Today I’m talking diets. The kind of diets I don’t usually talk about. I’m talking about the calorie-restricting, daily scale-checking, “Thou shalt not eat the doughnut” type diets that flood the world and torment millions on a daily basis. Those kind of diets. And why am I talking about diets today? Because if I can help convince even ONE person to never diet again, I’ll consider this whole blogging thing worth it. Diets are dangerous.
I’ve witnessed my fair share of diet-mania over the years. From good friends who roller coaster-ed up and down on Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to the militant-like low-fat and no-carb diets. Sure, some diets are definitely “better” than others in terms of not making you go completely crazy, but ultimately these types of diets are either too restrictive or seen as only temporary fixes. In other words: They aren’t doing a lot of good.
Why do most people diet in the first place?
To lose weight, right? But did you know that dieting is the single greatest predictor of weight gain? (source)
It seems logical, that restricting food intake should result in sustained weight loss, but that just isn’t the way your body’s biology works. Food restriction only leads to starvation symptoms that down-regulate your metabolism. -Emily Benfit, Real food for Real Life
Remember, metabolism is more than just the ability to burn food. Metabolism is at the heart of our body’s ability to perform every function for life. Kind of important. This is why even those who successfully lose weight through dieting will still usually suffer from a myriad of other health issues from poor digestion, insomnia, lack of energy, hormonal problems, adrenal fatigue, and thyroid issues. (Read this to help you regain metabolic health.)
My heart drops every time I overhear someone talk about their disciplined approach to only eating 1200 calories a day in hopes of getting back in shape, losing the baby weight, or whatever other ideal is pushing them. They ignore hunger signals. Flush their cells out with excessive amounts of water. Restrict important macro-nutrients (generally carbohydrates or fat).
Some see temporary results. Others find their body holds on to the weight with a vengeance. Both are destroying their relationship with food and their body.
None of it is healthy.
The effects of dieting on your body
According to Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size, dieting does a number on your health. It:
- Slows the rate at which your body burns calories
- Increases your body’s efficiency at wringing every possible calorie out of the food you do eat so you digest food faster and get hungrier quicker.
- Causes you to crave high-fat foods.
- Increases your appetite.
- Reduces your energy levels (so even if you could burn more calories through physical activity you don’t want to).
- Lowers your body temperature so you’re using less energy (and are always cold).
- Reduces your ability to feel “hungry” and “full,” making it easier to confuse hunger with emotional needs.
- Reduces your total amount of muscle tissue.
- Increases fat-storage enzymes and decreases fat-release enzymes.
Of course this says nothing about the way it affects our relationship with food. We need food. We should enjoy food. We should want to feel energized. We should listen to our body’s signals and eat the food!
It’s also a sad statement on our views of our body. we live in an age of self-loathing… and some how it’s socially acceptable. And when girls as young as 5 years old pick up on their parent’s views of diets, we know we aren’t helping future generations be any better.
Dieting brings a vicious cycle… one that Emily Benfit describes perfectly in her book Real Food for Real Life:
Chronic dieters are really horrible at eating. No, not eating “right,” or eating healthy–just eating. It’s a really common problem in our culture. Most of us seem to be really good at engaging in a strenuous cycle of: body image issues >> food restriction >> food cravings >> loss of control >> overeating >> weight gain >> body image issues.
Get off the diet train and work toward long term results
The first step toward healthy living is recognizing that health really does come in every size. In our photoshopped and image-obsessed world it’s easy to think that everyone needs to fit into a size 0 pair of jeans. The truth it there are very unhealthy skinny people just like there are very healthy larger people. Size is not a good indication for health on either end of the spectrum.
Of course, obesity does bring some health concerns, and losing weight may be important for some. But short term, restrictive diets are not the answer. In fact, you may be surprised by how many calories you really need to lose weight in a healthy way. I mean, check out my friend who is on a quest for healthy weight loss. She is eating 3,000 calories a day (of real food), exercising wisely, taking care of her metabolism, and losing weight. The body can do amazing things when you give it the fuel it needs.
Want to learn more about how to REALLY eat healthy, not mess up your metabolism, and enjoy food again? Here are two of my favorite books to recommend:
Emily breaks down real food in a simple, stress free way that will empower you with knowledge to make the best decisions possible and have a HEALTHY and enjoyable relationship with food.
Heads up: Not everyone will dig Matt Stone’s irreverent approach to food (especially hard-core real foodies). And yet, he has helped so many people get off the diet bandwagon and improve their health. Keep an open mind and be prepared to learn lots.
Tell me… are you a dieter? Are you willing to reconsider?