Dieting in the New Year – Worth it?

yoyo scales

Culture of Dieting

In the current Western world dieting and weight are topics of great popularity  -you only need look at the magazine stands of any supermarket to find that most front covers are permeated with dieting tricks, weight loss plans, celebrities who have gained or lost weight; many people find themselves caught up in a culture of dieting, going from one diet to another, and so on.

This new year, many people will embark on a detox or diet plan in effort to lose weight.  It is interesting that thinking that one is overweight is a more common phenomenon than actually being overweight.  Research shows that up to one third of the Western world are overweight, yet double this amount think themselves to be overweight.  Many of these people who are not overweight are in fact, dieting.  Could you be worrying unnecessarily about your weight and dieting with no health benefit?


The damaging effects of dieting

Dieting has a great impact on physical and emotional health.  Your resting metabolic rate will fall as soon as you begin to restrict your food intake, causing you to feel lethargic, suffer low energy and your mind will slow down.  Also, you will lose tissue along with fat.  Indeed, with each new diet you start, there will be an increase in the ratio of muscle loss to fat loss.  

Most importantly, are the emotional risks involved in dieting.  Psychologist Jane Wardle has found that all dieters score higher than non dieters on measures of mental performance and emotional agitation.

In the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, a group of previously healthy men were voluntarily starved (they were allowed half of their usual intake) for a period of 3 months.  The effect on their psyche were catastrophic.  They displayed many eating disordered symptoms.  They became obsessed with food, socially withdrawn, depressed and anxious.  They also became self critical, obsessed with the appearance of their body and many of them felt overweight even though previously they had not experienced body image issues.

It is clear that dieting has the potential to negatively impact our emotions, ability to concentrate, and change our perception of our bodies.  People who diet have also been found to turn to food for emotional reasons, more so than non dieters – because by restricting food they have made food more of a focus in their life.  This can lead to abandoning the diet and eating large amounts of forbidden foods, before returning to the diet to compensate.  A life of yoyo dieting is often the result of these emotional cycles.


Set Point Theory


There is clearly a great demand for weight loss and dieting products, plans and advice – millions of pounds are made every year through the diet industry, who make us believe that if we have enough will power, effort or the right diet, we can control weight.  However this is simply not true.  Research has shown that over half of all dieters gain more weight than they lost, and that out of every 20 people who begin a commercial weight loss program, only one will reach their goal weight.   Moreover, there is much evidence to support a set point theory – the idea that your weight has its own set point range, which varies from person to person.  According to set point theory, everyone’s body is unique and therefore the BMI indicator may not always be correct – a person may be overweight according to the BMI chart, but be at a perfectly appropriate weight for his/her own body.  Other factors like age and genes also affect your set point range.  Could you be trying to aim for a target weight which is unrealistic for your unique body?

We are all aware of the many health risks of obesity – however evidence shows that yoyo dieting also has a great risk to health.  The New England Journal of Medicine gives evidence of a study in which years of weight fluctuation is associated with higher risk of death than those with stable weights.  Weight cycling is incredibly detrimental for your health.  Also, bear in mind that research shows that it is more beneficial for your health to be slightly overweight than it is to be slightly underweight.  I urge you this new year to think about whether you are endangering your health through dieting, and also whether you actually need to lose any weight anyway.

Dieting in the New Year – Worth it?