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Body Care / Mental Health / Sustainability

Can Dieting Shorten Your Life?

How many people do you know who are trying to lose weight? I bet you can name at least five in your close circle. The numbers are staggering. Our culture is obsessed with weight loss. Yet out of those people trying to lose weight, there is a 95 percent chance they will gain it back within a year. Many live their entire lives this way, a constant weight cycle. What are the real consequences to this yo-yo dieting?

WHY DIETING FAILS
Whether it’s societal pressure, personal body shaming issues or a health concern prescribed by a doctor, the weight loss game is always a battle. People are impatient and most often go the drastic calorie cutting route. The body reacts by going into starvation mode, slowing metabolism, holding onto weight and then finally giving into the body’s signals and binging on a huge meal. Millions of years of evolution has programed us to eat as much as we can since we don’t know when the next meal is coming. You can only fight biology for so long. When our bodies are denied calories, biology pushes back.

Deprivation diets don’t work.
Our body fights it. Our brains fight it. Our environment fights it.

Once the mini-starvation diet is over, the body will actually want more food causing us to gain back all the weight plus a little more. And then the cycle begins again. 

HEALTH CONSEQUENCES
Dieting causes a stress response, releasing the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Little moments of worry about your body image or the calories you’re eating add up throughout the day. Each time you step on the scale and you disagree with the results, cortisol is reaching a new level. As it rises so does a long list of health consequences.

High cortisol levels raise susceptibility to infections, decrease bone density, increase blood pressure and damage blood vessels. The body also becomes more insulin resistant and any increased fat gets stored in the abdomen, which is known as cortisol belly.

The most worrisome consequence from dieting is it’s impact on telomeres. Telomeres are protective caps at the end of chromosomes that affect a person’s lifespan. Every time a cell divides, telomeres get shorter and lifespan shortens as well. The more cortisol people release in response to stress, the shorter their telomeres. Chronic dieters are shown to have shorter telomeres than non-dieters.

Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting has been shown to increase risk of illness and death.

This shortened life span is even regardless of other lifestyle choices. A person can be healthy in all other aspects of their life. Yet if they’ve spent years shedding and gaining fifteen to twenty pounds, their life expectancy can be negatively impacted. Keep in mind this is based on early research studies but it’s still alarming.

It is possible that the stress from dieting may accelerate the aging process.

MAINTAINING A CONSISTENT WEIGHT
Weight maintenance takes a real understanding and connection with your body.
Ask these questions:

►When do you feel your best?
►What does it take for my body to function optimally? 
►How do I manage stress and reach mental clarity?

Through a deeper understanding of your body’s inner workings, you’ll be able to find your body’s comfortable, healthy weight.

It is also important to mention that your “ideal” weight may not be aligned with your healthy weight. A BMI score is not a measure of health. If you’ve been 120 pounds your entire life but battle to stay there then you may be physically content gaining five to ten pounds. A large percentage of people fall under the overweight category and are perfectly healthy. What if the BMI measure of “overweight” is that person’s healthy weight? Many studies are finding this to be true.

WEIGHT MAINTENANCE TIPS
►Keep a food journal – Tracking your food intake and portion sizes is a mindful practice that will show you how much food your body needs.
►Eat three meals per day and minimize snacking
►Be mindful of portion sizes
►Listen to your brain’s fed signals. It takes 20 minutes after a meal to feel that “full feeling.” If you’re still hungry, wait 20 minutes then decide on seconds.
Set weigh-in dates – I say this cautiously and only for those without a current eating disorder. Having a weekly date with the scale can be a good check-in for consistency.
Be patient – It took me two years to figure out the right portion sizes for my comfortable body weight.
Manage stress – Meditation, exercise, deep breathing, mantras, affirmations and gratitude practices can help. Find what works for you and do it weekly.
Eat and enjoy food. Deprivation is not the answer.

Slowly back away from quick-fix solutions. Give up the diet cycle and move forward into a long, healthy life.

RESOURCES
Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again by Traci Mann

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

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