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Today, I want to have a candid conversation about a topic that’s close to my heart as a licensed nutritionist specializing in helping women find food freedom and improve their body image: the pitfalls of long-term dieting. Read on to learn how prolonged restrictive dieting can have some serious downsides that might surprise you (both mentally and physically).
When diet plans are created, they have one goal in mind: quick weight loss. Losing weight quickly will keep someone interested and help them believe that 1. they are becoming healthier (but we now know that losing weight does not equate “health” and 2. the diet is “working”, regardless of how the diet is impacting their health otherwise.
When the weight ultimately comes back (because the diet is not sustainable), it is believed to be the person’s fault, rather than the diet’s, thus making this person a perfect candidate for the marketing of yet another diet. The diet industry keeps our shame and guilt levels HIGH so that we will keep coming back for more (this is called the diet cycle).
Diets might seem like a quick path to weight loss and maybe your doctor has told you that you “have to lose weight” to improve your health or you feel like your body image will finally improve once you lose 20 pounds. Most of us love the idea of following rules. We crave boundaries, rules, and someone telling us what the heck to do because WE feel out of control (hello anxiety, depression, and burn out!). Diets appeal to us because of all of these things! The new diet that came across your IG feed says, if you avoid this food group, follow this detox plan, and do this series of exercises for 60 days, you will finally be ____ (happy, worthy, desirable, empowered, at peace…). Unfortunately, studies have shown that restrictive diets can lead to inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals  – the IG ad didn’t mention THAT, did it?? These deficiencies could lead to more health concerns in the future (not to mention more cravings for certain foods!). Remember, your body needs a variety of nutrients to function optimally.
Get ready for the biggest irony of dieting: we diet and restrict to lose weight, but it could have the opposite effect on your body. Ever heard of “metabolic slowdown”? Well, it’s real, and it often accompanies long-term dieting. When you consistently consume fewer calories, avoid meals, push through hunger, etc, your body adapts by slowing down your resting metabolic rate . That means you burn fewer calories at rest, making it easier to regain weight when you return to your regular eating habits.
Chronic dieting can mess with your hormones – something that I work with clients on all the time. It affects those hormones that regulate hunger and fullness (like leptin and ghrelin) and others related to stress and reproductive health (such as cortisol and sex hormones) . These hormonal imbalances can lead to cravings, mood swings, and even disruptions in your menstrual cycle – thus perpetuating the diet cycle and causing more health issues for many people.
It’s not just your physical health that takes a hit. Chronic dieting can be emotionally taxing. It’s associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders . The constant cycle of restriction and indulgence can lead to feelings of guilt and frustration. Binge eating is extremely common for those who diet and this can be an extremely difficult pattern to break out of. Dieting often ends up taking up a huge amount of your brain space, altering how you go about your day to day life.
Ah, the infamous “yo-yo dieting.” Many people who embark on long-term dieting end up on this rollercoaster ride. Weight cycling (losing and gaining weight over and over again) can increase the risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders, which is ironic as weight loss is almost always recommended to those who struggle with altered blood sugar, cholesterol, and more (there are other ways to improve these health markers!) .
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, long-term dieting can lead to a very strained relationship with food. Fear, guilt, and obsession can replace the joy and satisfaction that should come from nourishing your body . Many people do not believe that finding peace and balance with food is possible for them, but it’s my job to teach you how that is anything but the truth!
So, what’s the takeaway here? It’s crucial to prioritize a sustainable, balanced approach over extreme diets that promise quick fixes. If you see any offer that seems to be “to good to be true,” it probably is. Remember, the Diet Industry is worth $76 billion: they know how to market and manipulate you based on your guilt and shame. Your health and happiness are worth exploring other, safer, sustainstable options!
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re considering making changes to your eating habits, consider consulting with a licensed professional. They can help you create a personalized and health-conscious approach to nutrition that suits your unique needs and goals.