Can Not Eating Make You Dizzy? A Dietitian Explains

Feeling dizzy is a sensation most of us have experienced at some point in time.

Though you probably know the feeling, it’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact cause. In fact, there are many things that can cause dizziness.

Not eating enough may be one cause of dizziness, but it’s not always the case.

In this article, we’ll cover why not eating can make you feel dizzy, what other issues can cause dizziness, and some steps you can take when you’re feeling that way.

Hypoglycemia occurs when the amount of glucose — often referred to simply as “sugar” — in your blood drops below a value of 70 mg/dL (1,

This state is more commonly called “low blood sugar,” and it’s something you may experience regularly if you’re living with diabetes and having trouble managing your blood sugar levels.

You can also experience low blood sugar suddenly due to factors like (1,

  • extreme weather
  • consuming alcohol
  • changes in altitude
  • skipping meals or undereating in general
  • not eating balanced meals that provide enough nutrients

Blood sugar comes from digesting carbohydrates (carbs), and it’s the primary source of energy for the brain. Thus, skipping meals or avoiding carbs can cause your blood sugar levels to drop, which may result in a sudden bout of dizziness (2, 3, 4,

If you’re feeling dizzy after skipping a meal and wondering if your blood sugar has dropped, some other warning signs you might experience hunger, confusion, sweating, and shaking (1, 5, 6, 7,

This combination of symptoms is likely a sign that you need to eat something.

SUMMARY

The food we eat provides energy to fuel our bodies throughout the day in the form of blood sugar. Carbs in particular are needed to energize the brain. When the body experiences a shortage of fuel, your blood sugar may drop, causing you to feel dizzy.

Dizziness is a complex sensation that can feel a number of different ways and may be caused by many different things (8, 9,

Most of the time when someone says they feel dizzy, they’re likely trying to describe a feeling of unsteadiness. They may feel as if they’re spinning, floating, or somehow off-balance. But dizziness may also entail feeling faint, woozy, weak, or lightheaded.

When someone feels dizzy, it does not automatically mean that it’s because they haven’t eaten enough.

Rather, it’s best to look at the full picture of symptoms and circumstances to better understand what’s causing the dizziness.

Here are some other causes of dizziness — and a few tips to help determine if they could be affecting you.

Stroke

In some cases, dizziness that comes on quickly may be a warning sign of something more severe, like a stroke (10, 11,

In one small study, nearly 40% of stroke patients reported sudden dizziness around the time of their strokes, while a separate study estimates that 4–15% of patients who report sudden dizziness could actually be experiencing a stroke (12, 13,

If you’re feeling dizzy and begin to notice other serious warning signs of a stroke — including numbness one on side of your body, difficulty speaking or seeing, or a severe headache — call emergency services immediately,

Dehydration

Much like not eating enough can cause dizziness, so can not drinking enough.

In fact, dehydration can easily be confused with low blood sugar since many symptoms of each are similar — feeling dizzy, faint, and lightheaded (14,

Some other symptoms that may help distinguish dehydration from low blood sugar are producing urine that is dark in color and producing less urine than usual (15, 16, 17,

Ear infections

Feeling dizzy is a common symptom of an inner ear infection (11,

In this case, there’s a chance you’ll experience a more specific type of dizziness known as vertigo (9, 18,

When you’re feeling dizzy, you may just feel slightly faint or off-balance. However, vertigo is a more specific sensation that entails feeling like either you or your surroundings are moving.

It could feel like spinning or being tipped over — even when you’re standing perfectly still and upright.

Experimenting vertigo is more likely to make you feel nauseous than other types of dizziness and may be a tell-tale sign that you’ve got an issue with your inner ear.

Learn more about the difference between dizziness and vertigo here.

Other reasons

Dizziness is a commonly reported symptom of many conditions.

Here are a few more potential causes of feeling dizzy that may have little to do with how much you’ve eaten (19, 20, 21,

If you feel dizzy for a prolonged period of time, your dizziness subsides but returns frequently, or you’re concerned about your symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk with a medical professional.

SUMMARY

Not eating enough is just one potential cause of dizziness. It could also be related to an ear infection, dehydration, medications, anemia, an allergic reaction, head injuries, a stroke, and more.

If you’re feeling dizzy, one of the first things you should do is sit or lie down. Do not attempt to drive or operate any type of equipment.

Dizziness causes a loss of balance, which can easily lead to falls and injuries — especially in older adults. Therefore, it’s best to avoid standing or walking until the feeling passes (22,

If you’re suspicious that your dizziness may have been caused by not eating enough or going too long without eating, try to eat or drink something with calories as soon as possible.

The human body breaks down and absorbs carbs for energy quicker than any other nutrients, so if you can find a good source of simple carbs — like fruit juice, bread, a cup of milk, or a bit of honey — eating one of these will help restore your blood sugar levels quickly.

In a pinch, even a piece of candy or something else sweet might do the trick, but keep in mind that relying on sweet treats to maintain blood sugar levels and stave off dizziness is not a healthy long-term option.

Once the initial bout of dizziness has passed, try having another snack that pairs a fiber-rich complex carb with a lean protein. The combination of nutrients should help to keep your blood sugar levels from falling suddenly.

Some examples of snack combinations that pair complex carbs with lean proteins are:

  • yogurt with fruit
  • whole-grain crackers with cheese
  • peanut butter toast
  • cut veggies with hummus

Treating other causes of dizziness

If you think that something besides undereating is making you dizzy, be sure to speak with a medical professional like a doctor to pinpoint the exact cause.

Seek help immediately if you begin to experience other notable symptoms like numbness, chest pains, any sudden changes in vision, or a fever.

In the meantime, you can try to alleviate the feeling by:

  • drinking water
  • lying down in a cool, dark, quiet place
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco

SUMMARY

If you suspect that not eating has caused you to feel dizzy, find a quick source of carbs to help restore your blood sugar levels. You may need to sit down in a cool, quiet place until the feeling subsides. Stick with drinking water and avoid stimulants.

Dizziness is an unpleasant feeling that may include being faint, weak, or lightheaded.

It can also take on a more intense feeling in the form of vertigo, which may feel more like you or your surroundings are spinning.

Not eating enough calories to the point that your blood sugar levels begin to drop is one cause of dizziness, but the feeling can be related to many other issues as well.

If you’re feeling dizzy, it’s a good idea to try and eat and drink something. If that helps, it’s probable that low blood sugar or dehydration was the cause.

However, if you are experiencing dizziness on a regular basis, it’s best to follow up with a healthcare provider who can help evaluate your situation — even if you find that eating or drinking seem to alleviate the feeling.

Consistently undereating or skipping meals to the point of dizziness may be a sign of disordered eating or an eating disorder.

Consider reaching out to an eating disorder-informed therapist or registered dietitian if you feel that you would benefit from improving your relationship with food.

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