Facts About Dieting
Most people go on a "diet" because they think they are overweight. However, one out of five women in Ontario between the ages of 20 and 34 are actually underweight. Diets have become common practice in our culture, where people are made to believe they will be more healthy if they just lose a few pounds. The truth is, 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will sooner or later gain it back.
Diets don't work. People who go on a diet where they eat very little will most likely lose weight. But the risks are serious. Within a few days, the body knows it is not well fed and it begins to save energy by lowering the rate at which it burns energy (metabolism). When a person begins to eat normally again, the body stores a greater amount of the food energy eaten because it is not burning as much energy, and this results in weight gain. When the weight is re-gained, the person often feels like a failure for not losing enough weight or may feel discouraged for not keeping the weight off. This is why diets don't work.
Diets for weight loss can lead to:
- low self-esteem
- more weight gain due to lowered metabolism
- emotional distress
As well, there are health risks to losing and then gaining weight over and over again, also known as the "yo-yo" effect. The risk of dying from heart disease is 70% higher in those with weights that "yo-yo" up and down than in those whose weight remains stable. This means that the "yo-yo" effect alone can be harmful to health.
What Really Happens On A Diet
Diets do not just produce weight loss. Many other things happen in the body when energy intake is restricted. Going on a diet to lose weight by skipping meals or severely restricting calories, the rate at which the body burns energy is decreased, muscle tissue can be lost, and rebound cravings for high fat and high sugar items can lead to high calorie snacking. When starchy foods, such as bread, rice, and other grain products, are cut out, the body loses the best source of fibre and energy. When meats are cut out, the body may be at risk of having low iron stores, and energy from meals may not last as long due to low protein intake. When the purpose of a diet is to be slim, often the slimness is brief - 95% of dieters re-gain the weight and suffer "yo-yo" cycling. Rapid weight loss often happens at the start of a low calorie diet. What this means is that the body is losing water and muscle. It is not possible for the body to burn fat tissue at a fast rate. Although the number on the scale may go down, the body may be losing muscle instead of fat. The results of any type of diet are often feeling tired, having cravings, feeling deprived and hungry, and guilt. None of these things are healthy.
Often you will see reliable nutrition information printed beside stories of weight loss by drastic means - surgery, liquid diets, or herbal supplements. Having a healthy weight does not need to cost extra money for miracle products or special "diet" foods. You may already be at a healthy weight even if you think you need to lose a few pounds. A restrictive diet for someone with a healthy weight may cause more harm than help.
New Year's Resolution
Forget and throw away all the numbers that do not matter - weight and what the scale shows. Your weight on the scale is not the only measure of your health. Enjoy healthy eating and active living by fitting in foods and activities that you enjoy.
Healthy eating means:
- including food from Canada's Food Guide
- eating when you are hungry
- stopping when you are full
- enjoying all types of foods
For more information on healthy eating, effects of dieting, and healthy weights, contact the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit's Health Action Line at 1-800-660-5853 or 613-345-5685 and ask to speak to a Registered Dietitian.
Try not to feel guilty for eating and enjoying your favorite foods. With regular physical activity and other healthy lifestyle habits, your own healthy weight will fall into place.
Some information adapted from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre pamphlet "Dieting and Weight-Loss: Fact and Fiction".