Symptoms Of Undereating & Overeating

** Please note, no one at Barpath Fitness is a medical professional or registered dietitian. This blog is meant to be informational, educational, and entertaining, and should not be used as medical advice. 

The relationship to food is the most crucial relationship to live a healthy life, yet a very strained relationship for countless individuals. Both undereating and overeating are pervasive in our modern world. This article covers what both undereating and overeating are, why individuals might find themselves undereating or overeating, what the health impacts are, how to manage both, and how to begin to reframe a troubled relationship with food. 

If you are experiencing a strained relationship with food, please contact a licensed professional that can help you.

What Is Undereating?

Undereating is consuming less calories than your body needs in order to properly function. Everyone has different caloric needs based on genetics and lifestyle, and the more you do and expend calories, the more the body needs. 


While some people may undereat a little for a short period of time in order to lose weight (also known as dieting), undereating for too long or by too much can have severe impacts. Note that in this blog distinguishes undereating as different from diagnosed eating disorders. Undereating can lead to eating disorders, and there are specific criteria that medical professionals use in order to diagnose an eating disorder. Undereating doesn’t necessarily mean just eating too little calories. It can also be cutting out specific food groups or getting too little of specific micronutrients, important minerals, protein or fats, which our body and brain need to function properly.


Reasons For Undereating

Undereating can affect both men and women. Social pressure around body image ideals plays a big role in creating feelings of inadequacy that lead to undereating. The rampant usage of social media influences these ideals, especially when following individuals in the fitness world. However, a lot of these individuals use filters, photo and video editing, angles, and have gone under body altering treatments to look the way they do. This creates unrealistic expectations which leads to low self esteem & poor body image.


Gender expectations still exist and are extremely prevalent. ”Men” are expected to be muscular and take up space while “women” are expected to be thin and take up less space. 


Diet culture and fad diets also put a lot of pressure on people to lose weight, fit a certain mold, try diets that actually cut out very important macro or micro nutrients, or just do things that don’t actually work for overall health.


Risks Of Not Eating Enough

When you don’t eat enough, you don’t maintain the muscle mass you need to. This can lead to a shorter lifespan, less than ideal body composition, and metabolism dysfunction. Bone density loss is also another big risk of not eating enough. As you get older, this can be a concern. Not eating enough can also lead to low energy levels and nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to autoimmune issues or a weak immune system. 


There are mental health issues related to undereating as well. Many people that under-eat have an increased risk of depression, food obsession and developing an unhealthy relationship with food, anxiety, and eating disorders. 


For more on this topic, and for more science on the negative impacts of weight loss as you age, you can read our blog: Why Weight Loss is not the Answer. 


Symptoms Of Undereating

Symptoms of undereating include excessive weight loss, obsession with food tracking, dizziness, fatigue, lack of muscle, and lack of social interactions around food. 


How To Deal With Undereating

Overcoming undereating means finding a healthy balance with food and exercise. First and foremost, seek professional help. This can look like going to see a therapist or hiring a nutritionist. Get a solid support system in place, and practice mindful eating. Slow down and savor each bite. Meal prepping can also be a great tool for eating nourishing meals that are balanced and satiating. 


Fostering a healthy connection with food might take some time and hard work, but you will eventually get to the point where you can be less restrictive and indulge in treats here and there without guilt. You’ll be able to see the fun and pleasure in food while also respecting its place in your body as a fuel source. It can have so many meanings beyond just sustenance, though. Food is community and culture, a source of pleasure, and so much more.


What Is Overeating?

Overeating occurs when an individual consumes more calories in relation to the energy that is expended during physical activity or expelled through excretion, leading to weight gain and often obesity. Overeating is part of the modern diet, as processed foods contain a large amount of calories compared to how satiating they make you feel. This inversely means that most Americans have too much fat, and by no surprise 41.9% of the US adult population is obese. According to the standard American Diet, Americans consume 3600 calories per day, which is far more calories than what the average person needs and very little nutrients. 


Some individuals engage in planned overeating, which is being in a caloric surplus in order to build muscle. However, most individuals overeat when they don’t want to. Generally speaking, the biggest indicator someone is overeating is an excess of fat and not enough muscle. 


Overeating can also be defined by eating in excess to the amount that the body is uncomfortably full, which is more-so measured in a single event. However, overeating by this definition is a pattern that occurs in some disordered eating and when individuals have an unhealthy relationship with food. 


Reasons For Overeating

The standard American diet contains mostly ultra processed foods. People overeat without being full because these foods are calorically, fat, and carb dense while being nutrient poor. Companies design their food to be hyperpalatable, and addictive, which means that an individual can go through an entire bag without even noticing it. 


Some individuals overeat because of disordered eating. The most prevalent disordered eating is binge eating. Binge eating is a serious eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large quantities of food within a discrete period of time, accompanied by a sense of loss of control and overeating behavior. Individuals with binge eating disorder have overeating episodes at least once per week for several months. Binge eating affects 1.25% of adult  women and 0.42% of adult men.


Overeating is not the same as binge eating. More emotional distress is tied to binge eating, and is diagnosable in the DSM V. Common triggers for binge eating are stress, anxiety, body image concerns, low self-esteem, and perfectionism. It’s best to work with a therapist to identify individual triggers, and to get support. Binge eating or having binge eating episodes is common in the fitness space. Although there are emotional triggers to binge eating, having a restricted diet is a physical trigger that can contribute to binge eating. 


Symptoms Of Eating Too Much

Symptoms of eating too much are lethargy, excess body fat, brain fog, high blood pressure, and overall macro ratios being way off. The health consequences are having excess body fat, higher risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, higher risk for autoimmune diseases, and having a shorter lifespan.


How To Manage Overeating

If an individual is overeating because of disordered eating, seeking professional help is key. There is usually emotional unresolve that might seem entirely separate from overeating that is causing it in the first place. If you are suffering from binge eating, try to recognize binge eating patterns. What triggers lead up to a binge? Know what your behaviors and emotions are leading up to the binge and then following the binge. When you do have the opportunity to eat mindfully, do so. Enjoy every bite and savor the food you’re eating. Try to reframe the way you think about food too. Food is culture, enjoyment, and fuel for the body. If you find yourself labeling some food and bad other food as good, try not to have that all or nothing attitude. You don’t need to work things off in the gym, make up for “bad” meals, etc. 


For individuals that tend to overeat simply because of diet, start eating whole foods. This requires cooking almost all of your meals and planning ahead, however, when you start eating REAL food, you’ll notice your energy levels bounce back and your body will feel so much better.


Stop focusing on the scale. Losing weight is not the answer. Gaining muscle and losing body fat is. Get on a solid training program and focus on that. It doesn’t matter if you ate an entire bag of chips. Get back to the gym and focus on getting stronger.


Final Thoughts on Undereating & Overeating

Remember, self care and compassion are imperative. celebrate small wins and successes. Remember that eating energizes and builds muscle, and life is easier when you have muscle and energy! Reframe that success is beyond appearance. Shift your focus to accomplishing skills in the gym. Notice that when you have a good relationship with food, your mood might get brighter, your energy will increase, and your overall quality of life will improve. When we hyperfocus on body image, we forget that there are many aspects to our life that directly affect the level of happiness we feel and experience in life.


Want to learn more about taking control of your nutrition to optimize your health? Get three weeks worth of help here or listen to our podcast episode on Undereating or Overeating.



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