When most people want to lose weight, what’s the first thing they think about? Dieting. Usually involving eating a very small number of calories per day, along with some type of exercise to burn extra calories. We’ve all seen the before and after pictures on weight loss advertisements, contestants on the biggest loser, and think “dang, if they can do it, I can too.”
But there’s a dark side to dieting that before and after pictures can’t capture. It’s this dark side that causes 80-98% of people who lose weight to gain back it all back, and often leading to a life sentence of yo–yo dieting, disordered eating, and difficulty losing weight.
Here’s the cold hard truth: dieting doesn’t turn you into a lean person. It wrecks your metabolism, your mindset around food, and creates an unsustainable pattern that turns you into a naturally overweight person fighting to be lean.
Here’s how your body and mind react to extreme calorie restriction:
Physically, when you decrease your calorie, carbohydrate, or fat intake beyond a certain point, your body begins to compensate as it would have in times of famine. Your metabolism decreases, largely by decreasing your thyroid function. This means that although you are eating fewer calories, your body is burning fewer calories as well.
How does your body do that? By decreasing less “vital” functions of your body: Temperature regulation, digestion, cell regeneration, energy production, and sexual function. So you start feeling cold, bloated and intolerant of certain foods, you start having brittle hair and nails, and you feel exhausted all the time, and have no spark in the bedroom.
Also, in search of more fuel, your body will start breaking down muscle protein. This decreases your metabolic rate even more.
The next time a large amount of food is available, you might find yourself overeating with little control. This is also part of the body’s natural “famine” response, to store up as much energy (as body fat) as it can before the next famine. Since your metabolism has already taken a hit from the super low calories, your body is primed gain fat (YIKES!), starting you on that well-known diet roller coaster.
If the physical symptoms aren’t scary enough, consider the mental and emotional symptoms of dieting; Binge eating episodes, loss of willpower control, and food obsessions are common among people who diet regularly.
When you’re on a diet, food seems like the only thing you can think about. You’re always planning your next meal, watching the clock, thinking about food–And especially the off limit foods! Chocolate, cake, candy, and cookies, have never been as appealing as they are now that you’ve cut them off and told yourself no.
Eventually this food obsession can become a gateway to disordered eating, binge eating, and diagnosed eating disorders.
Remember when you used to be able to have one cookie after dinner and feel satisfied? Now that you’re on a diet, you have to eat five or six (or the whole box) before you can tell yourself to stop.
Does this all sound familiar to you? It does to me
Back in my dieting days, I remember this dark side all too well: I had no energy, my fingers and toes were freezing cold, even in the middle of the hot summer. I started losing hair, muscle, and motivation to be active. I craved sugar like I never had before, and all of the “off limits” foods became obsessions. Despite the fact that I weighted less than I remember ever weighing, I was miserable. Once the “diet” was over, gaining the weight back was almost automatic, despite my best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Once I stopped dieting and learned how to fuel my body well, the weight started to come off seemingly effortlessly without ever feeling hungry, putting foods off limits, or having rebound weight gain.
So here’s my challenge for you
If you’re considering going for the next big “lose weight fast” crash diet, consider the consequences, and realize that your chances for long-term success are unlikely. If you’re currently dieting or restricting your food intake, recognize if you’re having these signs and symptoms, and know that your body is being set up for rebound weight gain and poor health.
What do you do instead of dieting? Learn to embrace slow and steady weight loss. Don’t let yourself get over-hungry or go on too few calories for too long. Don’t deprive yourself and don’t starve yourself. Listen to your body and make gradual, healthy life long changes. This is the only way for long-term success.