Most diets as we know them are most commonly understood as calorie-restricted diets for the goal of weight loss.
Many kinds of diet, meal plans, and detoxes claim to help you lose weight fast. This implies that your weight is the only problem and so this is what you focus on…
…losing weight with a calorie-restricted diet and or exercise, and the faster you can do it, the better.
With all of this in mind, it is no wonder that many perceive “thinness” as a sign of good health. And ultimately spend years yo-yo dieting through methods that are challenging to maintain.
How many diets, meal plans, and detoxes have you tried in the quest for weight loss or better health? More importantly, how has that served you so far?
The problem with a weight loss goal
When we address our weight as the primary problem, we inadvertently attach our self-worth to a number. What we weigh, how our clothes fit and our size become the measure of our happiness and fulfillment.
Constantly evaluating ourselves based on these metrics can lead to a distorted body image. This preoccupation with weight can act as a catalyst for unhealthy eating habits.
The pressure to conform to societal ideals may drive us to extreme measures, such as crash diets or restrictive eating patterns, in the pursuit of rapid weight loss.
Unfortunately, these strategies often prove unsustainable and can have detrimental effects on both our physical and mental well-being.
It's this focus right here that makes the concept of dieting bad for your health.
Dieting made me sick
In my own personal experience, calorie restriction led me to poorer health. I had little knowledge when it came to nutrition and my eating habits became disordered. All I cared about was smaller portion sizes and the number of calories I consumed per day.
I did not consider the quality of the food I consumed, or my state of health to begin with.
Whilst I did lose weight, I noticed I was unwell more often. My hair was thinning, my nails were brittle and my gut symptoms had me in and out of hospital.
I was also completely unaware of the effects that long-term calorie restriction was having on my hormones.
Once I started paying attention to my symptoms I questioned if there was something I was missing. How could I be fitter than ever yet sicker and more stressed than I had ever been?
I realise now that reducing my calorie intake reduced my vitamin and mineral intake too. What's more, I was barely meeting my nutrient requirements in the first place.
Reducing the total amount of food I was consuming wasn't making me healthier. It was reducing my body's army of antioxidants and my gut diversity.
Considering I was trying to weight train 5 times per week, it is no surprise that this impacted my physical and mental health.
My immune system was burning out as a result of eating less and moving more.
What I know today
Calorie restriction for weight loss teaches us how to eat less not how to eat better.
Studies have shown our bodies thrive when they receive the nutrients they need and no more. What this means is eating enough. Not too much, not too little.
Being mindful of our calorie needs can be helpful in avoiding excessive calorie consumption. However, it is the quality of the food we consume that makes a difference to our overall health.
For example, our antioxidant capacity is essential for our body's ability to fight disease. Without essential antioxidants, we can become sick.
This is why more recent dietary advice points to consuming whole foods, the colours of the rainbow. This gives us a better chance of meeting our nutrient requirements for basic health. A wide variety of foods also helps to provide us with additional nutrients for optimal health.
If your health is what is important to you, then focus on quality foods over quantity.
Why dieting is bad for your health - Summary
Diet foods and low-calorie snacks often contain little nutrient value and zero antioxidant effects. In fact, processed foods like this can overload the body with chemicals and have negative effects on health.
The problem with most diets is they don't address nutrient intake. Many focus on the restriction of food groups entirely.
Provided your diet meets your nutrient requirements, then yes, restricting calories can help you shed excess weight.
But! If your diet is limited to low-nutrient value foods, to begin with, simply reducing the amount you eat is unlikely to improve your health.
Ultimately, a calorie-restricted diet high in antioxidants is the goal for better health.
The good news is, that there is plenty you can do to improve the overall quality of your diet. This in turn will have positive effects on your health, immune system, and your weight.
Next week, I will be sharing more about the effects of a poor-quality diet on weight and health so stay tuned to find out more.