By Lizzie Waldo, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

The body is a great communicator when we are willing to listen. Sometimes when I am in a hurry and accidentally skip a meal, I ignore the irritability and other emotional cues my body is giving me that it is time to eat. Yes, even nutrition professionals can fall short when it comes to listening to what their bodies need! That's why it's good to take a few minutes to remind ourselves of how unhealthy foods can affect us. Check out these 5 signs of how your body may be warning you that you’re not eating well.

1. You can’t catch enough zzz’s.

The fast-paced, busy society we live in today can leave us feeling overworked and stressed—leading to poor eating habits. Fight back against fatigue, and boost your energy by following these eating tips:

  • Eat more often – Smaller meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day help fuel your metabolism, maintain lean muscle mass, and prevent overeating or unhealthy snacking. Just like a car needs fuel, your body works best when it is adequately energized!
  • Pay attention to hunger cues – With portion sizes often being too big, it is important to find the happy medium between eating just enough, without overeating. If you find yourself still full after 5-6 hours following a meal, it is likely that you ate too much.
  • Maximize your snacking – Combine a protein source with a fibrous carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help bridge you from one meal to another. Remember, snacks are not intended to fill you up but rather to fuel metabolism to prevent energy drops.
  • Keep caffeine in check – Soda, energy drinks, and coffee may give you an energy buzz at first but can cause energy levels to crash soon after consumption. Focus on hydrating beverages like water, unsweetened tea, or flavored soda water.

2. You aren’t “regular.”

Do you ever feel like your GI system is giving you the “silent treatment?” Constipation is a sign that your body is lacking some key nutrients to make it run properly. Fiber is an essential nutrient that adds bulk to your stool and helps move it through the intestines. Fiber can be found only in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, and nuts or seeds.

Since it is found in natural foods, a diet filled with refined or processed foods could cause you to face chronic constipation. Swap refined cereal for oatmeal at breakfast, pack fruits and vegetables instead of chips as a side for lunch, and replace white rice or pasta with brown rice or whole grain pasta at dinner to easily boost your fiber intake.

3. You’re on a roller coaster of emotions

Not only can what we eat affect how we feel, but how we feel can also greatly impact what we eat. Every food that we eat triggers a different chemical response in the brain, which is partly why it is so important to eat a variety from each of the food groups.

For example, carbohydrates increase a chemical called serotonin, which has a calming effect on the body. This is thought to be why people commonly have cravings for carbs when they are stressed. Protein-rich foods release a group of chemicals that assist in promoting feelings of alertness, and healthy fats make up brain cell membranes and are critical for normal brain processes.

A poor diet, which lacks these key nutrients, can therefore greatly affect your mood. When the brain is unable to receive the nutrients it requires, blood sugar can drop and become erratic, leaving you feeling unfocused, overly emotional, and irritable.

4. Your weight loss comes to a screeching halt.

Have you been trying to lose weight but can’t seem to get past the dreaded plateau? The answer may be that you aren’t eating enough! The body enjoys stability. While small caloric deficits (about 300-400 per day) can definitely lead to sustainable weight loss, larger calorie cutting can cause the body to go into survival mode to help maintain balance. When this happens, your metabolism slows and the release of chemicals occurs. One chemical in particular, cortisol, is a stress hormone that can stall weight loss and lead to body fat retention.

To get back on track, re-examine your current eating plan to make sure you are getting enough nutrients from each of the food groups, and avoid overdoing it at the gym.

5. You can’t seem to shake being sick.

No one enjoys getting sick. It always seems to hit at the worst possible time, forcing you to take time off of work or holding you back from fun on the weekend. Even worse is when it seems to drag on and on. Poor hydration, a diet low in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and leading a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to a weak immune system—stretching out the length of time you feel under the weather. Check out these ideas for how to arm yourself with a strong immune system:

  • Keep hydration in check by carrying a reusable water bottle with you to work, school, and at the gym. Refill it often! Add lemon, limes, orange, or cucumber to give your water a flavor boost without adding calories.
  • Aim for 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and at least 3 servings of whole grains, to optimize the power of plants. Phytochemicals are a fancy word meaning “plant nutrient.” The beautiful rainbow of colors that you see in the produce section of the grocery store is the result of different phytochemicals. Each color gives our body a different nutritional benefit, which decreases our risk of getting sick – whether this is the common cold, or a more chronic illness such as cancer or heart disease.
  • Get moving! 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week is a powerful immunity booster. Try one of the YMCA’s group fitness classes, go for a walk at the park, or grab a friend and complete a weight-lifting circuit. Important tip: Don’t over-do it! Excessive exercise can weaken immunity and work against your natural defense system. 

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