As a dietitian, I have commonly seen and heard people starting diets, ending diets, “cheating” on their diets, starting new
diets, and more.
Diets, yes, can help people lose weight for a temporary time. But, at an extreme, diets can set people up for long-term disordered eating habits
and a host of other challenges.
I would personally like to see people focusing more on creating healthy lifestyle habits and focusing less on dieting. Here’s why.
The dangers of dieting
- Diets don’t work!
- Dieting can set you up for binge eating and other eating disorder behaviors.
- Diets teach you to be out of touch with your hunger cues.
- Diets are often nutritionally inadequate or even dangerous.
- Dieting doesn’t teach you how to feed yourself for the long run.
- Diets are often based on self-disgust and punishment.
- It can be harmful to lose and regain weight repeatedly when dieting.
- Diets can encourage you to think of food as “good” or “bad.”
- Diet gurus try to convince you that being deprived makes you better than others.
- Many diets can lead you to put your life on hold.
Recently, a group of dietitians from Eating Recovery Center, including myself, talked to high-school girls about the numerous physical and psychological consequences of dieting — and how dieting can even lead to eating disordered behaviors
. We gave a presentation discussing the “Dangers of Dieting” to five Ursuline Academy health classes. During this presentation we explained our concerns and the many complications associated with popular diets.
During our talk, the girls engaged in a just-for-fun “pop quiz” and we asked them to decipher whether messages related to food were true or false. We shared the following true/false statements with them:
- Carbohydrates make you gain weight (False)
- Dietary fats can be good for you (True)
- Eating after 6 p.m. will make you gain weight quicker (False)
- Most popular weight-loss diets are based on sound, scientific principles (False)
- Dieting lowers your metabolism (True)
Many of the girls were surprised to learn that carbohydrates can be a healthy part of a daily lifestyle, that dietary fats are important for brain and hormone development and that it is not necessary to stop eating after a certain time of day. The messages they had heard through the media prompted them to believe otherwise.
Moderation in eating, not extremes
In an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle, we must encourage our sons and daughters to be mindful of nutrition and their food-related habits. We can teach them to incorporate balance, variety, moderation, and flexibility into their food habits. And, adults are wise to practice these healthier eating habits, too!
To promote healthy and mindful eating behaviors
, we encouraged the high-schoolers to practice the following habits:
- Learn to sense and follow their body’s hunger and fullness cues
- Choose from a wide variety of foods
- Be aware of and enjoy the taste of food
We also shared the many benefits that come with following these healthy, well-balanced nutrition principles. By avoiding dieting, we believe that young people will experience a number of positive benefits for life, such as:
- Increased feelings of self-empowerment
- Trust of their bodies and its signals
- A peaceful relationship with food
- Being in touch with their bodies, thoughts and feelings
- A life of freedom from dieting and eating disordered behaviors
Eating healthy isn’t about perfection. Some days you may eat more and other days you may eat less. Some days you may celebrate with decadent foods because the occasion calls for it and other days you may eat mainly plant based foods. And that’s okay. There’s room got every type of food in a balanced lifestyle. It’s all about creating healthy habits for a lifetime and having the freedom to say both yes to food and no to food as your listen to your body’s needs and desires.
Learn more about eating disorder treatment options at Eating Recovery Center
Jennifer Lewis is a Registered Dietitian with Eating Recovery Center, Dallas.