About three years ago, I decided I would stop working out for an entire year.
It wasn't a laziness challenge; it was simply an idea that I felt I needed to carry out because my relationship to fitness, and to my own weight was so overly controlled that I felt the best way to let go was to let go completely.
I ate what I felt like eating, and I didn't work out afterward in some sort of self-punishing ritual. Then the craziest thing started to happen: I actually started to lose weight -- something I had been trying to do for years, to no effect.
How was it that eating more could possibly be helping me? I couldn't understand it.
It sounds like a cruel joke, but the simple truth is that perfection is in the balance.
Here are a few signs you could be under eating, and how to get the balance back to your daily routine.
1. Increased mood swings.
Elite Daily spoke to nutritionist Michelle Blum, of Nutrish Mish Inc., who says,
"There are a lot of different problems people can have with their nutrition habits, but the one that's focused on the most is over-eating. So everyone thinks, 'If I reduce how much I'm eating, that will help me lose weight.' That's only really true if you're an over-eater. If your problem is more of the quality of food, then that isn't necessarily going to fix the problem. In fact it causes a lot of new ones."
You've probably experienced "hanger" before: a sudden feeling of restless discontentment that seems to come out of nowhere. This is caused by a sudden drop in blood sugar.
"Mood is a big sign," said Blum, "You might feel like you're getting your period, or you're just in a bad mood, or having severe mood swings.”
If you're feeling like you are constantly PMSing, this is a major sign that your body is in need of more fuel.
2. Loss of weight with flabby muscles.
"You have two storage forms of energy in your body, protein (muscles) and fat," says Blum, and if you're eating less than your necessary caloric intake, your body has to get the energy from somewhere.
Your body automatically goes for your muscles, because fat storage is more calorically valuable.
"It would be wonderful if it went for your fat, but that would be like checking into your 401(k) before your checking account," says Blum. "There might be more money in there, but you'd go into your checking account first before you went into your 401(k)."
So you may be losing weight, but you still feel very flabby.
3. Brain fog.
If you've been getting plenty of sleep, but feel like the effort to retrieve a thought (like where you parked, or what you came into a room to do) is just as exhausting as physical activity, you're probably not getting enough.
4. Craving junk food.
According to Blum, "If you have cravings for high-calorie foods like donuts or things like that, your body is making you crave these high calories because it's trying to keep you alive. Especially if you don't usually crave these things."
So, if you typically stay on a healthy diet, but you're not snacking on enough almonds (or your usual go-to), then you'll probably find yourself heading to McDonald's.
People tend to think they crave foods that are bad for them as a psychological phenomenon, like wanting what we can't have.
In truth, it's just as much a physical craving as a psychological one, as dieting often leads to deficient calorie intake.
This one definitely struck a nerve for me. As someone who used to go all day without food, then pass out in a pile of Cheetos, I can personally attest to bingeing as a sign of under-eating.
If you've never binged before (congratulations); the experience is unique in that it feels like once you start eating, you aren't physically able to stop.
As it turns out, that experience is more than just a feeling, and has nothing to do with psychological control. It's a by-product of the body's physiology.
But Blum explained from a physiological standpoint that "If you're under-eating, your body doesn't have the chemicals fire off quick enough that would normally tell you when you're full. Because again, it's trying to keep you alive."
The moral of this story is that eating enough comes from a balance between actually trusting what your body craves and making sensible choices about nutrition.
Arm yourself with information, and tune into your gut to avoid under-eating and the unfortunate consequences of it.