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The Dangers of Dieting on Physical & Mental Health
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A deep dive on how dieting impacts your physical and mental health and why you may want to rethink your next diet 

a girl wondering about the dangers of dieting on physical and mental health

As the new year begins you may notice when you open your social media or browse the internet that you are bombarded by messages of weight loss and new diet products guaranteed to make you feel your best. You may walk into the mall and see advertisements and books on display touting that they have the “secret” to weight loss and that their diet program is the solution to all your problems. 

We live in a society that places a premium on physical appearance and the pursuit of the perfect body has become a cultural obsession. The allure of quick fixes and fad diets has led many individuals down the path of restrictive eating with the misguided belief that shedding pounds equates to achieving happiness and self-worth. Thousands of dollars are thrown towards the diet industry which is booming at an estimated $254 billion worldwide.  

Although some of the diets you see may offer short term success, studies show that 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost within 1 to 5 years. This is not the fault of the person, but the diet. Most diets are over restrictive, limit social eating, and create obsession over “good” and “bad” foods. 

Beneath the surface of seemingly harmless dieting lies a myriad of dangers that can have profound and lasting effects on both physical and mental well-being. If dieting is causing harm, why are we still drawn to it? What is going on in our bodies when we diet? This blog post will delve into those questions, encourage you to challenge the diet mindset, and recommend ways to break free from dieting. 

Why Do We Diet? 

We live in a society that is steeped in diet culture where restriction and pursuit of thinness are the norm. Diet culture is a system that values thinness and equates it to success, happiness, and healthiness. There is a strong belief that we should be able to control our bodies based on what we eat, which is not always true. Diet culture upholds that there are good and bad foods and good and bad bodies and creates a lot of shame and mistrust in ourselves. To read more about diet culture check out this great article. 

The Dangers of Dieting on Physical Health

Dieting is not harmless and can impact nutritional status, our metabolism, and potentially our risk for chronic disease.  

1. The Potential for Poor Nutrition

One of the flaws of fad diets is their tendency to neglect the importance of balanced nutrition. It is practically impossible to meet all your nutritional needs on an extremely low-calorie diet. Many fad diets advocate for the exclusion of entire food groups, often leading to nutritional deficiencies that can have serious consequences for overall health. 

For instance, low-carbohydrate diets may leave individuals lacking essential vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Many diets also place soulful foods off limits. These are foods that make our souls and taste buds sing and are a vital component of our relationship with food.  

2. Dieting Impacts Our Metabolism

Dieting, particularly in its more extreme forms, can have profound effects on the body’s metabolism. One study completed on The Biggest Loser TV series found that 6 years after the show the majority of the contestants regained the weight they had lost. Interestingly enough, the contestants resting metabolic rate was 3-5% lower than controls who had not lost weight. 

This is theorized to be due to metabolic adaptation which is thought to occur when the body is subjected to prolonged periods of calorie restriction. In these situations, the body responds by slowing down its metabolic rate as a survival mechanism. This adaptive response makes it increasingly challenging for individuals to lose weight and can contribute to the all-too-familiar phenomenon of yo-yo dieting. 

Another theory is that losing weight is thought to increase our hunger hormone, ghrelin, resulting in hunger ramping up. This often leads to individuals consuming food above and beyond their baseline intake.  

3. Weight Cycling May Impact Health Outcomes

Yo-yo dieting, characterized by the cyclical pattern of weight loss and regain, not only puts a strain on the body but is also potentially associated with an increased risk of developing heart or metabolic issues such as insulin resistance, increased blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol. The body’s constant adjustment to fluctuations in caloric intake can disrupt the delicate balance that regulates metabolism, leading to long-term consequences for overall health. 

The Dangers of Dieting on Mental Health  

The relentless pursuit of an idealized body can give rise to a host of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. 

1. Dieting Creates a Difficult Relationship with Food

Many individuals embark on diets with the hope that achieving a certain weight will bring about happiness and self-acceptance. However, the reality is often far from this. The constant focus on restrictive eating and the fear of deviating from a prescribed diet plan can create a toxic relationship with food, leading to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy preoccupation with body image and food.  

2. Dieting can Lead to Social Isolation and Low Self-Esteem

Social occasions centered around food can become a source of stress for individuals on restrictive diets. The fear of deviating from the prescribed meal plan may lead to isolation from social events, affecting relationships and overall quality of life. The psychological strain of constantly monitoring and restricting food intake can create a negative feedback loop, reinforcing the idea that one’s worth is tied to their ability to adhere to dietary restrictions.

3. Dieting is The Strongest Predictor for the Development of Eating Disorders

Studies show that 35% of dieters progress to disordered eating and 20-25% of those individuals go on to develop eating disorders. Diets are not harmless and for many are the beginning of a long-standing pattern of disordered eating.  

A Shift Towards Intuitive Eating 

As the dangers of dieting become increasingly evident, there is a growing movement towards embracing that there is not one ideal body size, and that eating is not one size fits all. At Health Stand we focus on eating FULLY in which we advocate for the inclusion of both healthful and soulful foods. We try to focus on wellbeing over the number on the scale. 

Intuitive eating, another alternative to traditional dieting, encourages individuals to listen to their bodies’ natural hunger and fullness cues. Rather than adhering to rigid meal plans, intuitive eating promotes a balanced and flexible approach to food, fostering a healthier relationship with eating. It encourages the individual to turn inwards and become aware of their body’s unique signals and needs. This approach emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion, recognizing that true well-being goes beyond external appearances. 

It is essential to shift the focus from unrealistic beauty standards and quick fixes to a more holistic approach that prioritizes well-being, self-acceptance, and a healthy relationship with food. Working with a skilled intuitive eating dietitian can help you in your journey of moving towards becoming an intuitive eater and taking a more sustainable and fulfilling approach to health that goes beyond the scale. 

Looking to heal your relationship with food and your body? Our experienced team of compassionate nutritionists can help.

Looking to ditch dieting for good, make peace with food and your body, and honor your health and tastebuds without feeling guilt or shame? You’ve come to the right place! At Health Stand we embrace a balanced eating approach. Learn more about our in-person and online nutrition counselling services or contact us at the button below to see how we can help.

See what hundreds of people just like you have to say about our qualified team of dietitians.

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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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