Not Eating Enough Calories: “Health” and Weight Loss Culture can Leave you Vulnerable to Infection and More

I have learned the hard way in more recent years that sticking to the latest even holistic health trends can make you wind up sicker and suffering more than ever before. Unfortunately, many of us are still caught up in the newest ways to lose weight or meet various health goals, losing sight of any price we pay along the way. The problem with this is that it can actually come at the cost of being our “best” selves, which is arguably the entire point of everything we do as humans.

While it’s easy– especially being a conscientious person with concern about toxic food and chemicals, doing the best thing for your body and the greater environment as a whole– being too scrupulous about what’s going into your body can take this to an extreme that’s just as, if not more detrimental to yourself and the greater environment as a result. This is something that I have definitely struggled with. Being concerned about my impact on the world, and wanting my choices to reflect what I stand for so as not to be a hypocrite, I, for a long time took the view that self sacrificing a little pleasure or convenience was the least that I could do. Of course there is nothing wrong with the principle of caring and making choices that suit your morals. However, like anything, this can be taken to an extreme, and that in itself can wind up having a negative effect on you, and even ultimately, the greater good as a result. Oh, the paradoxy of this world!

Learning about fasting, ketosis and a grain- free diet, minimizing carbs– especially starchy ones– actually led me down a path of getting sicker than I ever was to begin with. Some in a more direct and quicker way than others. When embarking on these quests to “find health”, my motives were valid– I was trying to address systemic candida that at my worst expressed itself as an autoimmune- type rash that was constantly exacerbated by direct exposure to chemicals and a watery environment (serving in a pub, the tips are great but you do wind up washing dishes a lot). So I tried everything to get rid of this before realizing the actual root cause of the problem– that specific situation I go more into addressing here. First I began gluten free, then cut out grains when I noticed that seemed to help, and even experimented with restricting starches in general for some time. Some stringency seemed to help the symptom initially, but I developed worsening digestive problems longer term to the point that I could barely digest anything.

I also intermittent fasted a lot. I thought not only would this give my digestive system some time to rest (which I heard virtually unanimously to be one of the best things you could do for the issues I dealt with– or literally any health issue). I didn’t realize at the time, but I think it was actually the years leading up to this that might’ve had an effect. Throughout my teen years and beyond it was very common knowledge that some degree of lowered caloric intake was virtually always better for health. Some would say this could avoid cancer risk, not to mention most other disease– all stemming from the dreaded metabolic syndrome. There are even common sayings about the virtue of eating less that only caused it all to make sense. I believe it was a Japanese concept to eat until your stomach was 80% full or so. There was also the saying that for optimal health, and an optimal life, to “eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure”.

I started “dieting” by interestedly wanting to join family members by having 6 mini meals throughout the day when I was in middle school. Actually, I think before this, maybe when I was like 10? (I recall at least being young enough to have some kind of adult day care provider) I drank a slimfast. I think my parent had been doing this, and had been dieting and I wanted to see what it was about. I was never even close to over- weight, but, even moreso in this particular time period culturally, being very skinny was glamorized. When you’re younger you may not have as much self worth as later down the road once you mature more, and naturally I wanted to look like people in magazines. As do the vast majority of people with a healthy BMI, I had more curves than those with a more rail- type figure (which can be also be natural, healthy and incredibly beautiful for some). I didn’t realize the value in curves that I do in that now. Retrospectively, I recall comments from other insecure people, no matter how innocent, were unconsciously incorporated into how I would monitor my eating habits and how I perceived myself.

As you might guess, all of this combined led me down a well intended path of wanting to make the best choices for me while actually (unintentionally) hindering my health. Everything I was aiming to improve wound up actually getting worse. When I became an adult, my detoxification and immunity were hindered and I became vulnerable to a Lyme co-infection called babesia and it’s symptoms while doing a parasite detox, wanting to intermittent fast and lose weight in the summer. I got a really fast heartbeat and my body felt like fluttery and weird. I became kind of scared. But somehow it didn’t occur to me that it was my diet. I had been listening to podcasts and learning all of the latest “health” information, hearing that more fasting, and less eating is better, that protein is bad and leads to cancer. It honestly took a lot of scary moments and nights when I simply thought something was wrong with me and I was too toxic, not eating properly enough (despite now eating very strictly organic while adhering to any other of the latest and greatest trends I heard), to realize that I’m simply a human that above anything needs food. What a concept, eh?

My body is not made for a low- carb diet, I’ve thankfully found. In fact, I don’t know that any society or group of people  was made for this long- term– even the inuit (commonly known as “eskimos”) had greenery and berries, and tubers which can include starches, at the very least some times of the year. While I was trying to fight my candida, the anti- candida diet actually led to sibo (another supposed symptom of candida?– makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?) and I became bed ridden. I could barely eat anything. This led me to be forced on the FODMAP diet (which some might call restrictive but actually caused to eat much more pleasure foods again– particularly carbs).

More recently, I’ve had even more realization about what restriction actually is. I’ve learned about something called the Minnesota Starvation experiment wherein participants were only allowed to have approximately 1,800 calories per day. The researcher studying this actually adjusted these calories all throughout the study according to weight lost, with a goal of losing 25% of their body weight.

For any of you dieters, that might really not seem like that big of a deal, or starvation at all. In fact, to some, it may seem like a lot. Even the NIH itself recommends less than that for losing weight for men and way less for women (R). For me personally, after reading lots of dieting and weight loss tips, and wanting to get my legs in “ideal” shape, I looked at an article called “thinner thighs in 30 days” and was astounded to be allotted that much! It was even written in the article that they knew viewers would think it seemed like a lot.  (Note: supposedly, calories were counted in a slightly different way during the time of the study. Nonetheless various sources still use a variety of ways to calculate the caloric energy in food, many of which are actually overstated on packages, and of one way or another by 20- 50%– regardless, the concept remains the same.)

Thinking I had not been restricting for the last 5 years of my life, I’d still been incorporating dieting practices, not even considering it as such because of how well incorporated they are in society. I stopped counting calories for years (after obsessively tracking them for a good period, completely unnecessarily, I might add), thinking this was the better thing to do… only to find out, I had actually been getting way less than I needed for a very long time…

Obviously, this can wreak havoc on one’s health and immunity, leaving a person open to infection (multiple ones at that); and become life threatening… See, I was still using the diet mindsets that’d been incorporated into my own reasoning and habits that I’d picked up from years worth of reading articles in blogs and magazines about how I can possibly get any skinnier. Drink more water to make yourself full, chew gum when you’re hungry, only use a “serving size” to be this size or that. I came to recognize, from years of measuring, how a certain amount of cereal might fit in a bowl. None of this was even overtly conscious, but I’d been applying it naturally. And of course, (I thought) who doesn’t have it in the back of their mind to be skinnier, prettier, and more “fit”?

The people in the aforementioned Minnesota Starvation experiment were actually getting over 1500 calories a day on average… Yet the results were unfathomable. The reason this is so unfathomable is because conventional “health” advice recommends even less for people; they indeed adjust to it. Here are the NIH’s guidelines on weight loss: “A diet that is individually planned to help create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal/day should be an intregal part of any program aimed at achieving a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week….The combination of a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity is recommended”

In fact, those looking to lose weight are recommended to continue indefinitely to restrict and focus on adding physical activity, if they ever want to have hope of achieving it life long, even drugs are mentioned as a “solution”:

“After successful weight loss, the likelihood of weight-loss maintenance is enhanced by a program consisting of dietary therapy, physical activity, and behavior therapy, which should be continued indefinitely. Drug therapy also can be used. However, drug safety and efficacy beyond 1 year of total treatment have not been established.” (source).

Since most people gain their weight back after dieting and they base recommendations merely on BMI and the  amount of fat present, even the most “reputable”, scientific conventional wisdom coming from the NIH is essentially telling those that don’t find success (which again, they predict themselves) to develop an eating disorder if you want to look the way you want (or the way you’ve been brainwashed is acceptable). Otherwise, you’re just going to gain more weight. What they don’t tell you, however, is why you have to do that; it substantially lowers your metabolism each time you do lower your calories and restrict!! The Minnesota Starvation experiment proves that!! Their BMR (metabolism) slowed down substantially. After the diet was over, and they were eventually able to go back to unrestricted eating and, in time, after following their extreme hunger, got back to their normal, original weight, metabolism, fat/ muscle ratio, and lives. It was interesting that restoring their calorie intake even to their initial intake of over 3,000 calories (again, what some would consider “high” now, especially dieters or anyone “health” or calorie conscious, but this level was measured according to an array of markers initially to give their bodies what these markers were indicated they needed for real satiation) after their restriction, wasn’t nearly enough to get them back to normal and rebuild themselves. In fact, they needed upwards of 4,000 calories just to be able to restore the functions they needed to become a normal human again. Many of them literally gorged themselves, it wasn’t uncommon to eat 10,000 calories plus. One even ate so much he had to be taken to the doctor to have his stomach pumped because of the self injury he caused. Now just imagine how long dieters can go on these stints of caloric restriction for. This experiment was only a matter of 6 months, yet they needed this to recover. It’s interesting how well the brain can trick you into believing you’re actually giving it what it wants when in reality you’re restricting it drastically (in turn causing it to function in said way). I had also adjusted to the low number of calories to the point that I didn’t even know I was restricting. But my organs said otherwise. It’s no wonder I had heart palpitations (a sign of babesia, which my body likely would’ve otherwise fought off). In the experiment, participant’s hearts actually shrank in size. Their blood volume decreased by 10%. When people are tirelessly aiming for a certain number to reach for weight loss, they don’t know what they’re doing from the inside out. They’re only encouraged by health experts to abide by numbers alone.

I wonder, could this be one of the reasons many people are over weight? Restriction inevitably leads to binging– this has been proven by people with eating disorders who have recovered as well. Yes, there are unnatural and “addictive” foods, but even the definition of that has changed repeatedly over time. The body is a lot smarter than we think it is and it’s actually made to get rid of the things that don’t belong and draw us to things that we actually need… once we end the cycle of restricting, “binging” (simply feeding yourself the calories/ variety you crave for a reason and need) and purging (whether exercising or vomiting, etc.) cycle— this will restore our natural hunger cues and lead us to a free life.

I’m challenging myself not to restrict anything I eat. I’ve lost my hunger cues to the point I wasn’t even hungry when I definitely needed to eat. It was really to the point for a long time where food didn’t sound good anymore; so I didn’t eat most of the time that I should have. Like I would have a bulletproof coffee instead for breakfast, go on a walk, or get some errands done, wondering all the while why I was ridden with incredible anxiety. My life’s been impaired, my immunity has been hindered, and I know there’s got to be a better place than this. Healthy, holistic living is really that— healthy, and holistic. It’s not extremist, shouldn’t push people away because of your heir of superiority (I’m guilty of that); it should fuel you and encourage you. Yes, I can enjoy supporting the good forces in the world and not spend anything I don’t want to on the negative things (corporations, influences, etc.). However, extremism in this sense, can ultimately lead to the more holistic form of negativity and sense of badness or even “evil” in the world by stealing from one’s connections, freedom, and ability to be happy and carefree in the way that truly feeds one’s ability to do the good in the world we were all meant to— and can only do when happy and fully fueled rather than rigid and miserable. Ultimately, as something I have had to learn to apply in the spiritual sense but am now learning to apply to my nutrition and holistic practice as well: it should all come from a place of love rather than fear.

Not only have some people developed an inability to digest a certain food from cutting it out altogether (ceasing to feed the respective gut bacteria) but also, some people have  gained weight when on highly restrictive diets of only 1000 calories while working out incredibly strenuously because the body can adapt so well in an effort to try to save our lives, as well as hormonal issues that ensue. One example of a person this happened to is the Instagram account @abbs_mee.

Remember when everyone had “great” bodies like in the 50’s and before that? Nobody worked out  compulsively or obsessed about calories to attain a certain physique! Nobody seemed to fear sugar or fat (until they began abstaining and speaking against saturated fat and suddenly people began dropping dead of heart attacks… shocker).

But I wanted to share the results of something I’ve been “trying” for a few days…

I’ve been eating “unrestrictedly” meaning, however many “calories”, however much I want, and whatever it is I want, no matter the source or origin.

I’ve decided to trust myself and my body fully, after realizing how much I was under- feeding and restricting myself.

Believe it or not, that even includes the exclusion of processed foods, maybe even some with pesticides and GMOs… I have avoided these at all costs previously, like the plague. Ironically, my stark stringency, is what I believe led me to actually become more vulnerable to the infection that I’ve been dealing with for quite some time now, not realizing why. My main focus was detox and avoiding all “evil” and toxic things, even if that meant going hungry and skipping meals, which again, without even realizing it, could mean restrictions on feeling free to go anywhere and do anything spontaneously. I didn’t even realize how much power it gave that over my life, I didn’t even feel like I was missing out overtly. But I was; my body was deteriorating, and I was completely ignorant to the explanation until I decided to go “all in” and give this a try.

I scoffed at the idea of “orthorexia” when the term began circulating. Indeed that is a thing and definitely one I dealt with. Already, having ingested things I never would’ve considered in a million years, I’m feeling better, mentally and physically. I feel a lot less anxious, and a lot more full.

Ultimately, diets of any kind (that includes any limiting/ kind of restriction) has shown repeatedly to not work for people. Any dieter (well, 99.5% at least) winds up gaining back what they lose within 5 years and commonly more, with a greater body fat percentage (this is because the body is trying to save itself from a “famine” that it perceives, so it’s trying to help you, and doing a good job at it). This survival mode that happens during extended periods of limitation causes the organs to be starved of vital nutrients (especially calories) that they need to function. I also experienced this in the form of gastroparesis that I convinced myself had to have been gluten or some other chemical that was ailing and leading me to restrict more and try all kinds of diets. Even after going on the less restrictive low FODMAP,  and after that more into Weston A price and simply strict organic, inevitable signs of mental and physical caloric deprivation still effected me for years of continually looking for the “golden ticket” to health.

I don’t claim to know the cause of your sensitivity, the deeper cause of your illness (though there is nutritional testing that can figure some of that out, none of my software or protocols I would use even evaluated sufficiency of energy ingested– despite how vitally important that’s shown to be. In the Minnesota starvation experiment, it was found that the most important thing of all for the healing of participants was indeed calories– in abundance– way more than any calorie calculator would ever indicate! They even found this was more important than isolated vitamins, minerals, amino acids and etc., which honestly, I didn’t even know, but after all of the health broadcasts I’d listened to, I had the belief in my head that this was all that really mattered). The human body is not calculable– it’s much more complex and intelligent than any computer, and it knows what it needs, beyond any science or study, or our intellectual human knowledge. One shouldn’t have to earn or ”burn” off food in order to achieve some sense of okayness every day. I believe it’s true that if I would simply not overthink it with what’s been my head from what I’ve heard from others, it won’t lead me astray. That’s not to say there won’t be some period of adjusting and the body learning to trust again after long periods of restricting and not listening to it. But things will balance out, and it seems to only make sense that it shouldn’t be necessary to keep a tally sheet in the back of one’s head for everything to work out– despite what all of society is constantly affirming. I think to be truly well we deserve the freedom to believe in our bodies.

I’m always progressing and  should never claim to know everything or become unteachable. From seeing results from people going through this “semi” starvation, as well as restriction or eating disorders and refeeding, the human organism seems to confirm repeatedly that cravings are there for a reason, no matter what they’re for— that they won’t be there for ever. If you’ve thought about food, or literally dreamt about it (I have since I was a kid), that’s, apparently, actually not normal. People that recovered from eating disorders or restrictive eating by going “all in” without worrying about weight or classification of what they eat, conventional “wisdom” and rules, or consciously trying to control appearance (a tough feat for most, maybe one of the toughest imaginable in our day for some) they learned that they indeed could then live normally with none of the constant cravings, food thoughts or dreams! They could actually reach complete and holistic fullness, to a point where no matter what, they didn’t want to eat and they were truly done when they were done (without feeling like they were missing out mentally, or in the sensory sense). To me, and many with a past of restrictive eating and subsequent repressed, and all too common ravenous hunger, it seems unbelievable. But when they tried it, they found it turn out to be true. There are many accounts of this, like former fitness model and competitor Stephanie Buttermore and Kayla Kotecki. When the body is truly satisfied in a holistic sense– mental and physical, not just one– it will indeed tell you. This can give the freedom to enjoy life in it’s fullness without obsessing about being “healthy” or “fit”, worrying what people think about your looks or what you’re eating. Life is there with that opportunity of unlimited satisfaction and fulfilled enjoyment. Learning about that was actually a miracle for me to hear. I’ve been missing out for too long and didn’t even realize it. This is why many people are food focused, missing out on the authenticity of relationships because their brain isn’t functioning properly because they’re being underfed and told they should be okay. It’s hard to work out other issues when that simple, primal requirement isn’t met. Many are missing out on their goals and full potential as a result. It may not feel like you have the brain power or energy to do anything, that’s definitely been me for a long time; I figured it must’ve been babesia alone to blame or other sources of toxicity, or infection, etc. I believe because of society’s priming, many cut out foods blaming those, and it might work for some time in different ways due to the lessening of inflammation caused by inherent underperformance of a malnourished digestive system.

In fact, “starving yourself” can be very energizing because of the way it activates catecholamines like dopamine for a type of high. People who deprive often force themselves to exercise, even walking and moving around more than their body is actually asking for. But if you really stop to tune into the body’s signals truly, without inserting judgement or pressure because of your mind’s will, you’ll realize that your body just wants rest. For instance, I’ve noticed after days of resting instead of walking like I’d normally do every day, believe it or not, that I would begin to feel more muscle tone or even an improved appearance. I’ve heard this from other accounts I follow; indeed, an effect of “leaning out” as a result of eating more food– whatever they want– and resting. This is because when you’re not getting enough calories to start, the rest can prevent you from muscle wasting.

“Health” is only healthy if you look at the human and their actual wellbeing in a HOLISTIC sense first and foremost, not preconceived notions or even implementation of mental values alone without seeing what the result of their implementation actually looks like (we can see the damage that can result in overtly from those coming from the vegan community more recently, for instance). I’m not here to judge any way you do things if that really works for you, but I really wanted to share my story for anyone who might benefit and be able to relate. I really think this is a prevalent problem going on in society that I think people are suffering from unknowingly; be it in the form of hair falling out, low energy/ fatigue, low thyroid numbers, being cold, irritability, inability to fend off infection or detoxify, premature aging, sexual dysfunction, mood instability, depression or anxiety, as well as a lack of creativity or fullness in life and relationships, or even lacking the wherewithal to get out of or reason out a negative relationship in your head; I think the culprit could very well be this. When you’re not feeding yourself the strength that you need in every facet of your life, obviously things will falter.

One of the best ways of indicating whether this is “working” for you once you start is taking your temperature in the morning, before moving around to see where your metabolism is at. You want it to be at at least 98 F, preferably 98.6 or higher. Most people are running under that these days, indicating a low metabolism and sometimes hypothyroid. Little do many know, the cause can simply be not eating delicious food. Believe it or not, it’s the calorie, salt, even sugar, starch and fat dense sustenance that’s time and again proven to do the best at speeding the metabolism the fastest for people with slower metabolisms— particularly those coming from a restrictive past and/ or those with prior eating disorders. It’s interesting how much going against conventional wisdom about health can really be the most healthy and healing thing for some people to do. This general concept actually does correspond to ayurveda– the vata or cold body types are the ones that need grounding food, the same has been said for chinese medicine. Though like with all diets and the specifics, details, and dogmas can be excessive, convoluted and paralyzing; at least for some personality types, trying to be perfect and achieve “the most” or do “the best” for themselves, which can actually go in the opposite direction of ideality. I think honestly our best source of true and personalized wisdom is our own body and even taste buds– even in our modern world. Some, however, with a particularly disordered, or drawn out history of restriction, might’ve come to mute their hunger cues– I sure did. I became “not hungry” all of the time. After all, it does take calories to cause the muscle contractions leading to physical hunger (pangs). That’s why we have something else that can signal to us whether we need to eat or not, and what we should eat. This is called mental hunger. You know how people get so obsessed with foods (measuring it and obsessing about what they can have, staying up late watching food network, looking up recipes, food blogs, watching “What I eat in a Day” videos)? Those are all clear signs from the body that it’s hungry and wants you to focus on food. It obviously takes a lot less energy to bring your attention to food in whatever way possible rather than cause a grumbling tummy that your body doesn’t know if or when it will have accurate energy to supply again. While it might seem like a luxury to get full easily and never have a “disruptive” growling stomach, it’s something to be concerned about, and a very good indicator that you might want to take the things written here very seriously, and give yourself unconditional permission to eat (what a novel concept). The body is built for adversity and the only way it can even begin to fight off anything in this world is when it’s well fed and not feel like it’s been restricted or lacking in any sense.

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