45 million Americans go on at least one diet each year. And while dieting is not a cause of eating disorders, it is often a precursor to disordered eating. More than one third of dieters progress to pathological dieting and up to one fourth of those develop actual eating disorders. You may think that as a “casual” or “occasional” dieter, there is no risk or downside to going on a diet here and there. Think again. Restrictive-diet behaviors not only carry serious psychological and physiological side effects for you, but spills over into the lives of those around you. Consider these sobering consequences that come from the dark side of dieting:
- 75% of women perpetuate unhealthy thoughts and behaviors about food and their bodies. It should come as no surprise then that half of all girls ages 9-10 are dieting. Your thoughts about your body don’t just affect you. To quote the musical Into The Woods, “children will listen”. Ask yourself: Would I feel comfortable if my 9 year old daughter or niece or sister or granddaughter said what I say about my body, my weight, or size? Would I want them to follow my eating/dieting behaviors? If the answer is no, then you’d better stop. Unhealthy and negative thoughts and behaviors are dangerous at any age.
- Dieting behavior leads to feelings of anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia (uncontrolled negative thoughts about perceived flaws in one’s body), and distrust of one’s body signals and cues, and ability to maintain good health.
- Restricting calorie or nutrient intake can cause the body to slow down in an effort to conserve energy. The body is designed to avoid starvation, and dieting sends a strong starvation signal because you are not responding to the body’s normal hunger and fullness cues. The body then becomes very efficient in order to maintain energy stores. No wonder 95% of diets fail!
- Diets that lead to quick, dramatic weight loss generally involve losing lean muscle mass as well as fat. Less muscle means lower metabolism. In addition, significant weight loss can lead to fatigue, tiredness and lethargy, all of which slow down metabolism even more. Does dieting slow metabolism? Yes.
- Repeated dieting makes it harder and harder to lose weight. The more you diet, the longer it takes and the more you have to restrict to lose weight that previously came off with less effort. Yo-yo dieting further slows and damages the system. This is not what healthy looks like!
- Dieting destroys your relationship with food and erodes your confidence in your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. The more we ignore these signals, the fainter they become until you may no longer feel sensations of hunger of fullness. Food becomes a source of stress or fear instead of a source of enjoyment. Not only is this not healthy, but not happy either!