Real health #19 Common nutrient deficiencies and the benefits of eating MORE FOOD

As usual, I want to go against the typical health and fitness industry advice and this time talk about 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!

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.

Caloric intake and nutrients

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.

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? 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 that we lack in our diets, 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.

NutrientSigns of defiencyFoods 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
Dairy or fortified dairy alternatives, egg yolks, oily fish, red meat, fortified cereals
Folate– Tiredness or lack of energy
– Muscle weakness
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), broccoli, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans
Iodine– Tiredness or lack of energy
– Muscle weakness
– Hypothyroidism
Dairy, most types of seafood and fish, sea vegetables, nori, iodized salt
Magnesium– Muscle cramps
– Constipation
– 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 to eat more food and maintain your weight

So how do you go about eating more food and getting in the nutrients you need? 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.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Real health #13 Are you drinking too much water?

Most people worry about drinking enough water these days and getting in their “8 glasses a day”. There are even water bottles with markers on showing how much water you should have drank by this time of the day. This really freaks me out! Are we really so detached from our bodies that we need to rely on a plastic bottle to tell us when to drink water?! In this post I want to talk about problems you might encounter with drinking too much water and how much water you should drink to stay healthy. If you are reading this thinking you hardly drink any water and don’t have any issues then maybe click away but I’m talking to the health and fitness enthusiasts here who can’t leave the house without their trusty water bottle by their side (and this used to be me!).

Of course we need to drink water to stay alive. Dehydration can cause all sorts of issues from headaches and poor concentration to dry and dull skin. But do we really need to be chugging water non-stop all day to avoid dehydration? The thing that many people don’t realise is that we also take in water from the food that we eat, especially water rich fruits and veggies. The recommended 2L of water a day also includes this water, not just the water that we drink. It also includes the water in other liquids such as juice, tea and coffee. If you are already following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh food, you might already be taking in all of the water you need without drinking any water at all.

What are the downsides of drinking too much water?

You might think that water is pretty harmless and it’s not possible to drink too much but it is actually possible to run into health issues from drinking too much water. The problem is that water, especially tap or filtered water, doesn’t include the same amount of electrolyte salts as the water in your body. Over-hydration can dilute the levels of salts such as sodium, calcium and potassium levels in your body causing all sorts of problems. On the extreme end there is water intoxication where someone who drinks too much water too fast can cause damage to their brain and even death. But this is extremely rare and not something you could do by accidently drinking too much water during the day. More likely is a chronic, low level dilution of the electrolytes in your extra-cellular fluid which can cause:

  • Low core temperature and cold hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Constipation and digestive issues
  • Dry skin and lips (this can be because you’re not truly hydrated, more on this in a moment)

If you read yesterday’s post on the signs of a low metabolism, you’ll recognise some of these symptoms. Drinking too much water can affect the metabolic rate as you are effectively throwing water on your metabolic fire. That’s not to say you should stop drinking water to speed up your metabolism but it is about finding a good balance.

How to know if you’re drinking too much water?

  • You drink excessively including when you’re not thirsty
  • Your pee is completely clear
  • You are peeing frequently (e.g. every 1-2 hours and once or more during the night)
  • You have a sudden urge to urinate
  • You feel cold all of the time, especially in your hands and feet
  • Your basal body temperature is below 36.5 degrees C

How much water should you drink to stay healthy?

Really that isn’t a question I can answer because how much water you need depends on your body, your diet and your activity level. But if you are drinking a litre of water when you wake up, walking around all day with a water bottle and refilling it several times throughout the day then there’s a chance you are overdoing it. Unless you live in a desert or do crazy amounts of exercise you probably don’t need that much water. There is a myth that once you’re thirsty you are already dehydrated so you should avoid being thirsty at all costs. But our body has a thirst mechanism for a reason, to tell us when it needs water! So put simply, only drink water when you’re thirsty.

The other problem is that plain water is not really hydrating for the body. As I said earlier it contains minimal electrolytes which means it isn’t easily absorbed and utilised by your body. Inside the water can go “straight through you” putting pressure on your kidneys because they have to work even harder to maintain balance. One thing you can also try is drinking mineral water, coconut water or adding electrolytes to tap water to make it more hydrating for your body. You want to have a good balance between the glucose (sugar) and salts (sodium and potassium) that you are taking in through your diet and the amount of water that you drink. Think about when someone is in hospital and they are put on a drip. This fluid is the perfect ratio of fluid to salts and glucose to be absorbed by the body.

Warming foods and cooling foods

To understand this food/water connection further, we can think about foods as cooling or warming for the body. By this I don’t mean cold or hot foods but rather the effect that different foods have on your core body temperature. Herbal tea is a cooling food and ice cream is a warming food – confused? Try drinking a pint of plain tea and eating a pint of ice cream and notice how you feel an hour later once the initial effect of the food temperature has worn off. Generally speaking, cooling foods are high in water and low in calories and salt e.g. fruits, vegetables and low calorie liquids. Warming foods have a lower water content and are more energy dense and salty e.g. crackers, bread, cheese, chocolate. The more cooling foods in your diet, the less water you need to drink. If you eat a more warming diet, then you’ll want to drink more water to balance it out. Simple!

Cooling foods (L) vs. warming foods (C, R)

For example, if you eat a heavy takeaway meal or a bag of salty crisps, your body is going to send you signals to drink more water. In this case the water helps to dilute the salts you have take in. But if you eat a big fruit salad followed by a glass of water, you will probably be running to the bathroom to pee afterwards and might start to feel cold. Make sense? This is a problem with a lot of “healthy” diets which encourage restricting salt and sugar and focusing on cooling foods (ahem raw vegans…). If you are following this kind of diet and have signs of over-hydration above, add some salt to your diet, reduce your water intake and focus on more warming foods for a while until you feel more balanced. And if you are a healthy person aim for a balance of the two and drink whenever you are thirsty.

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend the book Eat for Heat by Matt Stone. His writing style might put some people off but what he has to say is very interesting and following his protocols helped to get me out of a metabolic slump and recover the symptoms described above. Remember, my point with these posts is to make you question some of the common health myths out there and not to tell you what to do. There’s no need to throw your water bottle away and eat loads of salty foods without drinking any liquids. No extremes here, there is such a thing as too little water! Listen to your body and you will find your balance.

Your challenge for today and the week ahead is to start to pay attention to how you feel after taking in different foods and liquids. Maybe play around with the amount of water you are drinking and your balance of warming and cooling foods and see how you feel.

Over to you…

I hope this article got you thinking about water and whether you are drinking too much. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Real health #12 Signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism

People always talk about metabolism but what does it actually mean?! Your metabolism is all of the processes which go on inside your body to keep you alive and functioning as a human. This includes digesting the food you eat into macro and micro-nutrients as well as using these nutrients to generate energy in your cells. So what does it mean to have a slow metabolism? In reality, your metabolism can’t be fast or slow, it just is what it is. Actually what people mean when they say this is that their metabolic rate is low. To “speed up your metabolism” you want to increase your metabolic rate.

Your metabolic rate is the rate is how quickly you burn energy to fuel all of these processes. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at total rest and your total energy expenditure (TEE) is your BMR plus the energy you burn through daily activity, exercise and digesting foods. If you have a “slow metabolism”, your BMR is lower than optimal meaning that your body is in energy conserving mode and burning less calories at rest than it usually would. Slowing down your metabolic rate is actually a survival mechanism as it makes your body more efficient and able to keep functioning when less food is available. However, it isn’t the most enjoyable state to live in! A low metabolism affects the way your body functions and can prevent you from thriving and feeling your best.

Sometimes a low metabolic rate can be caused by being underweight, especially if you take extreme measures to get there. But if you are trying to lose weight to get into the healthy range, you want your BMR to be as high as possible so that you can lose weight whilst still eating plenty of food and getting all of the nutrients you need. It’s much easier to lose weight if you are maintaining your weight at 2000 calories compared to 1500 calories as you have that bit more wriggle room. And when your body is in a low metabolic state, it wants to hold onto it’s fat reserves to keep you safe. So if you feel like you’re doing everything right and the scales aren’t budging, a slow metabolism could be to blame. Read on to find out some of the signs of a low metabolic rate and tips for how to increase your metabolism.

Signs of a slow metabolism or metabolic rate

  • Feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet
  • Low energy, fatigue or lethargy
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Dry, cracked skin and lips
  • Digestive issues e.g. bloating, gastroparesis
  • Thin hair or hair falling out more than usual
  • Sleep problems or insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalance, irregular period, no period
  • Low sex drive
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or lack of clarity
  • Getting sick often
  • Feeling weak and/or stiff

Yes all of these things can be related to a low metabolism.. crazy I know. Of course there are other causes for these symptoms so you should always get checked out by your doctor, but if you have ruled out anything else then maybe a low metabolic rate is to blame. When I experienced this, I felt like my body was shutting down and it was terrifying. My sleep was terrible, I felt like a zombie all day, my digestion was a mess and my hair became brittle and thin. I had no menstrual cycle at all and zero sex drive either. Not much fun. I didn’t realise at the time just how many of my problems were related to the fact that my metabolism had tanked and once I followed a protocol to speed it up my symptoms gradually went away!


How to speed up your metabolism

I want to start by saying that we are all born with a different genetic rate, some people naturally have a “fast metabolism” and others tend to hold onto weight more easily. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about when your metabolic rate is slowed down and you experience any or all of the symptoms above. If your metabolism is low you might just not feel like yourself, like your energy has been zapped and you’ve lost your natural vibrance. There are many potential reasons for a slow metabolism, but here I am going to focus on one that we can do something about: stress. This can be physical stress due to calorie restriction or over-exercise or psychological stress. Any of these can put your body into a state of survival mode and cause your metabolism to slow down. The way out and to speed up your metabolism is to help your body feel safe and relaxed again. How can you do this? Try out the protocol below for a month and see how your body responds…

  1. Diet
    Even if your goal is to lose weight, if you think you have a slow metabolism, I’d suggest you focus first on getting your metabolism healthy. Fixing this first will make it much easier to lose weight down the line and keep it off. If you are on a restricted diet, take a break. Stop counting calories or macros. Stop weighing your food. Don’t restrict any food groups, eat plenty of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Focus on mainly whole foods but don’t stress out about eating some processed foods too. Basically you want to flood your body with energy and nutrients so that it feels a state of abundance. You can include meat and fish but you can also do this on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Go for energy dense foods such as bread, potatoes, dairy, chocolate, nut butters. Focus less on high water, high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry this is only for the short term! Allow yourself to eat till you feel fully satisfied but don’t stuff yourself when you aren’t hungry. Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs.

  2. Exercise
    If you are currently following an intense exercise regime, please give yourself permission to take some time off. It might seem counter-intuitive to stop exercising to speed up your metabolism and yes you do burn calories through exercising. But exercise, especially chronic cardio can actually decrease your BMR and make your body more efficient at using calories. To speed up your metabolism you want to increase the amount of energy you burn at rest. Especially if you have been doing endurance exercise or high intensity interval training, let your body heal any underlying injuries and relax any built up tension. This is even more important if you are feeling chronically stiff and sore as it is a sign your body is feeling stressed and overloaded. Keep moving your body but try walking and gentle yoga or any other easy going activity that you like instead. Have fun and let go of any pressure to perform, burn calories or change your body. As your metabolism starts to improve and you feel better, you can add in some resistance training to build muscle which will help to boost your metabolic rate even further.

    Remember that this isn’t forever.. this is a protocol for helping your body to heal itself and your metabolism to recover. As you start to feel better and have more energy you can start to switch things up, maybe with the foods you eat or by adding in more exercise. But let this process be guided by your body rather than your mind.

  3. Relaxation
    This is a big one! If you are feeling stressed, anxious and on edge your metabolism is highly likely to suffer. Stress alone can be enough to prevent you from losing weight, so if you feel like you have tried everything and nothing works, take a look at your stress levels and you might understand. Identify the major stressors in your life and figure out a plan, maybe with a coach or therapist, for how you can reduce your stress from these things. If you are stressed about losing weight or comparing yourself to others, ask yourself why? Purge your social media of any accounts that make you feel down on yourself and replace them with interesting or uplifting things instead. Try to bring more relaxing activities into your day whether that is meditation, deep breathing, creative projects, reading, playing with your pets.. anything that helps you to get into a calm and relaxed state. Making relaxation a priority part of your every day self-care routine is a key step to getting your metabolism functioning optimally.

  4. Sleep
    This goes hand in hand with relaxation. There have been so many studies showing the impact of lack of sleep on the metabolism. Poor quality sleep is a stress on your body and can cause your cortisol levels to spike, putting your body into that energy conserving mode and making you more likely to gain weight. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to changes in blood sugar control and release of the hormones that regulate appetite. Ever noticed that you crave more sweets and caffeine after a bad night’s sleep?! To speed up your metabolism, make sure you are getting as much sleep as you need to feel refreshed and energised. If you are struggling with sleep, try out my tips on dealing with sleep disturbances, especially taking care of your sleeping environment and having a solid evening routine to help you to relax and wind down. If you have chronic insomnia and signs of a low metabolism, focus on the tips here and you might just find your sleep improves naturally along with your metabolism.

How to know your metabolism has increased

Keep track of how you are feeling throughout this process. Look out for changes in your energy levels, sleep and motivation for life. Notice if you are feeling warmer and more relaxed, maybe your hormones and hunger levels become more balanced. Celebrate any small wins you observe and don’t worry if you gain a bit of weight along the way. You are in this for the long haul and setting your body up for future health and success. Enjoy the process as much as you can and take the chance to focus on other areas of your life outside of health and fitness. Pay attention to the signs from your body and when it tells you it is ready to start exercising again or to eat lighter foods, you can start to make gradual changes but remember to always let your body lead the way.

Over you to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like