The Dangers of Dieting

If you’ve dieted or are dieting, you’re not alone. In fact, the Global Weight Loss and Obesity Management Market is expected to exceed almost £200 billion by 2024! Interesting though, is the fact that diets have been shown to be ineffective in the long-term (blog post on why this is coming soon!). A whopping 95-98% of dieters gain back the weight they lost within 3-5 years, and the majority gain back even more than they lost. Ok, so they don’t exactly do what they say on the tin, but could they really be detrimental to our health?

Physical effects of dieting:

Because for the most part dieters regain the weight they lost on their diet (which, by the way, is a normal and natural physical reaction to dieting and restriction) they are likely to try another diet, and then another, i.e yo-yo dieting. This can lead to a fluctuation in body weight known as “weight cycling”. Weight cycling, particularly large changes in body weight, has been shown to increase the risk of mortality and morbidity. The mechanisms by which weight cycling can contribute to ill-health are: that it can result in an increase inflammation in the body, as well as increase the risk of hypertension, insulin resistance and unhealthy or unbalanced amounts of lipids in the blood (dyslipidemia). Weight cycling also increases the risk of developing osteoporosis as it can reduce bone mass, not to mention the chronic psychological stress which has been proven to increase disease risk (1,3).

When food is restricted it leads to physical as well as emotional feelings of deprivation which consequently drives binge eating behaviour, and eating in a way that likely wouldn’t occur if the individual was well-nourished and felt satisfied by their food. Engaging in dieting also causes one to rely on external, rather than internal cues when it comes to food and eating. So, rather than being guided by our natural hunger and fullness cues we are being driven by the rules and restriction imposed by the diet, which can lead to the reduced ability to actually feel our own hunger and fullness (1,2,3).

When food is restricted it leads to physical as well as emotional feelings of deprivation which consequently drives binge eating behaviour.

Psychological effects of dieting:

Along with the chronic stress and the disconnect from our internal cues that can occur when we diet there are also a number of other detrimental psychological effects dieting can have. It can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, preoccupation and obsession around food, eating and our bodies. It can also contribute to low-self esteem, poor body image and even depression (2,4).

Dieting is also one of the biggest risk factors in the development of an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviour. In addition, due to the restrictive nature of diets, it’s often the case that dieters avoid social situations where food is present, such as birthday parties or family gatherings and can end up feeling isolated (2,4).

All in all, dieting doesn’t help our mental or physical health but where does that leave us? After all, health is really important, it enables us to live out our passions and purposes in this life. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that we can tend to our health without dieting. Check out this blog post - Honouring Health Without Dieting - for more details on how to do just that.

If you feel stuck in this area, struggling to make changes to your habits or mindset, or you are ready to ditch the diets and find real-life, sustainable rhythms that help you thrive, get in touch and see how I can help!


1. Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011, 01). Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal, 10(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

2. Brewerton, T. D., Dansky, B. S., Kilpatrick, D. G., & O'neil, P. M. (2000). Which comes first in the pathogenesis of bulimia nervosa: Dieting or bingeing? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28(3), 259-264. doi:10.1002/1098-108x(200011);2-d

3. Brownell, K. D. (1994, 06). Medical, metabolic, and psychological effects of weight cycling. Archives of Internal Medicine, 154(12), 1325-1330. doi:10.1001/archinte.154.12.1325

4. Davison, K. K., Markey, C. N., & Birch, L. L. (2003, 03). A longitudinal examination of patterns in girls' weight concerns and body dissatisfaction from ages 5 to 9 years. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(3), 320-332. doi:10.1002/eat.10142

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