Chronic Dieting - Is it an Eating Disorder?

Hannah Joy
Article Reviewed by Dietitian Hannah Joy, M.Phil
Last Updated on Jul 13, 2018
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Overview of Chronic dieting

Chronic dieting is associated with eating disorders that commonly come along with conditions, such as anxiety disorders, fear, and depression.

Eating disorder is a condition characterized by irregular or unhealthy eating habits and severe distress or worrying about body weight or shape which simultaneously affects health and poses a risk.

The three most common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Chronic dieting: An Unhealthy Way of Losing Weight

Chronic dieting is a condition when a person restricts calorie intake in his or her diet on a regular basis mainly to reduce weight, observes The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Chronic dieters tend to be more obsessed with their weight and size. Forever worried about their weight, they tend to try one diet or the other and frequently add weight or lose weight in a process that is popularly termed “weight cycling.” It is proved to be an unhealthy practice on a long-term basis and may affect a person both physically and psychologically.

Who are Chronic Dieters?

  • Persons on a diet because they are mainly obsessed with their weight and size.
  • Restrict calorie or alter food preferences and choices in the long run (more than two years).
  • Follow a strict diet mainly to lose weight, fail to meet their goal or achieve the targeted goal but regain weight over a period of time leading to a sense of failure and stress.

Do You Think Cutting Down Calories can Help Reduce Weight?

Yes, cutting calories is the easiest and simplest way to lose weight. The primary cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed, and calories burned, according to the World Health Organization. Weight loss can be easily achieved either by eating fewer calories or by burning more calories through physical activity, preferably both.

Any excess of calories whether from carbohydrate, protein, or fat will have an impact on the individual’s body weight. Similarly, foods with empty calories, i.e., lots of added sugar such as soft drinks and carbonated beverages are another source of carbohydrates, but these add extra calories with few vitamins and minerals. This strongly enforces the logic "Eat less, Exercise more."

Generally, people become over conscious of their weight and start following several diets saying ‘No’ to their favorite foods mainly to restrict calorie intake. Once they reach a goal, they run back to their routine eating habits which will lead to overeating due to long-term craving, finally making their weighing scale heavier than before.

If you are planning to lose weight, aim for a balanced eating plan rather than a diet that restricts certain macronutrients or food groups.

Negative Impact of Chronic Dieting

Chronic dieting may physically affect a person by causing high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels, an imbalance in body water and fluid, decreased insulin resistance, binge eating, reduced production of leptin, slow metabolism (biochemical process that converts food into energy), and diseases in gall bladder and heart.

Chronic Dieting may also result in lack of specific nutrients such as carbohydrates which simultaneously leads to nutritional deficiencies. On the other hand, continuously denying themselves their favorite food items can also psychologically affect a person causing depression and mental stress. This may often lead to intense cravings for high-calorie foods thereby leading to anxiety and frustration when people fail to meet their targeted weight.

Chronic dieters may often experience mood swings. They snap at people who offer them food, stay away from parties or attend parties and stay hangry (hungry+angry) because they are on diet and can’t stand people eating their favorite food items, they often feel depressed thinking they lack something (and it’s probably just food they need!) and generally feel worthless and dull when they don’t reach their desired weight goal. Studies have shown that when a person is hungry, levels of the brain chemical serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep) fluctuate. That could be one reason why we are angry when we are hungry. With such a long list of ill effects, chronic dieting becomes an eating disorder.

Physical and Psychological Impacts of Chronic Dieting

Chronic Dieting- An Emerging Common Trend

Earlier, dieting was popular among celebrities like film stars and sports persons, but now it has become a common trend especially among adolescents and young adults, mainly to keep their body slim and fit. Many young people starve to stay thin and this results in an eating disorder. Women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder compared to men.

Popular celebrities who have suffered from common eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating at some point in their lives include:

  • Princess Diana (Princess of Britain)
  • Karen Carpenter (a musician)
  • Kate Winslet (English Actress)
  • Britney Spears ( American singer, dancer, and actress)
  • Elton John (English singer, pianist, and composer)

Ways to Say ‘NO’ to Chronic Dieting

  • Adequate, well-balanced diet (diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat foods) will eventually make you feel full as well as help maintain normal metabolism. Plan your diet properly with healthy food choices
  • Avoid frequent fasting and starving which affect the metabolism
  • Include high-fiber whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy foods
  • Include colorful fruits and vegetables to your regular diet as they are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals which can reduce oxidative stress
  • Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon, flax seeds, nuts are healthy food options
  • Regular physical activity or exercise at least 30 minutes per day
  • Drink plenty of water and be well-hydrated
  • Meditation – Regular meditation is a stress buster, making the mind and body feel relaxed and calm while strengthening the immune system
Healthy Ways to Say ‘No’ to Chronic Dieting

Therefore, it is always advisable to have a proper balanced diet with adequate physical activity in order to lose weight in a safe and easy way. Healthy eating should be focused on choosing the right kind of food both in quality and quantity which will nourish our body and mind thereby promoting overall wellness and improving the quality of life.

Successful weight loss plans must begin with a long-term determination to exercise regularly and eat sensibly without seriously disrupting the body’s routine biochemical processes that give us energy and a sense of wellbeing. Chronic dieting or over-dieting is not a healthy option to lose weight and will seriously harm our health, defeating the very purpose of dieting to stay trim and healthy.

References:

  1. Weight loss and fad diets - (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/weight-loss-and-fad-diets)
  2. The Psychology of Dieting - (https://eating-disorders.org.uk/information/the-psychology-of-dieting/)
  3. Why dieting can be harmful - (https://lindnercenterofhope.org/blog/why-dieting-can-be-harmful/)
  4. Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings 1st Edition - Gary L. Wenk

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