As usual, I want to go against the typical health and fitness industry advice and this time talk about common nutrient deficiencies and the benefits of eating more food. We are so often told we need to eat less if we want to be fit and healthy but is this really the case? In my opinion, this obsession with eating as little as possible is harmful for your body and your mind.
We need to eat plenty of food to survive and thrive as as a fully functioning human being! Even if you are trying to lose weight, it is still important to nourish your body and give it the energy it needs. Maybe I sound like a broken record but I will keep shouting this message as I know it can benefit a lot of you out there. If you have been on the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster, bouncing between restricting your diet to lose weight and overeating on unhealthy foods, then keep reading as I am talking to you! Read on to find out about common nutrient deficiencies and why eating more food can help.
Calories flux and the benefits of eating more food
Now for the science part, if you hate numbers then feel free to skip to the next part. But if you’re a number geek like me, stick with it. I want to explain a bit about energy balance and caloric flux. If you are maintaining your weight on 2000 calories a day, you are taking in 2000 calories in food and burning 2000 calories through your metabolic processes and physical activities. This is known as your caloric flux (see the work of Ari Whitten if you want to learn more about this).
If you want to lose weight you need to create an energy deficit by eating less than you burn. If you burn 1800 calories and eat 1500 calories, that’s a 300 calorie deficit. If you burn 2500 calories and eat 2200 calories, that’s still the same 300 calorie deficit but at a higher caloric flux. Make sense?
Whether you are trying to maintain your weight or lose weight, in my opinion you will feel better if you do it at at a higher caloric flux. Naturally, the amount of calories we burn will depend on factors such as our age, height, gender but there are ways to increase your caloric flux. You can do that either by boosting your metabolic rate or by increasing your activity, not through intense exercise but by moving more often throughout the day. Also just by eating more food you will increase the amount of energy you burn as your body actually uses energy to digest food and assimilate nutrients.
In general, eating more and not worrying about eating too much will reduce your stress levels and help you to feel healthier and happier overall. I’m not talking about aiming for 10,000 calories a day here, but more about getting yourself out of a metabolic hole and maintaining or losing weight on a reasonable, sustainable amount of food for your body where you don’t feel deprived or like you have to constantly restrain yourself in order to maintain a healthy weight. This will also help you to avoid common nutrient deficiencies.
How eating more avoids common nutrient deficiencies
The main benefit of increasing your food intake is that more calories = more nutrients. This is assuming you are eating mostly nutritious foods of course! Many of us, especially women, have dieted their way down to maintaining their weight on 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories. Eating so little makes it harder to get in the nutrients you need unless you are very careful about the foods that you eat which doesn’t leave much wriggle room for less nutrient-dense fun foods. The less you eat, the more important nutrient density becomes.
Every food contains macro-nutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) in varying amounts and our bodies need these nutrients to keep us healthy and our metabolic, digestive, immune and reproductive systems working as they should. Macro-nutrients give us energy to fuel our bodies, amino acids for repair and growth and fats to keep our hormones balanced and to help us absorb the micro-nutrients in the food that we eat. Not taking in enough macro-nutrients can lead to a slowing down of your metabolic rate as your body becomes more efficient at using the energy it is provided with.
Common nutrient deficiencies: Micro-nutrients
Micro-nutrients are essential meaning that we have to take them in through food as our bodies can’t produce them by themselves. What happens when you don’t get the micro-nutrients you need? These common nutrient deficiencies can develop over time leading to all sorts of problems from feeling fatigued and run-down to dry skin and slow growing hair and nails.
Below I’ve listed some of the most common nutrient deficiencies, some of the signs to watch out for and foods to eat to prevent and overcome deficiencies. This is based on advice from the NHS and British Dietetic Association but you can look up your own government advice if you live outside of the UK.
|Nutrient||Signs of defiency||Foods to eat|
|Iron||– Tiredness and/or insomnia|
– Hair loss and pale skin
– Shortness of breath
|Kidney beans, black beans, red meat, liver, blackstrap molasses, dried fruits|
|Calcium||– Weak bones and teeth|
– Dry skin and hair
– Twitching or muscle cramps
|Dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt) or fortified dairy alternatives, sesame seeds (tahini), oily fish|
|Vitamin D||– Weak bones and teeth|
– Low immune system
– Fatigue and depression
|Dairy or fortified dairy alternatives, egg yolks, oily fish, red meat, fortified cereals|
|Folate||– Tiredness or lack of energy|
– Muscle weakness
– Tinnitus or palpitations
|Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), broccoli, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans|
|Vitamin B12||– Tiredness or lack of energy|
– Muscle weakness
– Tinnitus or palpitations
– Pale skin (anemia)
|Meat, eggs, dairy, nutritional yeast, supplements, fortified non-dairy milk|
|Iodine||– Tiredness or lack of energy|
– Muscle weakness
|Dairy, most types of seafood and fish, sea vegetables, nori, iodized salt|
|Magnesium||– Muscle cramps|
– Insomnia and fatigue
|Whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, dark chocolate or cacao, black beans, avocado|
|Omega-3 fatty acids||– Poor memory and depression|
– Slow growth of skin, hair, nails
|Oily fish, hemp seeds, flax seeds or flax seed oil, eggs, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds|
A lot of these symptoms are pretty vague and can creep up over time so you might not even realise until something extreme happens to catch your attention like a broken tooth or patches of hair falling out. Prevention is always better than cure! If you are reading the list and feel like you have multiple of the symptoms mentioned, you can always contact your doctor to get your nutrient levels checked if you are unsure. Depending on the severity of the deficiency, you might need supplements to help boost your levels alongside eating the foods listed above.
How reverse dieting can help avoid common nutrient deficiencies
So how do you go about eating more food and avoiding common nutrient deficiencies? You can either go “all in” and ramp up your calories suddenly or you can take a more gentle reverse dieting approach by gradually increasing the amount you eat each week until you reach a sustainable amount for your body. If you aren’t exercising at all, start to gradually increase the amount you move your body.
Try going for a walk every day and build it up from there. Even day to day tasks like laundry and washing the dishes help to get in that body movement which will increase the amount of calories you burn so that you can eat more food and maintain your weight. No need to obsess over it or track anything, just try to become more aware of how often you move your body throughout the day.
Reverse dieting can help to minimise weight gain as your body has more time to adjust your metabolic rate to the increased calories but it takes longer and it relies on you tracking your food or eating similar meals day to day. If you are afraid of weight gain, know that you probably won’t gain as much weight as you think you will. Especially if you eat more of the nutrient dense foods listed above, you will likely feel better and your body will thank you for it. And if and when you decide you want to lose weight, you will be at a much healthier starting point which will make the process a whole lot easier!
If you are interested about learning more about what to eat or how to reverse diet, let me know in the comments below and I can write a future post on that topic.
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