Many of us try to lose weight at various points in our lives. Perhaps over indulgence on a vacation or during the holidays has added a few pounds to your waistline. Maybe you've just had a baby. Or it could be that you've been fighting a weight problem for a long time. Whatever your situation, shedding excess body fat is a difficult task. What's more, the road to a more slender you can be fraught with nutritional dangers.
No More Diets
Ten years ago a New Jersey research team surveyed several weight reducing diets. They measured the vitamin and mineral content of each and compared these against the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances. None of the diets passed. Those that suggested a balanced menu were close, however, restricted calories brought them below the RDA. Any diet that recommends 1200 calories or less per day is hard pressed to provide adequate nutrients.
Diet plans that emphasized one or two foods or food groups were the most skewed. In fact, some were also very high in fat, cholesterol and/or sodium. Eliminating or drastically restricting a particular nutrient, as in a low carbohydrate diet, creates nutritional jeopardy (1).
A couple of years ago the well known Framingham Heart Study showed us another dieting hazard. Aside from possible nutrient deficiencies, losing and regaining body weight over and over again can be hard on your health. Investigators found that both men and women died sooner (usually from heart problems) and suffered from coronary heart disease more often than their non-dieting cohorts (2).
We also know that habitual dieting merely sets you up for weight gain in the future. While you're eating less to lose unwanted fat, your body thinks it's in the middle of a famine. Survival mechanisms switch on. Your metabolic rate declines and your system hangs onto every calorie for dear life -- great for surviving, terrible for losing weight. Next time you try to diet, you may find that you need to eat even less in order to get the same results. Again, your body tries to save you. It's a no win situation and nutritionally dangerous.
Karklin and associates discovered that the hypometabolic state caused by dieting profoundly affected sleep. Not only did dieters take longer to fall asleep, but once there they didn't sleep as deeply. This poor sleep didn't allow subjects' bodies to properly recover from daily wear and tear (3). This situation coupled with insufficient nutriture sets up the body for illness.
When most people embark on a restrictive diet they feel the effects of poor nutrition: hunger, weakness and fatigue. This cluster of symptoms is your body's survival siren sounding, calling you to eat and rescue yourself. Typically, dieters will resist this urge as long as possible (called will power). When they do cave in, it's often with high fat, high sugar feel-good-food; those very foods that pile on unwanted pounds.
The bottom line to losing extra body fat is eating less calories than you use up each day. Before discussing how that can be done successfully, I want to remind you of how our culture and society shape our bodies. Throughout history and around the world the ideal body size changes according to fashion and food supply. When food is plentiful, as in this country right now, thin is in because it's more difficult to attain. Other times and places where food is scarce, plump is desirable. So before you decide you need to lose weight, consider these questions. Are your goals realistic? Are you healthy and fit, but not model thin? Are you striving for the impossible?