Did you know…Dieting is a stress on the body?
This is such a hot topic for me because I was a chronic dieter for 20 years of my life and I want to help as many people as possible avoid this emotional and physical roller coaster that can ultimately turn into greater illness in the long run. Starting from the age of about 14 (when I quickly added about 20 pounds to my 5 foot frame in high school), I counted calories, fat, protein, carbs, pounds gained, pounds lost, calories burned, time in the gym. My life was full of constant calculations. The positive side was that it sparked my interest in nutrition and fitness, which ultimately got me here today. The downside is that I didn’t know how much stress my body was under and that all of that dieting was actually making me sick (in my case, migraines).
According to The Cortisol Connection by Shawn Talbott, approximately 50-60% of the Western population is actively dieting. About 15 years ago, I heard that the top searched word online was “Diet” (the second word was “porn”, FYI!). Needless to say, diets and dieting is a popular topic.
But regardless of why you diet (society’s focus on appearance, emotional triggers, following trends or even for legitimate health reasons), the bottom line is that dieting (as I define as the imbalanced consumption of nutrients in order to obtain quick weight loss) is trouble and when done long term (which most are, even if they are on and off), is a form of chronic stress.
Simply put, any time you deprive your body of something it needs to function, it will go into a state of stress. Here are some highlights to note:
- low calorie diets: Restricting calories puts your body into shock, period. Another problem here is that when people are restricting calories, they’re often choosing diet foods which often contain toxic substances like aspartame. Let me put it this way: I’d rather you eat a burger than anything that contains aspartame.
- low fat diets: Your body needs fat to function! It provides energy, keeps you warm, is a source of nutrients. It protects vital organs, transports nutrients, and plays a role in healthy skin, growth, metabolism, immune function and reproduction. It’s also needed to create hormones, so if you are someone dealing with hormone imbalance or want to avoid it in the future, I suggest you embrace fat in a moderate and healthy way before you are wishing you chose butter a bit more often.
- low carb diets: If you restrict carbohydrates, you’re depriving your brain of the nutrients it needs to function (ever felt forgetful or lack focus when you’re dieting?!). And your brain is where it all starts. You want to do a bicep curl? It starts in your brain. You want to smile at someone from across the room? It starts in your brain. Your brain uses carbohydrates as its sole source of energy to make those movements happen.
- high protein diets: If you eat too much protein, you are putting excessive pressure on your digestive system (including your liver) to metabolize food. Sure, some people aren’t getting enough protein but so many are getting too much, and often in a form like a protein bar or powders, some of which have other additives, which are equally hard to digest, putting additional stress on the body.
- self-judgement and negative self-talk: Most of the time, those on diets are judging themselves for not looking a certain way. Studies have shown that this negative talk is also a stress on the body, causing the cascade of stress hormones to run through your body.
A few general rules I give to my clients who are getting off the dieting wagon:
- Stop counting: calories, fat, pounds, protein, and anything else that is causing you to look at your health on a micro scale. If you want to lose weight, pick an outfit you love and try it on every week or month (do NOT try it on every day!) until you feel like you can rock that outfit!
- Butter is your friend. Margarine is not. Eat foods that occur naturally (ie/butter) and if that means yogurt with 10% fat, then eat that yogurt with 10% fat. Do NOT eat diet foods, and stay away from ‘low calorie sugars’ like aspartame, Sweet n Low or Splenda!
- Avoid eating until you’re full. We’re supposed to be eating so that we can fuel our bodies for energy. When you overeat, you put excessive work on your digestive system, including your liver, which already has over 500 functions! Thus, the utter exhaustion after a big meal.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know…this is such a loaded statement but it is key. The mind games you play when dieting are just as detrimental to your health and weight loss success. Why? Because your negative thoughts cause the exact same stress response in your body as when you are starving your body of necessary nutrients or under any other kind of emotional stress. I swear to you, when I stopped caring so much about how many calories and fat I was eating and less about what my ass looked like in my jeans, my body changed. My workout changed, the pain and inflammation in my body changed, my whole life changed because my life was no longer about counting.