FOOD IS FUEL.
Preaching a message of balanced eating is one of my biggest passions. From personal experience, I've seen what disordered eating can do to a person, and I will be the first to tell you it's not pretty.
Somewhere along the way, our society has abandoned the idea of balanced nutrition and has gone to adopt trend dieting and crash dieting in its place. We want unrealistic results, and we want them to happen overnight. So in order to do that, an overwhelmingly large number of people have attempted to find shortcuts in order to achieve these physical transformations - shortcuts that involve eliminating dairy, gluten, meat, sugar, fruit, carbohydrates, lipids...and the list goes on and on. But once all of these sources of fuel have been eliminated, what's left?
There is undoubtedly a current population of people with allergies, intolerances and the inability to digest certain foods (who therefore consume specially formulated diet plans), but a large majority of our population does not suffer from these intolerances. Yet, despite the fact that most of our bodies are able to carry out normal digestion, we are all swarming over the diets tailored to these individuals that struggle with digestion issues. Why do we believe that these diets are the quickest, easiest way to achieve our goals? Why are we eliminating food groups from our diets, rather than focusing on fueling ourselves with powerful energy? Why do we assume that what's right for one person is right for everyone?
When analyzing expert opinions on this topic, I referred to a case study that studied the ineffectiveness of crash dieting, drastic weight loss, and the damage that the roller coaster behavior of trend dieting can cause. According to this study, dieting does not reliably improve health, and typically does more harm than good. “The root of the problem is not willpower, but neuroscience,” said Dr. Sandra Aamodt, coauthor of Welcome to Your Brain and former editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, the leading scientific journal in the field of brain research (Aamodt, 2016).
Each human body has its own set point, which is the weight range each individual brain’s weight-regulation system considers to be the correct weight for him or her. This range varies from person to person, and is determined by a number of factors, such as genes and life experience. If a person’s weight drops below this set point, the body’s metabolic functioning rates will begin to slow in order to prevent it from entering into starvation. The body will burn fewer calories in order to preserve the energy it has been given, and will simultaneously produce more hunger-inducing hormones in order to signal to the individual that his or her body needs fuel. In simpler words, the body holds on to everything you put in it because it's unsure when it will be fed next, while also screaming at you to feed it. This not only leads to slower metabolic rates, but more importantly, a weaker heart, lungs and other major organs.
On top of that, when the human body loses a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time, the brain declares a starvation state of emergency. Hitting a weight far below the body’s set point is not sustainable, so the body will use every method it can to get the individual’s weight back up to normal. This evidence provides valid reasoning as to why drastic weight loss is nearly impossible to maintain, and is more often than not gained back by a vast majority of people in the five years following the original weight loss.
Additionally, dieting is stressful and has proven to take a toll on the mental wellbeing of the individual pursuing weight loss. Caloric restriction produces stress hormones, which largely contribute to the development of anxiety and binge eating. Under stress, the body naturally craves more sweet and fatty foods. When combining stress with caloric restriction, deprivation is the inevitable result and binging on these sweet and fatty foods commonly follows.
Also worth mentioning, dieting reduces the influence of the brain’s weight-regulation system by teaching it to rely on rules, rather than hunger, to control eating. By falling into this behavior, people become dependent on external cues to tell them what to eat. In today’s society, the majority of these external cues were invented by marketers who are seeking nothing other than high salaries. By surrendering our hunger cues to this greedy diet industry, we are turning our backs on our body’s natural ability to take care of us.
This vicious cycle of caloric restriction and hyper-focusing on every morsel of food you consume not only takes a toll on your mental health, but also on your ability to achieve your fitness goals. When it's all said and done, a body in movement requires gas in the tank in order to perform. Without a source of steady, balanced nutrition, our bodies will suffer. There is a purpose for every micro-nutrient and macro-nutrient we consume, so let's ditch this mindset that we need to outsmart our bodies by tailoring our diets, and rather work WITH our bodies to give them what they're asking for.
As always, be kind to yourself. Eat, drink, and be merry. Your body will thank you.