Food Agriculture & Nutrition Network of Solano County
Written by Joshua McAtee, Napa State Hospital Dietetic Intern
Almost everyone has been on a diet at some point or knows someone who has. From the Paleo diet to the more recently popular Keto diet, dieting has been a large part of our culture for many years. As far back as 1863 when William Banting created the “Banting” diet, a low carb and low calorie diet that he used to lose weight, new diet fads continue to pop up and have been established as an easy solution to losing weight fast.
Between 2017-2018 about 42% of adults in the US were obese, interestingly the CDC showed in 2013-2016 that 49.1% of adults tried to lose weight in the last 12 months. It may not be surprising that so many people are attempting diets to lose weight but what exactly is dieting?
What is Dieting?
The word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diaita” which means way of living or way of life. Over time this meaning became more and more focused on the foods and beverage we eat and drink. The concept of “diet” today brings to mind a way of living that involves restricting foods and drinks usually with the goal of weight loss or to prevent/treat disease. Not many people would consider diets fun, but how effective are they?
Why Don’t Diets Work?
While limiting calorie intake will result in weight loss, the problem is maintaining that weight loss long term. Highly restrictive diets can lead to overeating once the diet ends, binge eating on “cheat days” or when “falling off the wagon” all of which can lead to weight gain. Studies show that 80% or more of people who dieted lose weight gained back the weight, or more overtime. This shows how challenging dieting is and that it usually doesn’t work (for most people) in terms of sustained weight loss. Restrictive diets often don’t work because when your body feels deprived of calories it releases less of the hormone Leptin (which makes you feel full) and more of the hormone Ghrelin (which makes you feel hungry), the result is a feeling of hunger that won’t go away even after meals which can lead to overeating. Our bodies adapt to calorie deprivation by reducing the number of calories we burn for energy, in other words our metabolism slows down. Extreme calorie deprivation can affect cognition and attention, causing a person to become more preoccupied on thoughts of food. On the other hand, some individuals find diets that they can sustain long term that works well for their lifestyle. If you are on a diet long-term, you should consider contacting a dietitian to ensure your body is getting all the proper nutrition it needs.
The Dark Side of Dieting
Losing weight on a diet doesn’t always mean it’s healthy. Dieting can be very harmful if taken to extremes. People who starve/fast or are on very low-calorie diets are likely to lose muscle as part of their weight loss and often causes the body to shift to higher percentages of body fat. Extreme diets can also lead to lower metabolism and can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food which can even result in eating disorders. Restrictive diets can lead to malnutrition if you are no longer eating a variety of foods to provide all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Wanting to live a healthier life is a great thing! What’s important is the methods you use. Instead of following strict diets (unless for a therapeutic diet for disease), focus on forming healthy lifestyle habits. Consult with a dietitian to help make small healthy changes. Smaller changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, are much easier to maintain long term. Incorporate physical activity throughout the week by finding movement that you enjoy. Practice moderation in the foods you eat, it’s ok to have dessert every now and then! Make sure you are getting enough rest and staying hydrated. Lastly, listen to your body, it will tell you if it is hungry or full or if it needs rest. By focusing on your health instead of your weight, you will find yourself feeling better without all the stress that comes from following a strict diet.