The Problem with Dieting

When you hear the word diet, what do you think of? Does the word remind you of various strategies to lose weight? Although Oxford dictionary has multiple definitions of the term, diet is initially defined as the types of food that one eats1.

Unfortunately, the word “diet” has become tainted due to the weight loss industry and diet culture in general.  Considering the amount of marketing products that use this term to describe variations of foods low in calories, it makes sense why diet has lost its initial meaning. When most individuals use the word diet, they are referring to a specific way of eating with an end goal of losing weight. Of course there are cases where certain dietary recommendations are needed, such as individuals with medical conditions – for example, dietary changes to control diabetes. However, there is a misunderstanding with the term diet, since it’s intended meaning is often lost due to how society typically defines it.

The type of diets that we are referring to here are the ones known as fad diets, that is, any short-term methods used to instil change in eating behaviours in the hopes of losing weight. These diets are often harmful and can lead to potential health problems in the future2. Due to the unsustainable nature of fad diets, individuals often regress back to old eating patterns once the goal weight is reached, defeating their purpose of starting the diet in the first place.

A common category that exists among fad diets are those that focus on a reduction in caloric intake. The less calories eaten per day, the more difficult it is to reach your nutrient needs2.  By neglecting meals, diets that reduce caloric intake run the risk of putting your body into a state of starvation. By putting your body in starvation mode, this acts to lower your metabolism with the intention of conserving energy3.

There are many diets that eliminate or significantly decrease consumption of certain macronutrients, a common example being carbohydrates. Some examples of low carbohydrate diets are the Atkins Diet, the Zone Diet, Sugar Busters and Protein Power, and the Ketogenic Diet2. A big misconception in social media is how carbohydrates are bad for you. Carbohydrates are full of B vitamins, as well as fibre. Adding fibre to your diet will help with feeling satiated, so eliminating this food group is certainly not a good idea. Carbohydrates are also our brains only source of energy, and it cannot be stored so it requires a sufficient supply to keep you going throughout the day. Carbohydrates are also our entire bodies’ primary source of energy, as it can be easily broken down into glucose which our cells require to function. Consuming such a low intake of carbohydrates may cause irritability and headaches, among other symptoms2. Your body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in the muscle and liver, which attracts water in its stored state. Yes, it is certainly possible to quickly lose weight on low carbohydrate diets, but the initial weight loss is caused by water loss from your muscles and liver. If the body has insufficient stores of glycogen, your body will break down protein or fat in place of it2. Your body requires fat and protein for other uses, so this is not recommended.

There are also existing diets with low fat intake, such as Pritikin Principle, Eat More Weigh Less, and the Scarsdale Diet2. There is often the misconception that eating fat will make you gain fat, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We need fat for our body to function the way it was intended. We require fat to insulate our organs, transport our fat soluble vitamins, store energy, produce hormones, as well as many other functions2. Other common diets include meal plans consisting of ‘magic foods’. These diets claim that rapid weight loss/fat burning can be triggered through eating specific foods or specific combinations of food. Examples of these diets are the Cabbage Soup Diet, Eat Right for Your Type, the Rice Diet and the Raw Food Diet. The problem with these diets is that the rationales provided to lose weight are not evidence-based, and any claims have yet to be proven true2.

A take home message is there are no bad foods, as well as no bad food groups. The problem is that these diets do not teach individuals about mindful, wholesome eating. While it might be obvious that some foods are more nutrient dense than others, does this mean we need to exclude the foods deemed as “unhealthy”? The answer is no, we shouldn’t. Instead of dieting, let’s try to change our mindset to eat foods that we enjoy, but are also mindful of providing our bodies with the nutrients it requires. Your body takes care of the physical functions required to keep you alive, so it’s important to make sure it gets what it needs. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to ensure you are receiving enough nutrients. By incorporating mindful eating into your diet, you are taking into account your bodies signals for hunger, as well as fullness. As long as you are are listening to your body’s needs, you are treating it right.


References

  1. Oxford University Press. (2018). Diet. In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/diet.
  2. Pennington Biomedical Research Center. (2011). Fad Diets Defined. In Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pbrc.edu/training-and-education/pdf/pns/PNS_Fad_Diets.pdf.
  3. Fleming, K. (2018). Why diets do not work. In Centre for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Home/Resources/~/media/A8C18174D9F742F9B2DDD320FC253FC0.ashx.

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