The Dangers Of Diets

The Dangers Of Diets

by Dr Emma Gray - 8th April, 2015

Our bodies are designed to survive and when we diet it sees this as a threat to this survival and fights back with physiological tactics including increased hunger, preoccupation with food and a decrease in metabolism.

This decrease in metabolism means that our body uses the food we give it more efficiently so the weight we lose by dieting will not be equivalent to the energy reduction we make.

As a result the more we diet, the more efficient our body will become at adapting to our reduced calorie intake and the less effective our diet will be. In addition to fighting a never ending losing battle with nature, dieting also poses some serious risks.

Risk 1 – Bingeing and overeating
The more you deprive yourself of food the more you crave it and over time these cravings become increasingly hard to resist. This is your body’s way of ensuring it gets the energy it needs to survive. Once you give in it is common to think ‘oh well, I’ve blown it now, I might as well go for it’ and then overeat or binge.

To make up for the episode of bingeing our tendency is to impose even stricter dieting rules the following day, which in turn increases our cravings and vulnerability to overeat or binge in the future.

A vicious cycle is created that can be hard to break out of. Many people on diets oscillate between dieting and bingeing with the net result not being weight loss, but feelings of anxiety at being out of control and depression as unmet goals leading to low self-esteem and confidence.

Although eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder do not develop simply as a result of dieting, cycles of restrictive eating and overeating/bingeing do place us at an increased risk of developing such mental health problems.

Risk 2 – Upsetting cues of hunger and fullness
When we diet (and binge) this upsets the body’s natural appetite controls. Hunger is never truly satisfied so never leaves you and when we overeat or binge we ignore sensation of fullness. This means that when the diet is stopped we have lost touch with cues of hunger and fullness and the body’s appetite control system no longer functions adequately; it becomes hard to recognise when we are really hunger and when we have had enough.

This places us at risk of poor eating habits and obesity over the longer term. To re-establish the natural control we need to eat regular meals and snacks over the period of a few weeks.

Risk 3 – Preoccupation with food
One of the ways that our body resists attempts to lose weight is to increase the amount of thoughts we have about food and eating, to the point where we can become preoccupied with it. Such thoughts can become consuming and begin to interfere with other activities, they also make it far more likely that we will binge.

Risk 4 – Pseudo success
It is easy to confuse successful dieting with other types of success and begin over time to feel like a better person because we weigh less. It is easy to forget that we are the same person with the same qualities however much we weigh.

When our self-esteem becomes tied to our weight it makes us vulnerable because if weigh loss represents good things about us then weight gain indicates bad things, so when a diet doesn’t work we not only end up weighing more than we would like but we experience self doubt and a loss of confidence.

Risk 5 – Mood swings
Successful dieting results in happiness, unsuccessful dieting in anxiety and depression. As we becomes aware of this we may start to use food to try and control our mood, dieting to lift our mood and improve how we feel about ourselves. However, overtime, as diets become increasingly hard to stick to it become increasingly hard to control our mood in this way. When our mood becomes tied to eating we place ourselves at risk of developing an eating disorder.

Risk 6 – Fatigue and Stress
Fatigue and stress are the direct of the physical deprivation of dieting and the psychological tendency to begin to blame ourselves for its failure.
If you are struggling to control your eating and/or your mood you made need professional help in the form of therapy. Please contact The British CBT & Counselling Service for help and advice.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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