Search “diet” or “how to lose weight” on Google and you’re bombarded with over 900 million results in half a second.
But “diets” are really what we call dieting now. Traditional diets have shape-shifted into wellness or health quests.
With a New Year, comes lots of new health advice. Some advocate embracing a novel, promising, “long-term solution” diet. Others advocate discarding the notion of dieting altogether, promoting the adoption of small, consistent “lifestyle changes.”
As a Non-Diet Nutritionist and Therapist, I am firmly against any way of eating with even a hint of diet culture. PS. that doesn’t mean I’m anti-people who want to lose weight.
Research corroborates that weight-loss endeavors fail for the majority. Whether camouflaged as a ‘lifestyle’ yet fundamentally endorsing weight loss, or overtly labeled as a diet, the statistics remain dismal. Alas, 80% of individuals who shed weight regain it (often with interest) within five years. But, let me assure you, I’m not here to rain on your parade, nor am I anti-weight loss. My stance is against the relentless pursuit of weight loss, having witnessed the dire repercussions firsthand, substantiated by copious research findings.
How to spot a diet in disguise
- You’re following a meal plan
- You’re eating clean
- You’re counting calories or macros
- You’ve cut out sugar, gluten, carbs
- Feeling guilty for skipping a workout
- You get to the end of the day and label it as a good or bad day of eating
- You eat based on what’s lowest calorie, healthiest, or might mean less weight gain
- Avoiding foods without an allergy or intolerance
- Saving up calories e.g. for a meal out
- You feel stressed, out of control, or might not eat if your safe foods aren’t available
- You plan cheat or splurge days/meals
A diet isn’t simply being on a plan or a programme.
I actually don’t call being on a diet “dieting.” I mostly call it restricting. That can be emotional, physical, or mental restriction.
What’s wrong with dieting or restriction?
You can of course do whatever you want with your body and health.
But dieting and restriction (BTW, they’re the same thing, right?) come at a cost. And usually, that cost isn’t clear until it’s too late, and it’s taken a big toll on your life.
The prevalence of diet culture becomes apparent when we examine various eating personas.
Does any of this resonate with you? If so, eschewing diets in favor of becoming an Intuitive Eater might serve you best. An Intuitive Eater bases choices on biological hunger cues without guilt or ethical quandaries, respecting both hunger and satiety signals.
Identifying diet culture is crucial. Several purported ‘health professionals’ masquerade as non-diet proponents while subtly peddling dieting and weight loss. Recognizing red-flag phrases like “lifestyle, not a diet,” categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ setting strict portion or nutrient limits, imposing timed eating windows, or endorsing detoxes and cleanses can unveil hidden diets.
Ultimately, if it resembles a diet, echoes like a diet, and smells like a diet, chances are it is a diet. Identifying these facets becomes imperative. Even if you’re inclined to abandon dieting, remnants of an unconscious diet mentality (termed Pseudo-dieting) might linger, making you susceptible to the diet trap.
Remember, this isn’t your fault; it’s the insidious culture we’re enmeshed in. Let’s join forces, exposing these proponents and enlightening the world about the futility of dieting. Together, we can herald the cessation of dieting and embrace intuitive eating.
For comprehensive guidance on ending diets and embarking on intuitive eating, explore my FREE download.
How many of these effects do you think would catch you by surprise?
The history of dieting
Originally, ‘diet’ simply referred to an individual’s regular food and drink intake – like a vegetarian diet or just one’s eating habits. Over time, however, the term has shifted to signify restriction.
The first well-known ‘diet’ was the ‘Banting’ diet in 1863, based on William Banting’s personal weight loss experiences. His book remained in print until as late as 2007. Since then, more than a thousand weight loss regimens have emerged, evolving the terminology.
The blatant, aggressive diets of the 90s, like the Atkins Diet, have now taken on subtler guises such as ‘clean eating,’ advocating ‘real foods,’ and even promoting eating habits to combat illnesses like COVID.
These are all facets of diet culture – glorifying weight loss and a ‘thin ideal’ while vilifying specific food choices and eating patterns.
14 side-effects of dieting + restriction
Any type of dieting and restriction have surprising side effects, including:
1. Slowed metabolism:
When the body experiences a caloric deficit, it adapts to survive by conserving energy.
This slowing of metabolism, termed adaptive thermogenesis, might persist for an extended duration in some individuals. It’s not merely about feeling sluggish but can also lead to disrupted digestive processes. The reduction in food intake can slow down digestion, resulting in discomfort like stomach aches, constipation, and even the formation of gallstones.
This is why gut health problems are so common in those struggling with disordered eating.
These complications underscore the body’s attempt to conserve energy, impacting various bodily functions beyond just weight management.
2. Overeating and binging
One of the paradoxical consequences of restriction is the desire for forbidden foods.
The very act of deeming certain foods off-limits can trigger a heightened reward response in the brain when these foods are eventually consumed. This phenomenon often leads to overeating or binge-eating episodes.
The psychological component here is significant; the idea of ‘last supper syndrome’ emerges, where there’s a compulsion to indulge excessively because it’s perceived as the final chance before restarting the diet.
3. Impaired hunger + fullness signals
Over time, this disconnection can persist, making it challenging to naturally recognize when to eat or stop eating, leading to a long-term struggle with regulating food intake.
Diets shift our reliance from internal hunger and satiety cues to external diet rules or meal timings. Continuously following external criteria can desensitize us to our body’s innate signals of hunger and fullness.
4. Risk of under-fueling
Adhering strictly to certain diets often leads to inadequate consumption of essential nutrients. This deficiency isn’t limited to calories alone but extends to vital vitamins and minerals. Micronutrient deficiencies resulting from restrictive diets can manifest in various ways, from muscle soreness and fatigue to disruptions in sleep patterns and overall health complications.
It’s a shame that something you start to make you healthier makes you less healthy, right?
5. Rebound weight gain
A prevalent outcome of many diets is the weight regained after initial loss. The body’s attempt to adapt to reduced calorie intake by slowing metabolism often leads to regaining weight at a faster pace when normal eating resumes. This weight gain might even surpass the initial weight, contributing to cycles of weight loss and regain, known as ‘yo-yo dieting.’
6. Food obsession
Diets can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food. The constant focus on food restriction can develop into obsessive thoughts about eating, planning meals, and categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
7. Decreased bone health
Restricted diets can lack essential nutrients crucial for bone health. Calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals often fall short in these regimens, putting individuals at risk of osteoporosis and increased susceptibility to bone fractures.
8. Losing your period
Calorie and food restriction can disrupt hormonal balance in women, leading to irregular or absent menstrual cycles. This disruption, called hypothalamic amenorrhea, can impact reproductive health and decrease bone density, posing long-term health risks.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is one of the most common side-effects of restriction – something I’ve helped many overcome with 1-1 nutrition therapy.
9. Loss of muscle mass
Restricting food can result in the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy. Loss of muscle mass not only affects physical strength but also decreases the body’s metabolic rate, making it more difficult to maintain weight loss in the long run.
10. Loss of connection to yourself and your innate cues
A Prolonged focus on external diet rules can create a disconnect between you and your natural bodily cues related to hunger, satisfaction, and overall well-being. This disconnection can lead to challenges in understanding and responding to genuine physical cues and needs.
11. Immune system problems
The nutrient deficiencies and stress that arise from restrictive diets can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Essential vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in supporting immune function, and their absence can compromise the body’s ability to fight off illness’ effectively.
12. Digestive problems
Abrupt changes in diet or severe restrictions can disrupt the gut microbiome and lead to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and irregular bowel movements. These issues often arise due to the sudden alteration in food types or the reduced intake of dietary fibres and essential nutrients necessary for proper digestive function.
13. Food overwhelm
Overemphasis on labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and strict adherence to dietary rules can create stress and anxiety around food choices.
The constant pressure to make ‘perfect’ food decisions can overwhelm individuals, impacting their relationship with food and causing distress during meal times.
14.Your worth becomes linked to food, eating, and body
Continuous involvement in diets can lead to a mindset where self-worth becomes intertwined with food choices and body appearance. This can lead to feelings of guilt or shame when deviating from diet rules, impacting mental health and self-esteem negatively.
Each of these effects highlights the complex and multifaceted repercussions of engaging in restrictive dieting practices.
EXPLORE HOW DIETING AND RESTRICTION HAVE IMPACTED YOU
I have a free worksheet to help you explore your relationship with food. Download it and start your journey to becoming a happier and more at-ease eater.