The dangers of dieting

Although I am a dietitian and work primarily in the area of weight loss/management, I have struggled my whole career with recommending that clients lose weight. I am not against weight loss per se, but rather I am against individuals going on “diets” and looking for quick fixes. Focusing only on the number on the scale, without taking into account lifestyle and what a healthy, best weight may be, is a recipe for failure.

Futher, I have seen first-hand the negative effects of dieting and they are scary and dangerous. Here are a few:

1. Dieting creates a drop in energy expenditure independent of weight loss. It makes sense to realize if you lose weight you will need less calories to support your new lighter body. What you may not realize is that your body sees dieting and weight loss as a threat to its survival. It will react by decreasing your energy needs to ensure your survival.

Once you tire of the diet and go back to your usual eating habits, the drop in energy needs persists. One of the well-studied mechanisms to account for some of the drop in metabolism is a decrease in your lean muscle tissue. How long does this drop in metabolism last you might ask; research suggests it is permanent! The more you try various diets, the more you are altering your metabolism forcing it to be more fuel efficient.

2. Dieting not only messes with your body but also your mind. Food restriction increases food preoccupation. The act of dieting activates the hormone dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is the ‘I gotta get it’ hormone and it leads to increased thinking and cravings for highly palatable food. There also is good evidence to say that dieting interrupts our body’s ability to listen to your hunger and satiety cues. Therefore our eating becomes less intrinsic and more likely to be driven by external sources.

3. Dieting changes also occur in your nose and mouth- changes that thwart your weightloss goal! Dieting causes you to smell food more acutely and it makes food taste better- While this is frustrating to the dieter, stop for a moment and think about how amazing our body is. It is really is designed to keep you alive.

4. Dieting increases lipase production in your gut. Lipases are enzymes that promote fat storage. Yes that’s right, while you are focusing on eating healthier, your body is focusing on becoming more efficient at storing fat!

5. Dieting impacts your energy, nutrient stores and ultimately your health. Many diet programs/plans provide less than 1200 calories per day (some offer much less than this!) which means you are not meeting your nutrient needs. Even if you are taking supplements, your body requires nutrition from food and the impacts of poor nutrition will be felt on a cellular level in your body.

What’s the big deal? Your energy pathways, gut function, immune function, mental clarity are a few of the systems that can be affected.


So if you’re planning on making weight loss your New Year’s resolution again, look at it differently this year. Work with our team to make sure your nutrition needs are met along with your weight goals. The weight loss may be slower this way, but it will also be longer lasting.