Dieting has been around for decades on end, with new fad diets constantly coming out and claiming to be the miracle solution for weight loss issues. The common themes among fad diets are promises to quick dramatic results, rigid rules which restrict certain foods or food groups (most often Carbohydrates), a focus on short term change, and claims based on individual testimonies. Unfortunately behind the alluring promises, fad diets are often based off of false claims with no scientific evidence. As a result, dieting is often shown to be ineffective and at times extremely detrimental to your overall health. Here are some reasons why dieting is both ineffective and a health hazard.
Loss of Bodily Proteins
Most diets focus on restricting specific foods (like bread and pasta), or food groups as a whole (like carbohydrates). This type of restriction lowers the amounts of available glucose (the body’s main source of energy) in the blood and in the liver. So as a result, the body begins to partake in a process called ketosis (the breakdown of proteins) in order to have a sufficient source of energy. The proteins in our body are responsible for our lean body mass (the skeletal muscles we work so hard on building at the gym), our skin integrity, the strength of our hair and nails, and much more. The weight that is being lost during dieting is frequently just water weight and muscle mass, instead of the fat tissue that we are so desperately trying to shed. The process of ketosis also puts the body at severe risk of kidney and liver damage, and compromises the integrity of our skin, hair, and nails.
Your Metabolism Slows Down
Lean muscle mass is more metabolically active than other tissues: muscle tissue requires more energy in order to be sustained. And so the mere existences of lean muscle mass induces the body to burn fat and convert it into energy that can then be used to sustain the muscles. However, the muscle loss that comes with dieting leads to a smaller energy demand, so fat is burnt at a slower rate (which means that the diet actually decreases your basal metabolic rate).
Not Enough of the Good Stuff
Each food group has a specific set of nutrients to offer. For this reason, fad diets which focus on cutting out certain food groups often times end up depriving you of many essential nutrients as well. For instance, a low carbohydrate diet usually means eliminating many grains, fruits, and vegetables- foods that are high in fiber (essential in promoting digestion), vitamin C (an immunobooster), and phytochemicals (chemicals that have been shown to prevent certain forms of cancer). In brief, this means that by restricting certain food groups you are also eliminating some crucial nutrients and placing your health at risk.
Subsequent Weight Gain
There are several explanations for why short term success in weight loss, can equate to an overall failure. The International Journal of Obesity created a longitudinal study to examine the reasons behind the paradoxical weight gain associated with dieting. One main reason is that restricted eating leads to an increase in sensitivity of hunger sensation. This is a defense mechanism fired by the body in order to restore its energy stores. As a result, the individual dieting often ends up eating a higher total caloric intake or binging at some points. Another key factor contributing to weight gain for dieting individuals is the decrease in metabolic rate; the decrease of lean muscle mass and of thyroid hormones (like thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine) reduce the body’s energy demand and so fat burns at a much slower rate.
The ultimate explanation is that our body recognizes dieting for what it is (a threat to our overall well being) and so it tries to protect itself by holding onto its energy sources.
A healthy plan to lose body fat and decrease weight revolves around well balanced food intake which is geared towards individual genetic composition, hormonal levels, and basal metabolism (the rate at which your body burns fat when you are at rest). In the long term this lifestyle change should promote a strong immunity, maintain appropriate bodily functions, increase muscle mass, and decrease fat tissue.