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Can eating too little cause diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of blood sugar (glucose) due to the body’s inability to properly respond to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels by facilitating the uptake of glucose into cells for energy production. Insulin resistance is a common precursor to type 2 diabetes, where the body’s cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. In recent years, there has been interest in whether eating too little can also contribute to the development of diabetes. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between insufficient calorie intake and the risk of developing diabetes.

The relationship between calorie intake and diabetes risk

Calories are units of energy derived from food and beverages. Excessive calorie intake, particularly from high-calorie diets, has been strongly associated with an increased risk of obesity and insulin resistance, both of which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. However, the concept of eating too little and its potential impact on diabetes risk is less well-understood. Let’s delve deeper into the effects of both excessive and insufficient calorie intake on diabetes risk.

Effects of excessive calorie intake on diabetes risk

Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Excess calorie consumption can lead to weight gain and increased body fat, which in turn increases the likelihood of developing insulin resistance. High-calorie diets, particularly those rich in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, have been shown to impair insulin sensitivity and disrupt glucose metabolism, predisposing individuals to diabetes.

Effects of insufficient calorie intake on diabetes risk

While the relationship between excessive calorie intake and diabetes risk is well-established, the impact of insufficient calorie intake on diabetes risk is less clear. However, research suggests that extreme calorie restriction, such as that seen in starvation diets or very-low-calorie diets, may induce insulin resistance and overt diabetes mellitus. These diets typically involve severely restricting calorie intake to levels well below the recommended daily requirements, resulting in inadequate energy supply for the body.

Mechanisms behind the development of diabetes from eating too little

Understanding the mechanisms behind the development of diabetes from eating too little can provide insights into why insufficient calorie intake may be detrimental to metabolic health.

Impact on insulin sensitivity

Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, plays a crucial role in the development of the disease. Calorie restriction has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance through several mechanisms. Firstly, when the body is in a state of energy deficiency, it becomes more efficient at conserving energy, leading to reduced insulin sensitivity. Additionally, calorie deficiency can disrupt glucose metabolism, impairing the body’s ability to properly use and metabolize glucose.

Changes in hormone regulation

Calorie restriction can also lead to alterations in hormone regulation, further contributing to the development of diabetes. Prolonged calorie restriction has been associated with decreased production of insulin and glucagon, both of which are essential for maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Moreover, calorie deficiency can impact the levels of adiponectin and leptin, two adipokines involved in regulating insulin sensitivity and appetite control. Lower levels of adiponectin and disrupted leptin signaling have been linked to increased insulin resistance and diabetes risk.

Research supporting the link between insufficient calorie intake and diabetes

Although further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between insufficient calorie intake and diabetes, some studies have provided insights into this association.

Studies on the effects of low-calorie diets on diabetes risk

Clinical trials and observational studies have shown that very-low-calorie diets can lead to the development of diabetes in individuals without preexisting conditions. These diets involve severe calorie restriction, typically below 800 calories per day, and are sometimes used for rapid weight loss. Animal studies and experimental findings have also demonstrated that chronic calorie restriction can induce insulin resistance and diabetes-like symptoms.

Case studies and reports on malnourished individuals developing diabetes

Reports of malnourished individuals developing diabetes further support the link between insufficient calorie intake and diabetes risk. These individuals often suffer from nutrient deficiencies and imbalances due to long-term insufficient food intake. The combination of inadequate energy supply and nutrient deficiencies can have detrimental effects on metabolic health, contributing to the development of diabetes.

Factors that contribute to the development of diabetes from eating too little

Several factors can contribute to the development of diabetes from eating too little.

Prolonged calorie restriction

Prolonged calorie restriction can have detrimental effects on metabolism and overall health. Constant energy deficiency can lead to long-term adaptations in the body, including decreased insulin sensitivity and impaired glucose metabolism. It is important to note that short-term calorie restriction, as seen in intermittent fasting or certain dietary approaches, may have different effects and is not necessarily associated with increased diabetes risk.

Nutrient deficiencies and imbalances

Inadequate calorie intake often leads to nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. Micronutrient deficiencies, such as deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, can impair various metabolic processes and contribute to insulin resistance. Additionally, imbalances in macronutrients, such as insufficient protein or excessive carbohydrate intake, can affect insulin levels and glucose metabolism.

Compensatory overeating after periods of restriction

Following a period of calorie restriction, individuals may engage in compensatory overeating, consuming excessive calories and potentially leading to weight gain. This pattern of restrictive eating followed by overeating can disrupt metabolic regulation, increase insulin resistance, and elevate the risk of developing diabetes.

The importance of a balanced diet for diabetes prevention

To reduce the risk of diabetes, it is important to maintain a balanced and adequate calorie intake.

Recommended calorie intake for different individuals

Calorie needs vary among individuals based on factors such as age, sex, weight, physical activity level, and overall health. Determining the appropriate calorie intake is crucial for supporting metabolic health and preventing diabetes. Consulting a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can help create personalized dietary plans.

Key nutrients for diabetes prevention

In addition to calorie balance, the quality of the diet is essential for diabetes prevention. Adequate intake of key nutrients is crucial for optimal metabolic health. This includes a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, as well as sufficient intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from a variety of whole foods. Consuming a well-rounded diet that meets these requirements can help mitigate the risks associated with insufficient calorie intake and promote overall metabolic health.


While excessive calorie intake has long been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, there is growing evidence of the potential detrimental effects of eating too little on metabolic health. Severe calorie restriction, as seen in starvation diets and very-low-calorie diets, may contribute to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes mellitus. It is important to strike a balance with calorie intake and adopt a balanced, nutrient-rich diet for diabetes prevention. Further research is necessary to better understand the mechanisms involved in the relationship between insufficient calorie intake and diabetes risk, as well as to explore the potential benefits of specific dietary patterns in preventing and managing diabetes.


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