The word “dieting” can invoke a lot of emotions including failure, fear and disappointment. There are countless plans saying they are the magic solution, and people hope that each new diet tried will be the one that helps them lose those unwanted pounds. However, it’s important to be aware of the effects of dieting and your health.
Dieting and Counting Calories
Many people still believe that counting calories is what’s going to bring the much dreamed about weight loss. In reality, calories are great deceivers. That’s because everyone’s metabolism is different and absorbs calories differently. And the way in which the calorie values of foods are determined has no relation to the way our bodies process them.
Calories are an unreliable measure of the energy potential in our food and bear no relation to how nourishing the food is. All foods contain calories to one degree or another, but not all foods contain nourishment. Nourishment is important because that’s the minerals, vitamins and trace elements the body needs to build and replace millions of cells that die every day, and to fuel the metabolism of cells. Calories don’t build cells or make them work more efficiently.
Although there are times when caloric intake/portion control are warranted and necessary, a low calorie diet can most of the times produce weight gain for a variety of reasons, so clearly the issue is not just about calories.
Dieting and Under Eating
What happens when you keep under eating for too long? Or when you eat too little of the foods your metabolism actually needs to consume daily to stay healthy? The body begins then to break down precious, calorie-burning muscle tissue for fuel. When you lose muscle, your metabolic rate drops and you burn fewer calories. In fact, research shows that the body loses a proportionately high amount of muscle with a very low calorie intake and this may considerably suppress metabolism by up to 45 percent. That’s why it’s crucial to do as much as you can to protect your metabolic rate, especially when you’re dieting.
The metabolic rate – the rate at which the body burns calories – is partly determined by the amount of muscle we have. In general, the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolic rate; the less muscle we have, the lower our metabolic rate.
When you stop dieting and return to old dietary habits, the weight will usually come back on, and this time in the form of fat, not muscle. Your metabolism is slower and the calorie requirements are lower.
Dieting and Your Thyroid
Chronic dieting can result in a significant decrease in circulating T3 levels by up to 50%, which significantly reduces basal metabolic rate (number of calories burned per day) by 15-40%. With chronic dieting, the thyroid levels and metabolism often do not return to normal levels. The body stays in starvation mode for years with significantly reduced metabolism despite the resumption of normal food intake, making it very difficult to lose or maintain lost weight.
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism found that a mere 25 days of calorie restriction resulted in a significant reduction in T4 to T3 conversion, with a 50% reduction in T3. The dramatic reduction of T3 due to the calorie restriction could potentially cause a person to be unable to lose weight or to regain weight already lost.
Many people who have difficulty keeping weight off don’t eat excessively but are continually told they are eating too much or they need to exercise more. In reality, unless the physiologic thyroid dysfunction is corrected, any diet and exercise strategy will be set for failure.
Dieting and Your Metabolism
In a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 44, 585-595, it was shown that there is a significantly reduced metabolic rate after dieting that does not return to normal even after a normal diet is resumed.
In a second study, published in the journal Metabolism, patients who had lost weight in the past had a significantly lower metabolism than other patients who were the same weight and had not gained or lost significant weight in the past year. The weight-loss patients showed a 25% reduction in metabolism, which is equivalent to an approximate deficit of 500 to 600 calories per day. Imagine reducing your caloric intake by 500 to 600 calories each day and not losing any weight! This is the effect that acute or chronic dieting can have on a person’s metabolism.
Moreover, a person who is experiencing a 25% reduction in metabolism not only would have difficulty losing weight, but actually would have to reduce their calorie intake even further, just to keep from gaining weight each week.
As you see, there is no one-size-fits-all diet out there that can help you lose weight and also keep you healthy. All dietary changes need to be customized to your unique metabolism and nutritional requirements, while taking into consideration your health problems.