Dieting: restricting type and quantity of food you eat in order to lose weight.
Are you thinking of going on a diet? Maybe there's more of you than there used to be, or you want to get closer to a healthy weight. If you are thinking about dieting, the first thing you should do is see if you are in the healthy range for your body type using a BMI and body shape calculator.
Often times we think we need to change our bodies when in reality we are right where we are supposed to be. Our media culture, TV shows, and magazines are obsessed with thinness, and we often start dieting behavior when popular media make us feel badly about our own bodies. If you are in a healthy weight range but feel unhappy about your body, you may need to work on changing the way you look at yourself instead of changing your physical body.
If you do feel you need to lose weight, dieting may not be the way to go. Dieting can help you lose weight fast, but it almost always fails in the long run, leading to gaining the weight back. If you are concerned about your body size, the answer may be improving your eating habits and exercising more. Healthy eating habits will last a lifetime and can make us look and feel better.
- Fad Diets
- Why Dieting Fails
- Myths About Diets
- Other Unhealthy Weight-loss Methods
- Tips for Healthy Weight Loss
- Eating Disorders
- Eating 'Too Healthy'
Have you ever picked up a magazine that says something like, "get these abs and a bikini body in only five short days!"
Fad diets are touted as rapid, immediate weight loss methods. According to these ads, if you follow this diet for a certain amount of days, you will not only lose the weight, you will look exactly like the model in the advertisement. This doesn't happen.
Fad diets also often encourage people to focus on eating unlimited quantities of a certain food, such as grapefruit, and excluding most other foods. A healthy diet consists of balance and variation, so while consuming grapefruit for five days may help you lose weight temporarily, you definitely won't be getting all of the vitamins, nutrients, and balanced diet you need to be healthy.
Some other signs of fad diets include rigid menus, not exercising, and sticking to specific food combinations. Watch out for these signs of a quick-fix diet!
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Why Dieting Fails
Bottomline, most diets don't work. You may temporarily lose weight and feel like the diet worked, but in reality the majority of people who go on diets tend to gain all the weight – and often more – back. Diets fail because our bodies have basic needs, such as food, water, air, and sleep.
We also have mechanisms in our bodies that control these needs and tell us when we aren't getting enough of them. For example, when you're hungry, you know you're hungry because your body tells you that you are. When we deprive ourselves of these basic needs, in this case food, our body naturally responds in a predictable way. We experience:
- Preoccupation with food
- Increased cravings (especially for high-fat and high-sugar foods)
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased fat storage
When you diet, you deny your body a basic need, and as a result, your body will send powerful hunger signals, making it hard to concentrate on anything other than food and making you crave high-fat and high-sugary foods.
Your body will also try to make up for the deprivation by overcompensating, or trying to make up for that loss. This is what happens when people stop dieting – the body has been deprived of food so when it does get to eat, we end up eating more than we normally would.
Dieting messes up the signals in our body that regulate hunger, making it hard to listen to our bodies, and as a result, we stuff ourselves full. In addition, once people stop dieting, they no longer have a "plan" to keep that weight off because they've been sticking to such a strict eating schedule, so they tend to lose any sense of control and gain the weight back quickly.
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Myths About Diets
Two major myths about dieting are:
- Anyone can be thin if they try hard enough
- Being thin means being healthy.
If your mom and older sister look a certain way, chances are, your natural body shape will look like that too. This leads to the second myth: being thin does not mean being healthy. It's easy to assume that because someone is skinny, they are healthy, but this is not the case.
Naturally thin people may eat a ton of junk food, never exercise, and may live completely unhealthy lifestyles. On the other hand, someone who isn't stick thin may exercise every day, eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods, and live a generally healthy lifestyle. It is impossible to tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them.
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Other Unhealthy Weight-loss Methods
Skipping meals is also an unhealthy weight loss method. When we skip a meal we put ourselves in a constant state of hunger. Being hungry makes it hard to concentrate, makes us irritable and tired, and also makes us more likely to crave high-fat and high-sugary foods and then overeat at the next meal.
Basically, if you go too long without eating something, your body won't have energy to do many things. Additionally, skipping meals or restricting food makes it hard for your body to get all of the needed nutrients your body and mind need to grow and thrive.
A combination of under-eating and over-exercising can lead to under-nourishing your body, which means you are getting fewer calories than you need during a day. In addition to making you feel like you feel exhausted and hungry all the time, this can put you at risk for serious health problems and possibly lead to damage of vital organs like your heart, lungs, or digestive tract.
Diet pills, smoking, laxatives, or vomiting to control your appetite can be damaging to your lungs, your heart, your gastrointestinal tract, and your brain. If you have been using any of these methods, talk to a doctor about what you want your weight to be and a healthy way to achieve it.
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Tips for Healthy Weight Loss
Helpguide.org is a great resource for healthy weight loss tips. Here are some brief tips, but check out their website for more information:
- Avoid fad-diets or quick fixes: these types of diets most often set people up for failure.
- Stop emotional eating: learn how to cope with your stressors and emotions in a different way than binging on unhealthy food when you're feeling down.
- Mindful eating: pay attention to what you eat, when you eat, and remember to enjoy your meal by eating slowly!
- Fruit, veggies, and fiber: if you're not satisfied and don't feel full, fruit, veggies, and fiber filled foods are a great way to fill you up!
- Don't deprive yourself: eat some ice cream if you want it, just try to make sure you're also eating something healthy and nutritious. Often, making a schedule for eating treats helps people realize how much sugary food they're actually consuming!
- Make your own food environment : choose when you eat, what you eat, where you eat, and how much you eat. It's your body, so take control!
- Make healthy lifestyle changes: get more sleep and more exercise on top of eating healthy! For more information, visit our Teen article on Nutrition & Fitness.
- Consider an exercise class: often times, having an instructor pushing you will make you more motivated!
- Work out with friend: having a friend to go to the gym with can make exercise a lot more fun and social!
- Make it a family activity: go on a hike with your family, or take your dog for a long walk!
- Create a schedule: plan out what times work for you each week to hit the gym, go on a run, or swim laps in the pool
- Have a goal: sometimes having a goal or target makes getting exercise more fun. Find a beginner triathlon you can sign up for a few months from now and start training now!
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Eating disorders – such as anorexia and bulimia – are dangerous, even deadly, disorders that can interfere with all aspects of your life .
Eating disorders can disrupt physical health and growth, cause emotional distress, interfere with relationships with friends and loved ones, and negatively affect career and academic performance. Disordered eating habits can become more difficult to change the longer they go on, so the sooner an eating disorder is treated, the better.
You should be aware of the warning signs that may indicate you or someone else has an eating disorder:
- Spending more than three hours a day thinking about food or exercise
- Planning tomorrow's menu today (in detail)
- Not enjoying food
- Continually limiting the number or types of foods eaten
- Having a diet that makes it difficult to eat anywhere except home
- Criticizing people who do not eat as healthily
- Feeling guilty when a diet or food rule is "broken"
- Skipping favorite foods to eat the "right" foods
- Feeling in total control when following a strict eating or food plan
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Eating 'Too Healthy'
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as eating too healthy. A general rule of thumb is that if you spend more than three hours a day thinking about food – including thinking about how to eat healthy – you may have a problem. If you are unable to break from a rigid eating or exercise schedule, or if you feel guilty when you do, you may have a problem.
Yes, you may be consuming enough calories and surely they are balanced, but obsessing over food is never healthy, no matter how healthy you are trying to be. Learn more about orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an obsession to eat extremely healthy, at the following links:
Remember, dieting is often a quick fix that doesn't leave lasting results. If you really want to lose weight, try eating healthier and exercising.
Cutting out all favorite foods, over-regulating what you eat, and skipping meals is unhealthy for your body and unsustainable in the long run.
Want to improve your diet? Track your progress on your goals using your Young Adult WAY2GO! Dashboard.
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- Sonja Swenson, public health education intern
- Kat Booher, public health education intern
- Nicole Aguirre,
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: July 28, 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Delheim, Molly, and Nan Delheim. How I Look Journal. 5th. Los Altos, CA: A Better Way to Look, 2013. Print.
Healthy Weight Loss & Dieting Tips, HelpGuide.org.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Official Web site.
Eating Disorder Information, Medline Plus.
Body Image & Eating Disorders, WomensHealth.gov.
Childhood Obesity Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Resource List, Healthy at Every Size.
Find Help & Support, National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
For More Information:
See our Eating Disorders article.