The Dangers of Dieting

Pretty much everyone has heard of, or maybe even tried, a fad diet. Whether you were all about Atkins, keep a secret Pinterest board of Keto-friendly Instant Pot recipes, maintain a steady rotation of one-pot Paleo lunches, or tried the Whole30 diet for yourself, trendy meal plans that purport to jumpstart your metabolism and make you feel amazing may seem like a win-win. A study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association in 1992 found that 46% of nine to eleven year olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and that 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets. It would not be surprising if the rates have increased over the years, especially since that has been the trend of the dieting industry. In 1980 the dieting industry was a $10 billion dollar industry. In 1991 it was reported to be a $50 billion dollar industry, and it just keeps growing. There are many reasons for concern over diets that require people to heavily restrict caloric intake or cut out certain foods altogether, and the implications can affect more than just your waist size. Though not the case for all dieters, for people who are genetically predisposed to eating disorders, dieting can be really dangerous. For those who are not at risk for an eating disorder, dieting still is not healthy.

Why do people diet?

Often, the decision to diet is rooted in harmful social attitudes about body size, weight, and shape. Consider the idea of a “healthy weight,” a term that implies that a weight itself can be healthy or unhealthy, but this is just a perception and therefore is not true. An individual can be of “normal weight” and still be unhealthy. For example, they could be deficient in vitamins, have chronic medical conditions or have an untreated mental health disorder. On the other hand, an individual can be overweight but exercise and maintain a healthy balance and have no medical complications or nutritional deficits. Instead of having a size-diverse attitude about bodies, we have an attitude that skinny is good and fat is bad.

Dieting linked to mental health

Because of our culture’s frequent insistence that bodies can only be healthy or “good” at a certain weight or size, many professionals often see dieting as an indication that a person may be dealing with broader mental health issues: trauma, anxiety, depression, or general insecurities. In fact, eating disorders are often initiated from these underlying triggers. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. The solution to a person being concerned or unhappy with their body size, shape, or weight, and going on a diet in response, is to make a U-turn and practice accepting their body and its current size, shape, and weight and to treat it really well with proper nutrition and movement without the intent of changing it. There are many body positivity resources and dieticians that can help you get on the right track to gain back your confidence and learn how to properly treat your body without engaging in risky dieting behaviors or weight loss programs. Taking a holistic approach to moving your body in a way that feels good and consuming foods that provide adequate nutrients and vitamins is a more sustainable way to living a healthier life rather that engaging in dieting and potential unhealthy behaviors.

Adopting mindful eating

In order to get back in touch with hunger/fullness cues and to figure out what the body is craving, it is important to be mindful while eating. In our modern-day lives, many of us are rushing around and eating food on the run. Eating in this manner, most individuals do not pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, let alone the taste, texture, sight, and smell of their food. Staying fully aware of these aspects of food will enhance the experience of eating, and more enjoyment and satisfaction will be derived. Ask yourself the following questions throughout the day:

  • Where is my hunger/fullness level?
  • Am I enjoying this food?
  • What would make my eating experience more pleasurable in this moment?
  • Would I rather be eating something else?
  • I am staying present while I am eating, or is my mind wandering around?
  • What external things influenced my food choices today?
  • How can I reconnect to the internal signals my body is giving me?