, you’re eating to fuel your body to perform at its best, but treats aren’t off limits, they just make up a small portion of your weekly diet.

‘Everything in moderation.’

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