It’s a new year! Time to motivate yourself to be a ‘new you’. Or at least that’s the message we hear from diet culture: a fresh start as a more balanced and healthier you. And by balanced and healthy, they mean ‘smaller’ and ‘slimmer’.
I know the temptation to diet can be strongest post-holiday celebrations. But I’m here to tell you what you want to hear: You don’t have to start this year with yet another diet plan. Not only is dieting an ineffective way to improve health, but it has many harmful effects. Read on to learn 12 dangers of dieting.
Let’s first start by getting clear on what defines dieting.
A diet is a specific intake of nutrition for weight-management purposes. It involves some form of restriction, whether it be portion size, eliminating food groups, or scheduling the timing of meals.
There are an endless number of diets out there, yet none of them has proven to be sustainable. Research shows that about 95% of dieters regain lost weight within 5 years.
If you’ve ever felt tempted to diet, here are several reasons you’ll want to reconsider.
Essential vitamins and minerals are lacking when you cut out certain food groups. For example, B vitamins and fiber decrease when you eliminate starches like oatmeal, potatoes, rice, and whole grain bread. Cutting out dairy limits key sources of Vitamin D, calcium, and protein. Avoiding fruit decreases Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. People on a gluten-free diet may lack thiamin, riboflavin, iron, calcium, folate, Vitamin D, and magnesium. If you don’t eat meat, you risk a deficit in iron, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D. Avoiding carbs means missing out on zinc, potassium, magnesium, and beta-carotene.
If you have medical or moral reasons to avoid certain food groups it’s recommended to work with a registered dietitian like myself to do it properly!
Have you ever been ‘hangry’ (hungry+angry) before? When our blood sugar is low the neurotransmitters that regulate our mood fluctuate. This can lead to mood swings and irritability. Living in a constant state of denying your body and your brain what they want is stressful!
Dieting makes food the center of your life. It’s hard to have brain space for anything important when you’re forever calculating what you’ll eat next. Dieting attaches your self-worth to your weight which is not a healthy mentality to be in. It makes you feel like you are a problem to fix. Chronic dieters report frequent self-blame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.
Your body requires a certain amount of energy (calories) to keep it moving. If you don’t consume enough calories, fatigue impacts your ability to function mentally and physically. When you’re exhausted from making sacrifices and assessing yourself it’s hard to concentrate. There’s also the risk of fainting which is especially dangerous if you live alone.
Dieting can cause gastrointestinal issues. These can be the result of an imbalance of macronutrients and/or fiber, or simply the stress of having to stick to a diet. Some common side effects of dieting are:
The Framingham Heart Study found that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Do you know what causes high blood pressure? Repeated weight loss and regain! A common misconception is that being at a higher weight is a risk factor. In reality, it’s yo-yo dieting that causes twice the risk of heart disease and a higher overall death rate.
When our bodies perceive a famine, they stimulate us to seek out calorie-dense foods. It’s a survival mechanism! You’re not broken for wanting pizza and doughnuts the minute you commit to only salads and smoothies.
A dieter’s body has an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is high, the body’s glucose regulator, insulin, is less effective. Elevated cortisol also elevates neuropeptide Y which increases appetite!
Women may experience hypothalamic amenorrhea or the absence of a menstrual cycle. Unresolved, this can lead to trouble conceiving and compromised bone health.
A significant amount of weight lost by dieters comes from muscle. When your body is lacking energy from food, it starts to break down its own muscle for energy. Losing muscle means you also lose stamina and strength for the activities that bring you joy.
Dietary restrictions can weaken hair follicles due to a lack of protein, fatty acids, and zinc. Telogen Effluvium, as the condition is called, is especially common with low-calorie crash diets.
Dieting lowers your body’s need for energy so that it’s more efficient at using calories. Remember the show ‘The Biggest Loser’? Six years after the competition only one of the 14 contestants weighed less than they did at the end of the show. The participants were burning fewer calories than expected.
A slower metabolism leads to steady weight gain and also causes you to feel colder than usual. Your body drops its temperature to preserve energy for essential functioning.
Our bodies have a unique ‘set point’ weight in which they function their best at. Each time you fight your biology to lose weight, your set point is reset higher than before. This is your body protecting you against the next perceived famine. To compensate, the enzymes that create and store fat double.
Disordered eating happens on a spectrum. Not all dieting is an eating disorder, but all eating disorders start as a diet. According to the American National Eating Disorders Association, 35% of dieting becomes obsessive and 20% of dieters end up with eating disorders.
In the end, not only does dieting not work, but it’s harmful. There are many factors that play into our health and wellbeing. Body size is not one of them. Weighing less doesn’t always mean someone is healthier. The BMI (body-mass index scale) is not an accurate measure of a person’s fitness or how they manage stress.
So what should you do the next time you’re having a bad body image day?
Work toward changing your relationship with food. Society attaches moral value to our food choices by elevating certain ways of eating while demonizing others. First, forgive yourself for the ways you’ve participated in that narrative up until now. You were doing what you thought was best at the time. Now that you know better, you can reclaim your power over diet culture.
Dieting teaches us to doubt ourselves. To rebuild self-trust we have to deprogram harmful diet culture conditioning from our minds. Then we’re easier able to listen when our bodies communicate what tastes good and makes us feel good.
Have you struggled with chronic dieting, body image concerns, or an eating disorder? This is exactly what I help my nutrition counseling clients with. We’ll set individual goals together that feel most supportive for you. Using Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size as our guiding principles, we can avoid the harmful effects of dieting. To learn more, click here to schedule your discovery call!