It’s estimated that 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. According to the Eating Disorder Foundation, 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. According to the CDC, in 2015–2018, 17.1% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over were on a special diet on a given day. More women were on a special diet than men, and more adults aged 40–59 and 60 and over were on a special diet than adults aged 20–39. The most common type of special diet reported among all adults was a low-calorie or weight loss diet. Long and short-term periods of dieting can negatively impact our mental, physical and emotional health. Let’s explore some reasons to ditch that diet!
1. Dieting can create a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. Therefore, it’s safe to say that those who go on a diet are more at risk for developing a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder than those who have never dieted. People go on diets for a number of reasons such as seeking better health, reducing joint pain, or because their doctor recommended it. It’s absolutely okay to want to make health changes, but when you diet this means you are not trusting your internal cues and instead using external factors to determine when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop eating. This puts you completely out of touch with your body which can lead to restriction, malnourishment, binging and an overall unhealthy relationship with food.
2. Diets aren’t sustainable long term
95% of the time intentional weight loss is unsustainable. Research shows that diets don’t work long term and are actually a predictor of weight gain, meaning if you diet, you could end up weighing more than you did before you started. Dieting causes mental and physical stress on the body from underfueling and the negative emotions that come when you feel like a “failure” when the scale goes up and not down.
3. Diets don’t support your hormones
Diets often involve restricting carbs, skipping meals and some may involve fasting. Going on a diet that restricts carbs too little can cause stress on the body and increase the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is our stress hormone. When the body is under stressful conditions (such as undereating), cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. Women typically need a minimum of 150 grams of carbs a day for optimum thyroid function, so diets such as keto can do more harm than good when it comes to hormone support. Intermittent Fasting (IMF)is a popular diet that can negatively impact women’s hormones. Research shows that IMF can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce glucose and or insulin levels, lower blood sugar, improve lipid profiles, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. That all sounds great, but when we look more closely at studies on how IMF fasting affects women, we see that it comes with more risks and negatively affects hormones. The potential risks of IMF is, it can triggers or worsen disordered eating, increases the stress hormone cortisol, suppress thyroid function, imbalance sex hormones (which in turn can affect bone health), negatively impacts ovulation & menstruation, and can cause low blood sugar. For these reasons, I often recommend women avoid IMF fast as it just does not support hormonal balance.
4. Diets don’t support your gut
Typically when you go on a diet, you eliminate or restrict certain food groups. Sometimes people may not eat potatoes out of the fear of potatoes being “too high in carbs”. When you eliminate or restrict certain food groups that are beneficial for you, you are doing your gut a disservice. Your gut microbiome thrives off the diversity of different plant based foods. Studies show that those who eat 30+ different plants a week have the most diverse microbiome. I tell my patients to try out all the different varieties of plants. Maybe this week you have white potatoes and the next week you incorporate red potatoes. Both will have different benefits and bring diversity to the gut. Dieting also negatively impacts gut health in the event of skipping meals or restricting calories/undereating. Your digestive system works like a clock. It likes to have a certain amount of food coming in and out regularly to support its rhythm. When we skip over meals or undereat that can contribute to slow motility leading to constipation, bloating and room for unwanted bacteria to grow and multiply.
5. Dieting portrays some foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ which isn’t how food works
We live in a world of diet culture. “Diet Culture” refers to a set of beliefs that values appearance, thinness and shape above wellbeing & health. Diet culture says that certain foods are “good” and others are “bad”. This idea creates moral value around food. This causes one to feel guilty and out of control around foods that are deemed “bad”. Food shouldn’t have any moral value over you. No matter the food it will provide nutrition and sustenance to the body. Our overall eating patterns create our health and well being, not one singular food. Broccoli is good for you, yes. But you can’t eat it all day, every day. On the other hand, ice cream might not have the most ideal nutritional content but eating it brings you joy, satisfaction and might be something you like to enjoy with a friend or family member. This good/bad concept can lead to extreme guilt and a judgemental attitude around food. You are not good for eating broccoli and bad for eating ice cream. It’s just not how it works.
6. Dieting slows your metabolism
If you are eating fewer calories than you burn off through your daily activities and exercise, you will lose weight. The problem lies with keeping that weight loss as discussed earlier. More often than not, the weight is later gained back. When we diet it doesn’t take long for our metabolism to start to slow down from restricting calories too little. Newer research suggests that significant weight loss can lead to a lower normal metabolic rate for that person’s weight. So if you started at 200 pounds and now weigh 140 pounds, you will burn fewer calories at rest and during exercise than someone who always weighed 140 pounds. Research also shows that if the person who lost 50 pounds regains that weight, his or her metabolism will be lower at 200 pounds than it was before he or she lost the weight.
7. Dieting reinforces weight stigma and the false idea that thinner is better
Diet culture has existed for centuries and is rooted in racism, colonialism, classism and sexism. From a very young age, we are taught that either directly or indirectly the value we have in the world is closely linked to our appearance and other peoples’ evaluation of it. We are told we need to shrink ourselves in order to blend in and be accepted. Yes, there is a correlation between a higher weight and certain medical conditions i.e. diabetes, but there is a lack of evidence to suggest the assertion that weight or body fat is the cause of these conditions. Besides, these so-called, “weight-related comorbidities” are also present in thinner people who also have heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Today, many health care practitioners are joining the HAES (Health at Every Size) movement to support advances in social justice, creating inclusiveness and a respectful community, and supporting people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. For more information on HAES and to sign the pledge visit: https://haescommunity.com/pledge/
8. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet
Even if we all ate the same and did the same amount of exercise we would not all look the same. Each individual is unique. What works for one person may not work for another person. Maybe you tried going vegan but noticed after a few weeks your energy was slow and you had poor sleep. Maybe you tried going gluten free because your friend said it helped her bloating. It’s important to remember, you only get one body so whether you try different diets to see what works or because you’re trying to lose weight, it’s critical to consume proper nutrients that support your overall health. It would be a shame to avoid foods that actually make you feel good, give you energy and keep you satisfied. Now, if you feel like certain foods trigger issues like bloating, the better idea would be to seek further testing so you can figure out why you’re not tolerating certain foods & what the root cause of your bloating is.
9. Your relationship and confidence with your body will improve
Learning to love your current body & give it gratitude for all it does for you is the first step in making peace with your body. It’s perfectly fine to want to make changes to your body but we need to acknowledge that it’s normal for our bodies to change overtime. Obsessing about your body being a certain size or talking negatively about yourself isn’t going to make your relationship with your body any better. Even if you lost all the weight that you wanted to from dieting, you likely still would have body image issues. Past emotional trauma can have a lasting effect on someone’s perception of their physical being. So instead of waiting to love your body until it changes, start with loving it today and thanking it for all that it can do.
10. Dieting puts your physical health above your mental health
When we go on a diet we typically get so concerned with our physical well-being that we put our mental health on the back burner. Dieting can cause you to obsess about what you need to be eating, how much you need to be exercising, and how much you get to eat. Our body’s calorie/energy needs are going to fluctuate every day based on our activity level, stress, sleep and more. We should be trusting our internal hunger cues and not let external factors dictate how much we eat at a meal. It’s not fair to try to manipulate our bodies to follow a specific diet or calorie goal everyday. When we seek to make changes for our health we should be considering all aspects of health—mental, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical. So, if your diet is causing you mental stress on a regular basis it may be time to consider a different approach.
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