The Consequences Of DietingOct 08, 2022
Spoiler alert: Diets don't work! No, not even the one that you say worked for you in the past. When I hear people say that they will get on a diet that worked for them, my question back is: "If it worked last time, why do you need to get back on it?" If something works, you only need to do it once, don't you? 🤔
The fact is that the more you diet, the more you risk gaining weight in the long run. What’s mind-blowing is that, in women, even one diet doubles the risk of becoming overweight. ONE!
A quick google search for “menopause diet” pulls up over 79 million, with the first page filled with ads, which is not surprising considering that weight loss is a top concern for women going through the menopausal transition. According to a study, 71% of women report wanting to be thinner, and 56% are willing to restrict food to achieve their weight loss goal. The desire to be thinner does not generally start in midlife but is a learned behavior. Would it surprise you to hear that most women go on their first diet in their teens and early adulthood? This becomes very important because we now know that “women who begin dieting at earlier ages, regardless of their genetic or family background, experience more episodes of weight cycling in their lifetime.” Weight cycling, a.k.a yo-yo diet, is very damaging to your body and mind.
The diet industry is well aware of these numbers and knows how to tap into that fear. Approximately 45 million Americans go on diets each year and spend $33 billion on weight loss products. You can find thousands of “secrets to menopause weight loss” and “special menopause diet” ads promising the oh-so-sought-after drop in weight. Yet, the last thing you need is a specialized diet. The fact is that there is no clear evidence that indicates that menopausal women should eat a specific diet or stay away from certain foods or entire food groups. Ironically, if weight loss is your ultimate goal, dieting can be your worst enemy. Multiple studies have shown that “more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained.” Thus, the harm you will inflict by starting yet another diet far outweighs the weight loss, which is more than likely temporary (just keeping it real). The possibility of weight gain is, however, not the worst about dieting. A vast amount of research is available that clearly shows both long-term physical and psychological effects of excessive calorie and nutrient restrictions.
The more you diet, the higher your risk of gaining weight in the future.
When I share this fact, most people first look at me in disbelieve. That can’t be correct, right? But it is! Dieting and weight loss cause a slowing of the resting expenditure (REE), which is the rate at which you burn calories while resting. This fact is crucial because REE accounts for 60-75% of the calories you burn every day. When it drops, your body naturally will burn fewer calories, which makes it more challenging to lose weight without further restriction calories, which at some point becomes impossible. Say hello to the dreaded weight plateau. You can’t continue eating less and less, and even if you do, your body will adapt and lower the REE further. It’s a vicious cycle, and the scariest thing about it is that dieting might permanently lower REE without readjusting it even if you gain weight later. That is the reason why diets can permanently alter your body’s delicate energy expenditure system. As a result, even one intentional weight loss episode is associated with a doubled risk of becoming overweight.
Diets, in general, can lead to preoccupation with eating and unhealthy eating behaviors, and diets that are very restrictive can trigger periods of binging. For example, in women over 65, strict dieting, fasting, and binge eating all tripled while purging quadrupled; women aged 45-64 are more likely to binge and feel guilty about food than younger women. In addition, chronic dieting is associated with poorer psychological health, depression, increased stress, and lowered self-esteem. It can also lead to eating disorders.
Good versus Bad Foods
Let's be honest! How often do you think that a specific type of food is bad? I still do, and it's something that I constantly try to improve. And it’s no wonder. We are constantly bombarded with messages that certain foods are good or bad, which is the biggest accomplishment of the multibillion-dollar diet industry. Yes, I said billions - the weight loss industry is worth $72 billion!!! If we feel bad about certain foods, we are more likely to buy supplements or programs that promise us the solution. At the core of every diet is the emphasis on what qualifies a food as “good” or “bad.” Even programs that lure you in by saying, “are you ready to stop dieting?” are, in essence, a diet. They are just more clever and not so obvious about it. Any program that demonizes certain foods and puts other foods on a pedestal is a diet. The good news is that there is no such thing as bad food!!
Before starting a new diet or workout regimen, ask yourself one essential question: is it sustainable?
If it’s not, don’t do it!! You are doomed to fail and repeat the cycle over and over. As Abby Langer said: “It’s not rocket science: if you lose weight on a restrictive diet and then start eating your normal diet, you’re going to regain the weight you lost.”
So how do you lose weight?
First, you stop focusing on weight loss being your primary objective. What happens when you reach your “goal weight?” Do you stop what you are doing? And then what? Your goals have to be based on something other than just weight. A new study revealed that a weight-neutral approach (one not based on weight loss) was more successful at improving health outcomes than a weight-centric approach. The researcher of this study also highlighted the importance of fitness versus weight loss “Compared head-to-head, the magnitude of benefit was far greater from improving fitness than from losing weight,” Dr. Gaesser.
I believe that the key to long-lasting health behavior changes, you must find joy in it. It has to be a lifestyle that works for YOU, not anyone else. A healthy lifestyle should include movement that is FUN and food that you enjoy eating and that nourishes your body. Forcing yourself through a workout routine or diet that you think you should do is not sustainable.
Here are two essential questions:
- What type of movement do you enjoy?
- What foods bring you joy and are nourishing for your body?
A few tips:
- Stop dieting
- Include more movement in your day
- Focus on nutrient-rich foods rather than how many calories are in it
- Have a positive attitude about food and movement
My motto has always been, “Make working out fun, and the rest will come.” I feel the same about food. When you stop focusing on weight loss and transfer your energy to finding the fun and joy in food and activity, the results will come.