Those Who Don't Diet are Better at Improving Health Than Those Who Do Diet
Though the thought of counting calories and measuring portions
doesn't bring smiles to most people's faces, many people succumb
to such dieting measures because they believe it will improve
But, according to a two-year study published in the June
2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association,
if you're looking to achieve long-term health improvements,
behavior changes and self-acceptance are more effective than
dieting any day of the week.
Obsessing about your weight may be counterproductive
when it comes to improving your health.
In the study of 78 obese women, aged 30-45, half were assigned
to a dieting group, which focused on counting calories and fat
content, restricting food consumption and monitoring their weight.
The other half were assigned to a non-dieting group that
focused on paying attention to internal body cues about hunger,
letting go of restrictive "diet-like" eating habits
and working with negative self-image. After two years, the
- 92 percent of the non-dieting group stayed
with the study, while 42 percent of the dieters dropped
- Non-dieters maintained the same weight;
dieters lost weight initially but regained almost all of
it by the end of the study.
- Non-dieters total cholesterol increased
initially, then significantly decreased (including levels
of their bad LDL cholesterol), while dieters had no significant
change in cholesterol levels.
- While both groups significantly lowered
their blood pressures initially, the non-dieters sustained
this change while the dieters did not.
- Non-dieters reported nearly four times
more physical activity, while dieters, although going through
an initial increase in activity, had not sustained increased
activity by the end of the study.
- Non-dieters demonstrated improvements in
self-esteem and depression, dieters had a worsening of self-esteem,
and depression levels remained the same (after an initial
"We have been ingrained to think that large people can
only make improvements in their health if they diet and slim
down," said one of the study's researchers, Linda Bacon,
"But this study tells us that you can make significant
improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without
ever stepping on the scales or counting calories. You can
relax about food and eat what you want."
Dieting Weakens the Immune System
The above study is not the only one to find that dieting
is not always the best way to achieve health. According to
a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of
the American Dietetic Association, "yo-yo" dieting,
the practice of constantly losing weight and then gaining
it right back, may weaken the immune system.
The study found a definite relationship between a woman's
immune function and her dieting history -- the more times
she attempted to lose weight, the more her immune function
Other risks of "on again, off again" diets? Studies
have found that they may actually increase your risk of heart
disease. Yo-yo dieting can lead to lower levels of the good
cholesterol (HDL) and, in women who weren't overweight to
begin with, increased levels of triglycerides, which is a
risk factor for heart disease in women. Plus, frequent changes
in your weight can result in high blood sugar, which may increase
the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Dieting and the "Eating Hormone" Leptin
Frequent weight loss and gain may influence a hormone called
leptin that influences appetite and eating behavior. It's
thought that this effect may explain why women with a history
of yo-yo dieting tend to have higher percentages of body fat.
Often, when weight is lost quickly, more lean muscle may
be lost than fat (particularly if exercise is not a part of
the equation). When weight is regained (usually as fat tissue),
the end result can be a higher weight with increasing levels
of body fat.
How to be Healthy Without Dieting
Keeping a positive attitude is one of the best ways
to stick with a new healthy lifestyle.
So, you may be wondering, "How am I supposed to lose
weight and improve my health if I don't diet?' Of course,
getting regular physical activity and eating healthy foods
is important, but so are the following, often overlooked,
The first step is to become aware of your eating patterns;
for instance if you tend to overeat when you're stressed about
work, then make adjustments based on them. If you know you
tend to overeat when you're overwhelmed, make it a point to
keep yourself busy with another activity (even something relaxing
like reading or taking a bath) during this time.
"When you examine your own weight-loss patterns, you
can then identify potential methods and tools that will work
for you long term," says Robert Kushner, M.D., medical
director of the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial
Hospital in Chicago.
Next, focus on making small changes in your lifestyle, not
on losing weight. For instance, rather than thinking, "I
have to lose 30 pounds," think, "Today I'm going
to take a pass on the bread and butter and go for a walk after
"Add one or two healthy behaviors to your regular routine,
and you're done for the day," says James O. Hill, Ph.D.,
an obesity researcher at the University of Colorado at Denver.
And finally, stay positive. Think of the lifestyle changes
you are making in terms of the benefits they will bring you
(more energy, better health, etc.), not of what they are taking
away. Give yourself some credit for every positive step you
make (eating fruit for desert instead of a piece of cake,
for instance) and try to get your entire family involved in
this new, healthier lifestyle.
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of the American Dietetic Association June 2005; 105(6):929-36.
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Day: Stop Yo-Yo Dieting