How HGTV's Christina El Moussa realized she was undereating

One word that perfectly describes HGTV star Christina El Moussa: nonstop. The Flip or Flop host is constantly on the go, whether she's renovating homes, caring for her two children, or hitting the gym for high-intensity workouts. Naturally, it takes a lot of energy to lead that kind of busy life—and El Moussa's nutritionist (and BFF) Cara Clark says she helped the star overhaul her diet to increase her stamina.

Clark, a certified nutritionist, tells SELF she started working with El Moussa, 33, five years ago. El Moussa's chief complaint was a lack of energy. Clark asked El Moussa to share what she typically eats in a day, and the nutritionist quickly spotted a potential cause of the star's low stamina: El Moussa was unknowingly undereating. "Her diet wasn't going to provide her the energy or the nutrients that she needed to stay strong and healthy," Clark says.

PHOTOS: Christina El Moussa's style transformation

Christina El Moussa's style through the years
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Christina El Moussa's style through the years
When I was asked by the super talented @damir_k to do a photoshoot you can bet I went for it. @damir_k you are the best in the industry πŸ’―. Gorgeous dress @waltercollection makeup @pinkdustcosmetics hair @shanrbeauty
Welcome to the family!! @cashiethefrenchbulldog 🐢 Click link in my bio!! πŸ‘™πŸ©
And it's love πŸ’™πŸΆ #Cash @bluestarfrenchies @cashiethefrenchbulldog
Happy #33 @akeith9999 β€πŸ‘― dress is @topshop
Fun day presenting on stage ... now off to explore Toronto with @bee_elise πŸ’™
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: Television personality Christina El Moussa attends All-Star Chef Classic at L.A. Live Event Deck on March 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)
@rails_la on a hot summer day β€οΈπŸ’™πŸŒ
GOOD MORNING AMERICA Christina El Moussa is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 21, airing on the ABC Television Network. {Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, CHRISTINA EL MOUSSA
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Christina El Moussa attends Tarek and Christina, TV's Favorite House Flippers, Featured at TREND/Stone Source Event in New York on September 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Favorite outfit- denim, graphic tee, rockstud boots. πŸ’― #liveinit @pinklaundryboutiques
MIAMI BEACH, FL - MARCH 12: Christina El Moussa attends the TREND Group and Granite Transformations global rebranding and ?Immense? product collection launch event at Temple House on March 12, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
A @rails_la big buckle and boots kinda day πŸ’‹ @walletbuckle
We've been on hiatus for 3 weeks .. I've so enjoyed my time off with my babes and living in yoga pants... But it does feel good to have a fresh blow out and some big girl clothes on. Time to make some #fliporflop #season6 tv magic. Jacket and boots from @pinklaundryboutiques
A fresh blowout and a big bump! #39weeks plus 4 days.. But who's counting πŸ˜πŸ‘Ά All new episode of #fliporflop follow-up on tonight! @hgtv
Happy 4th!! πŸ’™β€οΈπŸ’₯ #33weeks
Starting episode number 8 for season 5 of #FlipOrFlop today... And officially in my 8th month! #32weeks Only 8 weeks to go πŸ’™πŸ‘Ά
Officially in my 3rd trimester!! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’™ #28weeks time is flying by now....!!!
Rocking a braid and a bump! #24Weeks πŸ’—πŸ‘Ά
outdoor photos in this 90 degree Yorba Linda heat. This should be interesting 😳
First day of filming the last episode of #FlipOrFlop season 4! πŸŒŸπŸ’— loving this half up hair style w a little braid @shanrbeauty
#FlipOrFlop solo open house day. Wish me luck!
Open house time! How cute is this room staged by @identityhome ?!! πŸŽ€
Day 2 in camo but a little top to bottom switch. 😬 @currentelliott #fliporflop
First day back to work after two weeks off... First day I've actually gotten ready in two weeks 😬. Hair makeup clothes.. Oh my. @pinklaundryboutiques vest and jewels πŸ’•
Finally not 80 degrees in the OC!! ⛅️Obsessed with fall clothing and my new @pinklaundryboutiques sweater and necklace! πŸ’• time to go film some #FlipOrFlop
LAKEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 13: Christina El Moussa, host of HGTV's hit show Flip or Flop, visited the HGTV Santa HQ at Lakewood Center. The reality star visited with Santa, toured the new digital Santa headquarters and celebrated the holidays with fans on December 13, 2014 in Lakewood, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Lakewood Center)
WHITTIER, CA. - JULY 19, 2013: Filming of HGTV's 'Flip or Flop' reality TV show hosts Tarek El Moussa and his wife Christina El Moussa discuss what to do with this recently purchase house in Whittier on July 19, 2013. The single story 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,112 sq. ft home came with a bonus room. It was discovered the bonus room had a bad foundation and was demolished.Today the hosts of 'Flip or Flop' discuss what to do in order to flip the house. (Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
TV hosts Tarek El Moussa , right, and his wife Christina El Moussa, second from right, talk during filming of HGTV's 'Flip or Flop' reality TV show as they discuss what to do with this recently purchase house in Whittier on July 19, 2013. The single story 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,112 sq. ft home was purchased for $275,000 cash in a short sale. They will put up to $40,000 into fixing it up and hope to sell for $350,00- $400,000. It came with a bonus room. It was discovered the bonus room had a bad foundation and was demolished. They also discovered mold between the walls. (Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Experts agree that undereating can lead to low energy. "It can stress the body and it can slow the metabolism," Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, tells SELF. Hultin, who has not worked with El Moussa, explains that undereating can put the body into what she calls "conservation mode." The gist of it: The body doesn't have enough fuel to carry out all its functions, so the metabolism slows, leading to lethargy. "It's zapping your energy," she says. "It makes you want to not move around and not be active because your body does not have enough energy that it needs. The brain, for example, requires a huge amount of energy, so undereating or not having enough calories can really hurt energy and also concentration."

Related: 7 Signs You're Not Eating Enough Calories

El Moussa wasn't intentionally not eating enough calories, Clark says. Her old diet centered around lots of salads and oftentimes her kids' nutrition bars. Combined, it just wasn't enough fuel to sustain her active lifestyle. "A lot of kids' foods are mostly carbs, and they're a little higher in sugar but they're not enough protein," Clark says. "It really just wasn't enough."

Clark suggested El Moussa stick to natural, whole foods and eat every three to four hours to keep her sugar levels steady and prevent energy dips. She also advised El Moussa to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats—the three macronutrients—with each meal. Hultin agrees that balancing those three macronutrients is a smart way to eat.

"Carbohydrates are very important fuel for the brain, so it's important to have that balance in addition to protein for energy and to support the immune system," Hultin says. "And fat is a critical piece in every cell in our body."

Clark specifically told El Moussa to make each meal consist of 50 percent carbs (including a complex and a simple carb), 30 percent fat, and 20 percent protein—but the right ratio of macronutrients can vary from person to person.

The optimal number of calories a person should consume each day also varies based on individual factors—it helps to work with a nutritionist or dietitian to find your sweet spot. In general, Hultin says a moderately active woman typically needs between 1,800 and 2,200 calories a day.

Clark figured out the number of calories El Moussa should consume by factoring in her goals—maintain her weight and increase her energy—as well as her height, build, fitness routine, activity level when she's on the job, and age. Knowing this, Clark took El Moussa's original diet and increased her intake by 800 calories.

After increasing her caloric intake and restructuring her diet, Clark says El Moussa saw an improvement in her energy. She still sticks to the plan today, and Clark recently broke down El Moussa's typical daily diet on her blog. The star usually starts her day with overnight oats or chia seed pudding, followed by a mid-morning smoothie. Then, it's a salmon or Cobb salad for lunch and a mid-afternoon snack such as peanut butter and bananas. For dinner, she'll have a lean protein with quinoa and veggies. El Moussa often Instagrams her Clark-approved recipes—and they look pretty delicious.

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"When she does eat right, she notices that she gets more out of her high-impact workouts than if she wasn't," Clark says. "And if she has a super busy day—taking her kids to school, filming, coming home and doing the mom thing again and taking calls and interviews—she's able to maintain a stable energy level all day. If you spend any time with her you're going to be like, 'Oh that girl's high energy!' "

But before you change your diet in the hopes of gaining more energy (or for any other goal), Hultin says slow down. It's important to reach out to a professional, such as a registered dietitian, who can examine your own unique needs before you make any drastic diet changes. "There are lots of reasons people can have low energy," Hultin says. "You need to reach out to an expert before increasing your diet."

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