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The Dangers of Dieting on Physical & Mental Health

The Dangers of Dieting on Physical & Mental Health

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A deep dive on how dieting impacts your physical and mental health and why you may want to rethink your next diet 

a girl wondering about the dangers of dieting on physical and mental health

As the new year begins you may notice when you open your social media or browse the internet that you are bombarded by messages of weight loss and new diet products guaranteed to make you feel your best. You may walk into the mall and see advertisements and books on display touting that they have the “secret” to weight loss and that their diet program is the solution to all your problems. 

We live in a society that places a premium on physical appearance and the pursuit of the perfect body has become a cultural obsession. The allure of quick fixes and fad diets has led many individuals down the path of restrictive eating with the misguided belief that shedding pounds equates to achieving happiness and self-worth. Thousands of dollars are thrown towards the diet industry which is booming at an estimated $254 billion worldwide.  

Although some of the diets you see may offer short term success, studies show that 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost within 1 to 5 years. This is not the fault of the person, but the diet. Most diets are over restrictive, limit social eating, and create obsession over “good” and “bad” foods. 

Beneath the surface of seemingly harmless dieting lies a myriad of dangers that can have profound and lasting effects on both physical and mental well-being. If dieting is causing harm, why are we still drawn to it? What is going on in our bodies when we diet? This blog post will delve into those questions, encourage you to challenge the diet mindset, and recommend ways to break free from dieting. 

Why Do We Diet? 

We live in a society that is steeped in diet culture where restriction and pursuit of thinness are the norm. Diet culture is a system that values thinness and equates it to success, happiness, and healthiness. There is a strong belief that we should be able to control our bodies based on what we eat, which is not always true. Diet culture upholds that there are good and bad foods and good and bad bodies and creates a lot of shame and mistrust in ourselves. To read more about diet culture check out this great article. 

The Dangers of Dieting on Physical Health

Dieting is not harmless and can impact nutritional status, our metabolism, and potentially our risk for chronic disease.  

1. The Potential for Poor Nutrition

One of the flaws of fad diets is their tendency to neglect the importance of balanced nutrition. It is practically impossible to meet all your nutritional needs on an extremely low-calorie diet. Many fad diets advocate for the exclusion of entire food groups, often leading to nutritional deficiencies that can have serious consequences for overall health. 

For instance, low-carbohydrate diets may leave individuals lacking essential vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Many diets also place soulful foods off limits. These are foods that make our souls and taste buds sing and are a vital component of our relationship with food.  

2. Dieting Impacts Our Metabolism

Dieting, particularly in its more extreme forms, can have profound effects on the body’s metabolism. One study completed on The Biggest Loser TV series found that 6 years after the show the majority of the contestants regained the weight they had lost. Interestingly enough, the contestants resting metabolic rate was 3-5% lower than controls who had not lost weight. 

This is theorized to be due to metabolic adaptation which is thought to occur when the body is subjected to prolonged periods of calorie restriction. In these situations, the body responds by slowing down its metabolic rate as a survival mechanism. This adaptive response makes it increasingly challenging for individuals to lose weight and can contribute to the all-too-familiar phenomenon of yo-yo dieting. 

Another theory is that losing weight is thought to increase our hunger hormone, ghrelin, resulting in hunger ramping up. This often leads to individuals consuming food above and beyond their baseline intake.  

3. Weight Cycling May Impact Health Outcomes

Yo-yo dieting, characterized by the cyclical pattern of weight loss and regain, not only puts a strain on the body but is also potentially associated with an increased risk of developing heart or metabolic issues such as insulin resistance, increased blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol. The body’s constant adjustment to fluctuations in caloric intake can disrupt the delicate balance that regulates metabolism, leading to long-term consequences for overall health. 

The Dangers of Dieting on Mental Health  

The relentless pursuit of an idealized body can give rise to a host of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. 

1. Dieting Creates a Difficult Relationship with Food

Many individuals embark on diets with the hope that achieving a certain weight will bring about happiness and self-acceptance. However, the reality is often far from this. The constant focus on restrictive eating and the fear of deviating from a prescribed diet plan can create a toxic relationship with food, leading to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy preoccupation with body image and food.  

2. Dieting can Lead to Social Isolation and Low Self-Esteem

Social occasions centered around food can become a source of stress for individuals on restrictive diets. The fear of deviating from the prescribed meal plan may lead to isolation from social events, affecting relationships and overall quality of life. The psychological strain of constantly monitoring and restricting food intake can create a negative feedback loop, reinforcing the idea that one’s worth is tied to their ability to adhere to dietary restrictions.

3. Dieting is The Strongest Predictor for the Development of Eating Disorders

Studies show that 35% of dieters progress to disordered eating and 20-25% of those individuals go on to develop eating disorders. Diets are not harmless and for many are the beginning of a long-standing pattern of disordered eating.  

A Shift Towards Intuitive Eating 

As the dangers of dieting become increasingly evident, there is a growing movement towards embracing that there is not one ideal body size, and that eating is not one size fits all. At Health Stand we focus on eating FULLY in which we advocate for the inclusion of both healthful and soulful foods. We try to focus on wellbeing over the number on the scale. 

Intuitive eating, another alternative to traditional dieting, encourages individuals to listen to their bodies’ natural hunger and fullness cues. Rather than adhering to rigid meal plans, intuitive eating promotes a balanced and flexible approach to food, fostering a healthier relationship with eating. It encourages the individual to turn inwards and become aware of their body’s unique signals and needs. This approach emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion, recognizing that true well-being goes beyond external appearances. 

It is essential to shift the focus from unrealistic beauty standards and quick fixes to a more holistic approach that prioritizes well-being, self-acceptance, and a healthy relationship with food. Working with a skilled intuitive eating dietitian can help you in your journey of moving towards becoming an intuitive eater and taking a more sustainable and fulfilling approach to health that goes beyond the scale. 

Looking to heal your relationship with food and your body? Our experienced team of compassionate nutritionists can help.

Looking to ditch dieting for good, make peace with food and your body, and honor your health and tastebuds without feeling guilt or shame? You’ve come to the right place! At Health Stand we embrace a balanced eating approach. Learn more about our in-person and online nutrition counselling services or contact us at the button below to see how we can help.

See what hundreds of people just like you have to say about our qualified team of dietitians.

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Keep learning with these blog posts below:

3 Tips to Get Closer to Body Acceptance

Why the Body Mass Index (BMI) is Flawed & The History of its Origins

Embrace Your Body as it Changes 

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