If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve followed some sort of restrictive diet in your life: low carb, under 1200 calories, juice cleanse, low fat…you know the drill.
In fact, studies show that 90% of women have attempted some form of weight loss in their lifetime, and an even more shocking study found that on average, a woman will spend a total of 17 years of her life trying to lose weight.
Dieting and restriction have become a common approach to weight loss and “improved health”. But the truth is – dieting, restricting, or forcing yourself to follow strict rules can end up doing more harm than good, to both your physical and mental health.
And here’s the kicker: dieting doesn’t even work. According to the latest research, 95% of dieters end up regaining the weight they lost within two years, and their diet often leads to even more weight gain in the long run.
In this article, we’ll explore why dieting and restriction are not the answer to your health or weight loss goals – and why you should jump off the dieting train (for good) to live your healthiest, happiest, and most nourishing life.
Yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, is a common result of dieting and restriction. It refers to the cycle of losing weight and then gaining it back, often with additional weight gain. This can be damaging to both your physical and mental health, as it can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.
Most diets involve severe calorie restriction or the elimination of entire food groups, which can lead to rapid weight loss in the short term. However, once the diet ends, many people find that they regain the weight they lost, and often even more. This is because restrictive diets can actually slow down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight in the future.
When you eliminate entire food groups or severely limit your calorie intake, you may not be getting all the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly. This can lead to fatigue, anemia, a weakened immune system, and other health issues. In addition, nutrient deficiencies can lead to cravings for unhealthy foods, which can sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Dieting can also lead to a slower metabolism, as your body perceives it as a threat to survival. When you reduce your calorie intake, your body goes into "starvation mode" and starts conserving energy. This can make it harder to lose weight in the long term and can also lead to weight gain once you stop dieting.
Loss of Muscle Mass
If you aren’t getting enough protein and calories from food, your body will start to break down muscle tissue for energy, which results in a loss of muscle mass. Ironically, your muscle is actually the “engine” of your body’s fat and calorie burning mechanism. Increased muscle mass can lead to lower body fat, a stronger immune system, improved energy levels, and reduced stress.
Emotional Eating and Eating Disorders
Dieting creates a mindset of deprivation and restriction. This often triggers feelings of anxiety, stress, guilt, or shame around food and body image, which can lead to emotional eating and disordered eating patterns. In severe cases, dieting can trigger eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, which can have serious physical and mental health consequences and may require professional support.
Poor Body Image
Dieting promotes the idea that being thin or a certain size is “necessary” for health and happiness. This can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with weight and appearance, along with feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety about your body. Poor body image can also lead to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy relationship with food, while impacting your mental health and self-esteem.Mental Health Issues
A strict diet can cause feelings of stress and anxiety, and a focus on food and weight can lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors. When you diet, you often set unrealistic expectations for yourself, leading to feelings of failure and inadequacy when you don’t get the results you want.
This constant restriction of food and the fear of "messing up" can lead to guilt and shame, ultimately damaging self-esteem and self-worth. In severe cases, it can also lead to depression, social isolation, and other mental health issues. Overall, diets can have a detrimental effect on mental health, and it's essential to prioritize overall wellness over strict rules and expectations.Unhealthy Eating Habits
When you focus too much on what you can't eat, you can develop a negative relationship with food. Additionally, when you restrict certain food groups or severely limit your calorie intake, you may become overly reliant on processed and packaged foods that are low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This can lead to a cycle of unhealthy eating habits that can be difficult to break.Social Isolation
Dieting can create anxiety around social situations that involve food. People may avoid such events altogether, or feel uncomfortable eating in front of others, leading to a loss of connection with friends and family. This can further impact mental health and overall well-being.
The Bottom Line
Clearly, dieting and restriction are not healthy approaches to weight loss or improved health. They can have negative effects on both physical and mental health, leading to nutrient deficiencies, slowed metabolism, eating disorders, poor body image, mental health issues, and unhealthy eating habits.
Instead of focusing on weight loss or restriction, aim to develop healthy habits that promote overall health and wellness, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress-reducing activities such as yoga or meditation. By taking a holistic approach to health and wellness, you can achieve your goals in a way that is sustainable, enjoyable, and promotes your overall well-being.