The biological, psychological, and emotional impacts of dieting

Yep, I am still talking about dieting. I realize that vilifying a process that has served many for so long will upset some of you. While I do hope that my thoughts and writing will help some to make good decisions that fit their lives well, I do not expect to sway everyone and probably would not want to do that.

So, what’s so bad about dieting? (much of this info is taken from Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating)

Biological Impact

Well, I have mentioned the changes in metabolism. From what I understand, there are enzymes that help us make and store fat. These enzymes actually increase (maybe even double) when we diet. In this way, our body is trying to compensate and help store energy (fat) – particularly when the diet is over. Each time we diet, our weight loss rate slows.  The body is becoming more efficient in using the calories we allow it thereby lessening the overall need for energy (calories).

As I have mentioned before, food restriction also tends to lead to binges and cravings. Research indicates that after dieting, people tend to show preferences for high fat and sugar-laden foods. Dieting may lead to a change in the ability to determine when you are full/satiated because dieting sets a limit on the amount of food allowed – when the food is gone, the eater stops (not because they are full).

People who on and off diet (yo-yo) generally regain weight in the abdomen. Many studies indicate that weight in this area increases risk of heart disease.

But the risk that really got my attention – dieting has been found to increase the risk of heart disease and may shorten your lifespan. Tribole and Resch discuss the Framingham Heart Study (N=3,000+, men and women). In this study, it was found that, regardless of starting weight, people who yo-yo dieted (on and off again dieting) had a higher death rate and were two times as likely to die of heart disease. Importantly, these results held independent of other cardiac risk factors and starting weight (thin vs overweight). They also cite the Harvard Alumni Health Study that indicated that participants who lost and gained at least 11 pounds within a 10 year period didn’t live as long as those who neither gained nor lost.

Psychological and Emotional Impact

Like it or not, dieting has been linked to eating disorders. In one study (1992 NIH, Weight Loss & Control Conference report), dieters were more than 5 times as likely to suffer from an eating disorder by age 15 than non-dieters.  Dieting causes stress to the body and to the psyche. It has been connected to feelings of failure, anxiety, and is closely tied to changes (usually lowering) of self-esteem. When the dieter falls off course, eats forbidden foods, slips, etc., they are more likely to lose control over eating. In fact, it is believed that merely having good and bad food lists (as nearly every diet does) is enough to lead to binge eating.

Other effects can include a loss of trust in one’s ability to make good choices, set reasonable and appropriate limits, and feel confident without strict lists and guidelines. Because society places so much value on appearance and weight, many people who struggle with weight issues believe there is something fundamentally wrong with them. They believe they are not as good as others, not as able. These dieting experiences and the almost predictable periods of weight gain can lead to brief or more prolonged episodes of depression.

What now?

If you are not dieting, there is no need for willpower, obedience and there is no failure, no shame, no self-doubt. Intuitive eating means giving all of that up, along with your scale, BMI, and obsession over that number – your weight. It also means giving up your identity as a dieter and your membership to a larger community that fights the food battles daily. It means being accepting and loving with yourself. It means using food to nourish your body, not to soothe emotions. It means not using food as a reward or a ritual.

You once knew how to eat without any diet plan or rules. You ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. Giving up dieting means learning to trust your body and to listen to it.

Big News!

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