What are the consequences when you don’t take enough calories?

Failure to consume enough calories often means lack of proper nutrition, thus resulting in various medical repercussions. While malnutrition is not a common health problem in developed countries, it can still affect malnourished people in any part of the world.

It is commonly experienced by poorer people, those on the poverty line and the homeless due to severe lack of food, and those with either a medical or psychiatric illnesses.


Moreover, malnourishment can affect children and young adults due to their increased nutritional demands and high calorie requirements.

However, older people can also develop this problem as a result of altered metabolism. Read on to learn about the consequences of not eating enough calories.

A deficiency in caloric consumption is generally referred to as malnutrition or under-nutrition, a specific type of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a condition that occurs when an individual is not receiving adequate number of calories and essential nutrients.

If a person is confirmed by diagnostic lab tests of not taking sufficient nutrients and calories,then the condition is referred to as under-nutrition. Moreover, inadequate calorie intake is associated with lack of minerals and vitamins.

Although mineral and vitamin deficiencies are considered as separate disorders, they commonly accompany caloric under-nutrition.



The symptoms of lack of calories

The first and foremost sign of under-nutrition is significant loss of body fat. In general fat is essential to maintain the normal function and integrity of body cells.

In serious cases of under-nutrition, affected people can present with protruded bones, hair loss, hollow cheeks, thin and inelastic skin.

Other symptoms include irritability, loss of appetite, fatigue, unresponsiveness and inability to stay warm. In addition affected people develop weakness, fatigue and lack of energy to complete routine tasks.

The complications of the condition widely vary based on the severity of the calorie deficiency.

It can become a life threatening situation when the condition progresses to a severe level.

Some of the complications of under-nutrition include: Kwashiorkor – a form of protein energy malnutrition associated with edema, muscle wasting, anorexia nervosa, marasmus and chronic semi-starvation characterized with extensive muscle and tissue wasting.

One can also develop suppressed immune function as a result of impaired or weakened immune system, thus increasing the risk of developing more complications from infectious diseases.

Cases presenting with long term caloric deficiency can develop the impairment of vital organs such as the heart, liver and lungs. Patients with complete lack of food can develop a condition called Total Starvation.

This can prove fatal in 4-12 weeks. In addition, young children under the age of 5 are more vulnerable to the serious effects of starvation due to an increased caloric demand from a body that is putting all its energy into rapidly growing.


Under-nutrition is generally treated with a gradual increase in calorie intake as the patients need careful calorie moderation at starvation level. It is advised to take at least 6 to 8 small meals per day. Severely affected patients require liquid food ingestion due to lack of digestive function.

Written by: Dr Chaitra Shivaramaiah

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