How restrictive dieting can adversely affect your health

We’ve all had periods of indulgence when it comes to food (hello Easter eggs for breakfast this past weekend!), and often what follows this is a period of restrictive eating behaviour in the form of a diet.

When it comes to fat loss, people tend to resort to an ‘all or nothing’ approach with their diet. This can lead to cutting out whole food groups, going on detoxes and cleanses, cutting calories and opting for low-fat/ low-nutrient options. This may be the answer to your fat-loss goals in the short-term, but what affect can this have for your long-term health?

Your metabolism is adversely affected when we restrict calories too much. As the body begins to shed muscle mass as muscle takes calories to support, and turn this muscle into fat for storage. In turn, most people who restrict their diets to unsustainable levels put on more weight afterwards.

Restrictive diets cause the metabolism to slow down, and our body composition to change. As we lose muscle mass, so when we return to normal diets the body is in a worse position to process the nutritional intake and stores more fat.

When we’re unhappy with our bodies, and lack a consistent and sustainable nutrition plan, it can be very detrimental to both mental and emotional wellbeing. Yo-yo dieting has been proven to be ineffective long term and can become a vicious cycle of worsening results. The worse the results, the more we will tend to restrict ourselves during the next diet, and the more harm we do to our metabolism and our body.

Wellbeing is not just about losing weight but also about finding a job you love, having enriching relationships, doing a form of exercise you enjoy, and having a form of spirituality. All these things can help us cultivate sustainable and happy wellbeing, where we feel more motivated and inspired to find the right food and diet for us, without restrictions or punishment. It is a lifestyle, not a diet that lasts 20 days.

Intermittent fasting can help with digestion. I should add here that IF doesn’t work for everyone and is highly individual and based on your goals. Even with intermittent fasting, the secret is to avoid being too restrictive. We need to be able to balance our plate with the right amount of good carbohydrates, proteins, good fat, fruit, and vegetables. If something is missing, the body will crave more food and intermittent fasting will become just another form of restrictive dieting instead of what it’s meant for: helping to cleanse the body, so that it can digest better and lose weight in a healthier way.

It seems that our views of healthy eating have become skewed and sadly still synonymous with eating as little as possible, or simply sticking with ‘safe’ foods. But without being armed with the nutritional education on how to properly fuel our body for our goals, we could spiral into a much worse position than where we started from (think on a deeper level, e.g. the negative impact on your hormones).

Ultimately, there are smarter ways to feel healthier or to lose weight. Being restrictive with your diet will only leave you unhappier when you struggle to keep those restrictive behaviours consistent further down the line. Being healthy is an attitude — it’s about being flexible when you need to. It’s about listening to your body and responding to what it needs, and most importantly it also needs to be sustainable for your lifestyle.

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Yasmine Say

Founder of Say Fitness Personal Training. #PersonalTrainer, STOTT Pilates Instructor and Mobility Coach. www.sayfitnesspt.com @sayfitnesspt