Emotional Undereating

Emotional Undereating

There is a connection between negative emotions and our appetite, and that connection is not the same for everyone. Eating less in response to stress or negative emotions is due to the mindset shift towards these negative feelings, that it becomes difficult to tune in to our hunger cues or even think about eating.  Overall, this affects appetite, eating habits and our relationship with food. 

Changes in eating habits may be related to underlying depression, anxiety, fatigue, and stress. All of these problems may impact your energy level and lead to a decreased interest in eating. The lack of nutrients, related to decreased eating, may have a negative impact on your mental health. The following diagram explains what can happen.

Reasons that May Contribute to Undereating

  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoyed. You may also not enjoy eating or meal preparation.

  • Low energy levels. You may feel that cooking or eating may feel like too much of an effort.

  • Feeling depressed or anxious. You may have digestive symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or belly (abdominal) pain -  all may lead to loss of appetite and undereating.

  • Taking antidepressant medications. You may eat less due to decreased appetite or gastrointestinal discomfort (possible side effects of some antidepressants). It is important to discuss this with your doctor.

Signs and Symptoms that You are Undereating

  • Decreased energy levels

  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue

  • Low mood

  • Increased irritability

  • Low levels of iron in the blood (anemia)

  • Hair loss

    • Many nutrients are needed to maintain normal, healthy hair growth. Inadequate intake of calories, protein, biotin, iron, etc. may lead to hair loss. 

What You Can Do to Help Improve Undereating

  • Structure your day with proper eating breaks. You might schedule meals into your calendar or set your phone alarm as reminders.  

  • Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time and have easy food options available.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals with more calories. Focusing on boosting your calories is often easier than trying to increase the portions. For example:

    • Drizzle extra olive oil on cooked quinoa, wild/brown rice, salad, or popcorn. 

    • Use extra avocado oil when cooking lean meats, vegetables, or stir fry. 

    • Snack on raw, unsalted nuts or seeds, or use them as a topping on salads, oatmeal,  or yogurt. 

    • Couple fruit or unsweetened yogurt with unsweetened peanut butter.

    • Add healthy fats like avocado (or guacamole), olives, and cheese to salads or grain bowls.

    • Have smoothies (see below).

    • Mix tahini with olive oil or use olive oil-based pesto as a dressing for salads.

    • Add shredded cheese to scrambled eggs.

    • Add- protein powder and/or unsweetened nut butters to oatmeal.

    • Snack on a handful of raw nuts with some cheese.

    • Snack on mixed raw nuts and no-sugar-added dried fruit (e.g. dates, apricots, figs, prunes, etc.).

  • Work with your coach to help identify stressors that are causing you to lose your appetite. Once you identify them, you can work on how to control them.

  • Engage in exercise! Exercise can help improve your mood and appetite, even if it’s just going for a walk.

  • Find foods that you can tolerate during periods of stress. It may be something simpler than a big meal (e.g. apples and peanut butter,  a handful of nuts with dried fruit,  popcorn with olive oil). Your coach can help.

  • Consider trying something calorie-rich to drink, like a smoothie (see below)

  • Try to make eating and/or cooking a social activity! It’s easier than doing it on your own, and may encourage you to try new foods.

  • Cook extra food, which you can either freeze or have in the fridge as leftovers for a few days.

Focus on These Foods

You are already taking steps to help improve your mood by following a Mediterranean diet and including foods with:

  • Vitamin B12 (e.g. fish, eggs, nutritional yeast).

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon, tuna, walnuts, chia/flax seeds)

  • Folic acid (e.g. avocado, spinach).

  • The amino acid tryptophan (e.g. eggs, spinach, nuts and seeds).

  •  Antioxidants (e.g. berries, dark chocolate, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts).

Healthy & Easy Ingredients

It can help to have healthy and easy ingredients available if it’s difficult to cook. Include things like:

Try Smoothies

If you don’t have time to cook a meal, smoothies are a great way to ensure you’re getting vitamins, minerals, and adequate calories.  

Below are different suggestions that you can mix and match to build a nutritious smoothie that will help keep your blood sugar stable. No need to follow an exact recipe - use whatever you have available at home.

Smoothie Ingredients

Combine ingredients from each group:

  • Base: Water, coconut water, milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Vegetables: Spinach and kale (both high in magnesium and help keep blood sugar stable)

  • Low-sugar fruit: Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwi, lemon, and lime. (Note: If using bananas, limit to ½ serving)

  • Healthy fats: unsweetened almond or peanut butter, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, avocado or coconut oil , Protein: vou can add unsweetened low or non-fat Greek yogurt or an unsweetened protein powder (e.g. pea protein)

  • Extra Flavor: Cocoa or cacao powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, maple syrup, honey, or vanilla extract

    • You can thicken smoothies either by adding ice cubes or frozen fruit or thin them by adding water or more milk.

Smoothie Recipes

  • Chocolate Avocado Smoothie: 1½ cups (360 mL) milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk, ½ banana, ½ avocado, 1 cup (30 g) spinach, 2 Tbsp. (30 g) cocoa powder, 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) honey, 1 Tbsp. hemp seeds (15 g), pinch of cinnamon, pinch of nutmeg

  • Blueberry Vanilla Smoothie: 1½ cups (360 mL) milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk, 1½ cup (300 g) frozen blueberries, ½ cup (120 g) unsweetened Greek yogurt, ½ cup (15 g) spinach, ½ cup (50 g) rolled oats, ½ tsp (2.5 mL) of vanilla extract

  • Raspberry Blackberry Smoothie: 1 cup frozen raspberries, ½ cup frozen blackberries, ½ avocado, ½ cup (120 g) unsweetened Greek yogurt, 1 cup (240 mL) milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk, 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) of honey, ½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract

Some Key Points

  • The suggested meal ideas and snacks help increase your energy intake (calories), and the nutrients your body needs. 

    • Having smoothies, raw nuts, olive oil-drizzle, nut butters with fruit, etc. increases nutrient density, as opposed to increasing the quantity of food.

    • It’s easier to have nutritious meals and snacks if you have healthy ingredients available. 

  • Create a structure for each day that includes time for meals and snacks.