Today I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. I’m not going to make promises about melting fat away or finally wearing that tiny bikini lurking in the back of your closet. If you’re reading today’s post then you’re probably interested in losing some weight, but right now I want to focus on a subject that’s often left to the wayside when weight loss is on the mind: your health.
Diet gurus are smart: most of them realize we don’t want to knowingly sacrifice our health in order to lose weight, so they promote their diets as both effective and healthy. In fact, they make it seem like weight loss and health go hand in hand. But more often than not this is a marketing ploy that just doesn’t hold water in the real world.
This is partially because the diet industry tries to play like the body can be reduced down to a few simplistic mathematical equations, when in reality the body is an incredibly complex system of cells, hormones, biochemicals, reactions and instincts. The body is made to cope with a myriad of circumstances in very specific ways. It’s constantly regulating temperature, acidity, energy and a variety of other factors to make sure it’s functioning at the best it can at any given moment.
Dieting is like dropping a bomb into this complexly organized structure and hoping nothing will go wrong. The most common bomb is low-calorie dieting – in its many, many forms – which embodies the idea that you can starve the fat off your body either quickly or slowly. The very premise of this theory is flawed, because the body is designed to fight starvation and hang on tight to fat in times of famine. This happens in proportion to how extreme your diet is, but it happens whether you’re cutting out a lot of calories or just some. It’s your body’s regulatory response to cope with times when the food supply is restricted – even when you’re the one restricting it.
Here’s a quick example of ways your body will cope with dieting:
– Reducing the metabolism by turning down thyroid function. Long-term dieting or frequent yo-yo dieting can lead to some heavy thyroid damage.
– Stimulate the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol to cope with this “starvation.” Over time, this exhausts the adrenals and may lead to burnout.
– Start breaking down lean body mass like muscle, bone and organ tissue to supply the body with what it needs.
– Prioritize certain functions over others. With a limited amount of food coming in, the body gets choosy with how its spending energy. Regulating moods, for instance, might take a low priority because feeling happy and balanced isn’t as important as simply surviving during a time of famine.
“Getting adequate calories and avoiding low-cal dieting is essential for keeping the thyroid gland turned on or for turning it up once it’s been turned down. According to the World Health Organization, that means approximately 2,100 calories or more per day for females and 2,300 for males. We’ve found that although individual caloric needs vary, this rule of thumb allows our clients to maintain healthy weight and lose unneeded weight.” [my emphasis in bold]
What about low-carb dieting?
This is a favorite among real-food enthusiasts – including those who embrace a paleo or primal lifestyle – because these diets include nutrient-dense foods like butter, eggs and meat. I’ll admit that low-carb dieting has its appeal. It almost seems like the perfect marriage between real food and weight loss. However, even low-carbing can have its pitfalls.
This topic could span multiple posts (and it will in the future), so I won’t try to cover all of it today. In the simplest terms, low-carb dieting can lead to the same problems as low-calorie dieting: adrenal fatigue and poor thyroid function (and the host of other imbalances these accompany). That’s because low-carb dieting can trigger the same starvation response that occurs when you don’t eat enough. This reaction appears to vary among individuals, but it can happen and therefore needs to be addressed.
I’ll concede that with plenty of real food, low-carbing is one of the safer versions of modern dieting, but that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. And I’m speaking from the opinions of experts I respect (such as Sally Fallon and Mary Enig in Eat Fat, Lose Fat and Diana Schwarzbein in her series of books), the experience of other low-carbers I’ve been in contact with, and also my own personal experience. I won’t tell you not to low-carb diet, because that’s up to you. I will tell you to be careful and keep an eye on what your body is telling you.
Don’t prioritize weight over health. A truly healthy, balanced body is not going to carry around excess fat. Really. Sure, you may not end up in size 0 skinny jeans, but you can achieve a healthy body composition in concordance with your individual body type. Here’s how your list of priorities needs to look:
1. Get healthy.
2. Lose weight.
And when you prioritize health over weight, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to…
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop today.
Elizabeth is the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life. Her mission is to help people find a more balanced (less stressful!) approach to living a happy, healthy life. Read more about Elizabeth here.