Health Consequences of Dieting
Welcome to my first health article for my new health section! I asked a whole bunch of you on Instagram about the sort of health topics you would like me to cover and I am so excited to get stuck into answering those questions and start discussions about health and well being.
Although nobody has asked me this directly I have decided to write my first post about one of the topics that comes up most on my recipes! The most common question that I get asked has to do with various ingredient swaps in my recipes due to food intolerances (I will write a post about food intolerance soon). The second most common question I get asked is about food swaps due to people believing certain ingredients in my recipes will make them fat! This is what I will be writing about today.
I love answering questions about my recipes and will always do my best to give alternatives and as much information as I can no matter what your food philosophy, whether I agree with it or not. However, an overwhelming amount of women are maybe too focused on their weight and I find this quite concerning.
For the most part being overweight or underweight can be traced back to one cause: eating junk. If you are overweight you eat high calorie density foods with little nutrition. You probably eat too much of it. If you are underweight (note: not eating disorder underweight, just naturally too thin) you are eating the same food but just very little of it. In both cases you are malnourished. There are of course many reasons as to why people eat too much or too little. Psychological aspects, your natural stress response as well as metabolism and certain diseases all play a part. These are the causes that need to be addressed and they will be different for everyone. You cannot modify the behaviour unless you understand the cause.
I believe that in many cases weight gain is the symptom and not the problem. But like with many other things in our lives today, we are trained to treat the symptoms and not the cause. Dieting may offer a temporary fix and produce amazing results that leave you feeling and looking your best but they are not sustainable in the long run. Diets never really work.
No matter what type of diet you choose to undertake, whether it is calorie restricting, some crazy mono diet where you only eat the same thing or restricting a food group like carbs, fats or proteins your brain will always interpret your diet in the same way: RESTRICTION. And restriction has consequences. I am going to outline some of these consequences down below.
- Binge Eating & Weight Gain
Eating is one of our most basic survival instincts. Screwing around with your basic survival mechanism is dangerous and counter-intuitive. In many cases food restriction of any kind will lead to binge eating. This is your brain’s natural response. It will force you to eat until you have regained all the calories you have lost and maybe just a little bit more for good measure. Many people will interpret this as a lack of will-power and feel guilty for not being able to stay in control but in reality you don’t have much choice about it because your brain is forcing you to eat. Your brain has interpreted your diet as starvation. Your body will always choose the path of least resistance and force you to eat everything you shouldn’t because it’s going to get the job done fastest and easiest. This is why when you go on a binge you will eat high calorie greasy fatty and sugary food because nothing else will satisfy. Unfortunately, these are also the foods that will make you gain weight the fastest but your body does not care about that.
There have been many studies documenting recovering anorexics that will eat and eat and not stop eating. They can eat in excess of 10,000 calories per day and still not feel full. In some cases it becomes necessary for these people to have their stomach pumped in the hospital since their stomach and digestive system is physically incapable of holding and digesting the volume of food they are consuming. Some recoverers go on to become “professional binge eaters” and develop Binge Eating Syndrome. This is where people regularly engage in binge eating behaviour, hoard and hide food and consequently become obese and depressed.
Your binge eating behaviours may not be so extreme or dangerous but the psychology behind it is the same, setting you up for a viscous cycle of yoyo dieting, binge eating and weight gain.
- Metabolic Damage
Every time you put yourself on a diet your metabolism slows by 5- 10% to adjust to the lower intake of food. This means that when you come off your diet, your metabolism is literally slower than what it was to begin with and you will gain an extra 5- 10% on top of the weight you started off with. A life time of yoyo dieting means you are increasing the rate at which your metabolism slows over time and slowly gaining more weight as you go. Slowing your metabolism not only makes you gain weight that becomes harder to lose but also leads to “Metabolic Syndrome” which is a combination of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. These of course are pre curses to chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
- Eating Disorders
I am sure you have heard that eating disorders are not about the food but about the control. I never understood this until I did a little bit more research into Anorexia and other eating disorders. Though I don’t know a lot about eating disorders I do know that often times the trigger has little to do with food and a lot more to do with psychology. Many people hide behind their eating disorders so that they do not have to deal with the pain of what their issues really are. Maybe it has been abuse, neglect, abandonment, a broken heart or simply being labelled as fat. The action of calorie counting and portion control can give off a huge sense of control that can become obsessive and addictive. The obsession is so powerful that it leaves little room for any other thought or emotion. Giving up on an eating disorder means allowing more room for the thoughts and emotions people are trying to avoid. For many people an eating disorder is preferable to dealing with their real issues so they use it as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately many women enter into an eating disorder being fully aware of their actions (I was shocked at how many pro-anorexic communities there are online) however, many eating disorders start with an innocent diet to help shed a few extra kilos. Women or young girls that are susceptible to obsessive thinking and have issues in their life ( lets face it, who doesn’t?) can become hooked on the new found sense of control and freedom that extreme dieting and calorie counting can give. Before they know it, it has gone too far.
- Hormonal Imbalances
Dieting and restricting can lead to a whole host of hormonal imbalances. We have already discussed that dieting can lead to metabolic damage. Your metabolism is controlled by your thyroid so there is no surprise that dieting and restriction can lead to thyroid problems. There have been studies that have linked low carb diets to hypothyroidism (slow thyroid) which is the most common type of thyroid issue.
Dieting has also been linked to increased levels of cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress. Increased cortisol levels have been linked to weight gain, especially around your mid section, heart disease and diabetes as well as other inflammatory disease like arthritis.
Dieting and extreme exercise can lead to amenorrhea (loss of period) in younger women in particular. When your body is not getting the nutrients it needs it will start to shut off systems that are not necessarily needed for survival and your reproductive system is one of the first to go. This can lead to fertility issues later in life as well as other hormonal imbalances such as PCOS.
- Malnutrition and Cravings
Dieting leads to malnutrition. I am sure this does not come as a surprise. Restricting the amount of food your body needs means you are also restricting the nutrients it is getting. If you cut out a food group all together (like carbs for example) you are missing out on the specific nutrients that only that food group can give. Try as you like to get them through other means you will struggle and most likely fail. When you are deprived of certain nutrients and are not eating wholesome nourishing food you are more likely to over eat. Your body tells you to keep eating until it feels like it can extract the nutrients it needs (once again leading to weight gain). You will most likely crave high calorie foods because your body will choose the path of least resistance. When you eat a wholesome diet full of a vast array of micronutrients your cravings disappear. You become more in tune with what your body actually needs to eat and feed it accordingly.
If you need to lose weight, consider quitting dieting all together. Instead focus on understanding the reasons you are overweight to begin with and address them. Choose a lifestyle that is healthy and sustainable. One that is going to give you the nutrients your body needs without deprivation or restriction. Slowly begin to make changes in the right direction. It takes time and effort and it may even take a long time before you see any significant weight loss. Make health your focus, not your weight. As your body begins to balance out you will become more in tune with what your body needs from you. I would also like you to not fear my recipes for fear of weight gain. All of my recipes are loaded with essential nutrients that your body needs and can put to good use regardless of the amount of calories, protein, fats or carbs in each. As long as you are not intolerant to any of the ingredients I have used, my recipes are all health promoting and delicious. These are the foods that helped me regain my health (yes, all the desserts!) and I am sure it can do the same for you too!