We all know the benefits of a healthy diet, but do we know the consequences of a bad one?
Often we know when the positive effects happen from a diet (high energy, no lethargy, increased performance, loss of weight….) yet we don’t always question why or how these happened.
However when we feel something we don’t like such as high lethargy, no energy, injuries or reduction in performance we desperately seek out why these things happen but throw caution to the wind and vastly alter our diet.
Everything we consume and do in our lifestyle, as well as the thoughts we have all impact our body.
Take drinking water, or not drinking it, for instance:
When we’re dehydrated our blood pressure goes up due to increased blood thickness from lack of water in it. The blood is too thick to counteract gravity as efficiently as when we’re hydrated so our muscles and heart have to work harder to pump thicker blood to intended places. Rehydrating by consuming more water will add water to the blood making it less thick and easier to transport by the heart, therefore a lower blood pressure is needed.
Simply drinking water, the most plain thing we can consume, has an impact on our body in ways we don’t often comprehend.
So what does the effect of a bad diet have on our body if water can drastically alter our whole physiology?
I can’t possibly produce an exhaustive list of the effects on our body from poor nutrition so I’m going to outline the more common malnutrition issues Westerners are more likely to encounter.
Cause and Effect
Let’s go through a list of common issues we tend to encounter as a result of a potentially bad Westerner’s nutrition.
Immediately these come to mind:
- Sub-optimal Hormone Balance.
- Metabolic Disorders.
- Mental Disorders.
- Increased Inflammation.
- Lowered Immunity.
- Increased Fat Storage.
- Lowered Libido.
- Higher Risk of Heart & Vascular Disease.
- Low Energy.
- Need I go on…?
I must state there isn’t any bias going on here. We’re merely looking at potential consequences of a diet which lacks any ounce of good nutrition at all.
So the question could be what does ‘Good Nutrition’ look like. Well that’s a hard one. Good Nutrition could be considered a healthy variety of whole foods dense in good quality macro and micronutrients whilst incorporating moderation to the indulgent foods we naturally crave and enjoy. That’s my ideal.
You may be vegan and love it, you may be a flexible dieter who loves indulgences whilst knowing your calories. It’s all in context to your view. But it should be high enough in calories to sustain all you do or want to achieve and high in quality to provide the vital vitamins and minerals needed for our body to recover and run as we need.
So where do these bad effects come into play? That’s the killer question but these are simply some of the consequences a severe change in your nutrition could impact your health.
Let’s look at hormones…
Our body is controlled by a finely tuned environment of hormones, WAY too many for the context of this article.
Take insulin for instance. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and is released into the bloodstream upon ingestion of carbohydrate. Insulin’s role is to transport the broken down carbohydrate to where it’s needed in the body.
Regular over-consumption of carbohydrates can lead to a lowered insulin sensitivity which is the pre-cursor to Type-2 Diabetes. Over time if not addressed cells in the body may not respond as well to insulin, in an attempt to to fight it insulin production is increased further to transport the same level of carbohydrates. If progressive further the pancreas can ultimately lose the ability to produce insulin.
Insulin is VITAL in order to transport necessary carbohydrate fuel stores to our brain (it’s main source of fuel) as well as our muscles and other cells for simply the necessity to live.
This is one hormone.
One hormone out of 100’s, if not 1000’s that we can sadly neglect.
Of course there’s tragic occurrences of autoimmune attacks on the pancreas itself which cause it to not produce Insulin, this is Type-1 Diabetes. But we’d be ignorant to think that we can subject our bodies to so much abuse and get away with it.
One other major area of Hormone study is that of Androgens and Estrogens: The collective of the hormones; Testosterone and Estrogen respectively. Both hormones are crucial for both male and female sexual and reproductive function alongside their secondary sexual characteristics such as body and facial hair, bone and muscle development.
Both of these hormones present in the body are influenced by individual factors in both men and women and specific ratios of these dictate growth, development and health trajectory with our body. Our nutrition, environment and numerous stressors are a huge influence and are the only things we can really control without exogenously altering such hormones (through injecting, for instance).
As these two hormones are finely balanced in our body any domination in the level of one of these will present changes corresponding to the dominating hormone. Consider dietry zinc resistriction. Zinc has been found1 to inhibit the action of ‘Enzyme Aromatase’, an enzyme that converts Testosterone to Estrogen. This process can therefore be lowered through ensuring enough zinc is consumed in our diet.
Some of the best sources of zinc are oysters, beef, lamb, shellfish, crab, clams, lobster, mussels, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, spinach, and cashews and in general – leafy greens. Now it’s easy to see why a varied diet can influence a whole host of processes.
So the balance of these two vital hormones can be dictated via our diet, what can the consequences of a dominance in one hormone look like?
Low Testosterone/High Estrogen2:
- Increase in depression
- Increased risk of diabetes
- High risk of prostate cancer
- Increased Muscle Loss
- Higher risk of heart and vascular disease
- Increase in fat deposition
- Lowered Libido
Personally that’s enough on individual hormones, but pretty much everything in the human body is expressed as a result of an individual hormone.
Many of the first-mentioned consequences are as a result of hormone imbalance but can be attributed to direct nutritional consequences too and perhaps are more easily explained through more basic examples…
Metabolic disorders are often a consequence of severe calorie restriction, at least from the majority of clients I’ve encountered through my earlier mentor training and a few clients I’ve worked with.
Metabolic disorders relate to the inability to utilise various sources of fuel (protein, carbohydrate or fat) or the potential limited activity of vital hormones in the body (some discussed above). As hormones rely on a consistent energy source and a vast variety of vitamin and mineral combinations it’s easy to understand how a crash diet which excludes important food groups, those which supply fuel and/or micronutrients, can be detrimental to metabolic activity.
It’s no wonder when we completely slash calories in an attempt to lose weight does our body quickly lose large amounts of weight in the first 2-3 weeks of doing so. This comes from the body attempting to utilise the previously consumed level of nutrients so the only way to get as much fuel is from bodily sources (muscle and fat).
However when we restrict calories or micronutrients beyond the 4-week time-frame we start supressing the functions most important to our body in an attempt to lose weight.
Digestive processes get slowed down in order to preserve energy (some energy is quickly stored as fat). Testosterone production is decreased due to lowered pituitary gland output. Hunger and fullness hormones are suppressed so (ghrelin and leptin) can’t function as well. Growth and repair isn’t prioritised because our body wants to reserve energy to live – injuries occur. Lack of easily available energy sources makes us feel utterly lethargic. Lowered immune system function. These are just a few things that happen in the body when in a low calorie supply.
If you go down this route for long enough we further risk our ability that our adrenal glands and processes that produce hormones in the future don’t work as efficiently and can take a significant period of time to recover stable processes.
You may find it’s difficult to lose weight upon partaking a crash diet, but this is simply due to the body lowering the daily required calories needed to actually live, so you’ll constantly be chasing a calorie deficit. The further you restrict calories, the harder your body then tries to lower energy output, and so adjusting processes accordingly, to preserve energy.
One simple act can throw your body of whack, and all i’d recommend is simply giving your body the calories it needs to function efficiently and making small decreases in calories at a time to lose weight. If that doesn’t happen, make another tiny increase and be consistent.
Furthermore, the potential mental disorders that can arise are some significant to consider.
It’s easy to go down the slippery slope of anxiety when chasing our weight goals the wrong way. Eating disorders such as Anorexia or Bulimia are more common than you think and tendencies can develop if we don’t seek our goals in the correct, safe and sustainable manner.
I’ve spoken about this from the heart, head and the textbook.
It’s something I feel really strongly about in nutrition, that we are only at the mercy of ourselves when it comes to nutrition and this is merely an attempt to highlight the effects food can have on the body, let alone individual hormones.
In the bigger picture of nutrition you owe it to yourself to think about the good – and the bad – things that may happen with your body when any malnutrition occurs. Hopefully you may realise some of the aforementioned things like low energy, lethargy or poor performance may be occuring in yourself as a result.
This is just an educational piece to raise awareness to the point!
Thanks for your time,
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