In today’s world, health trends and fad diets are everywhere you look, from social media, to magazines and advertisements, to television. But are they really the answer to a healthy, balanced lifestyle? Absolutely not! If you’ve ever tried a diet, or even just a green juice powder, you’ve probably noticed the stress that comes with it. The stress of "staying on track” or feeling guilty for straying from the plan takes a toll on you. Sacrificing your mental health for a certain size or body type is certainly not the answer to health.
Set point weight theory
Set point weight theory is the concept that everyone's body has a set weight range (roughly 10-20 lbs) in which it functions best. When our body weight falls below or exceeds this range, various systems in the body struggle to maintain proper function. Trying to intentionally change your body weight outside of this range can result in your body "fighting back". Changes in hormones and metabolism are your body's attempt to stay within its optimal weight range.
The harms of yo-yo dieting
The cycle of dieting, which most often involves making extreme changes to see quick results and then eventually "failing" at maintaining those changes, can be fairly harmful to your body. These drastic changes, whether they be calorie restrictions or avoiding certain foods, can put a lot of stress on your body. This stress can result in changes in metabolism, abnormal bowel movements, fatigue and even hormone imbalance. While some of these may resolve when you return to regular eating habits, it can also affect your body in the long term.
One example of this is the effect of crash diets that result in quick weight loss. While gradual weight loss over time is not necessarily harmful, loosing weight quickly by not eating enough calories can send your body into panic mode. Without enough energy from food, your body will do what it can to conserve energy, such as slow metabolism and alter hormone levels. A repeated cycle of this over time can lead to a higher set point weight overall.
Health at every size (HAES)
Health at every size is a more recent approach to health that acknowledges that weight does not always reflect health. There are SO many factors that contribute to weight such as genetics, environment, muscle mass, sleep, and stress, to name a few. The idea is that there are more important parameters to mark a persons health than their weight. For example, someone in a larger body who exercises regularly, sleeps 8+ hours a night and eats nutritious foods can have better health parameters than someone in a smaller body who is sedentary, has an irregular sleep schedule, high stress and never touches a vegetable.
What's the moral of the story?
At the end of the day, healthful practices such as regular exercise, eating nutritious foods and finding ways to manage stress are more important than the number on the scale. Depriving yourself with strict diets puts unwanted stress on your body that can be harmful in both the short and long term.
The best thing you can do for your body is focus on healthy behaviors that you enjoy and fit in to your lifestyle. If an exercise routine or diet is causing stress, it's doing more harm than good. There is no one right way to prioritize your health, so if something doesn't feel right to you, try something else!