We all have a body. It’s true!!! And with that comes body image –whether we like it or not. Over the last few weeks, I’ve defined and shared what body image is, and how negative body image can have quite the domino effect and affect us all in a very real way. Having a negative body image not only takes a toll on mental and emotional health but can also lead to poor food choices… such as cutting calories, that lead to poor physical health. Questions about calorie counting and whether or not it’s effective come up in my sessions with patients frequently. I’m here to tell you not only is it not effective — it’s dangerous, and here’s why.
The Fat-Free Diet
You are what you eat, right?!?!…and few people want to be fat. This logic often leads people to think that they can lose weight by cutting out fat from their diet. In an attempt to reduce fat and cut calories, people turn to non-fat or low-fat alternatives. Unfortunately, this strategy can have detrimental consequences for your health.
First off, much like many other animals, we need fats to survive! Essential fatty acids contribute to hormone production, the regulation of blood pressure, thyroid and adrenal health (which is becoming more and more of a health concern in the US) and more. When you cut out healthy and essential fats such as oils, nuts, and some fish, you cut out important nutrients that your body needs. In addition, food labeled “reduced-fat” or “non-fat,” which are so popular, often contain artificial ingredients used to mimic the texture and flavor of natural fat. These additives have a laundry list of negative health consequences from cancer, to diabetes, high blood pressure and so much more. There is absolutely a difference between bad fatty foods and essential fatty foods — read my blogs “Fat’s Won’t Make You Fat: Part 1” and “Fat’s Won’t Make You Fat: Part 2” to learn what foods are on the approved list and what to stay away from.
The Low-Protein Diet
Another common misconception and failed strategy are adopting a low-protein diet. While it is possible to get protein from plant-based diets, not all plant foods contain all the essential amino acids the human body needs to function. Now you could receive all the necessary and essential amino acids if you were eating plant-based foods protein with grains but most people on a low-protein diet have cut out these foods from their diet because they qualify as carbs; and carbs are bad -_- . News flash: they body also needs carbs to function.
Cutting protein from your diet can have serious adverse effects. Proteins not only curb your cravings and keep your blood sugar stable, they prevent those hangry moments in the day that makes us a little crazy. If your goal is to not only keep a healthy weight but build muscle — protein is essential. Protein is literally used in the process to build muscle, bone and cartilage in the body — by reducing your protein intake or eliminating it you are not only preventing your body getting stronger, you’re hindering the process.
The Sweet’n Low Diet
Another common attempt to cut calories is to substitute sugar for artificial sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners may seem like a healthy, low-calorie alternative to sugar, because sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low, for example, are not naturally occurring in nature, our bodies don’t know how to process them. There are many studies that link artificial sweeteners to serious health problems including migraines, nausea, joint pain, and depression.
Even though artificial sweeteners are often marketed as healthy alternatives to sugar, this is nothing more than a marketing scheme. The companies who develop and sell artificial sweeteners are not interested in your health!
The “How many calories does that have” Diet
Just the like The Fat-free Diet, I can see how the logic behind counting calories may sound like it would be an effective way to lose or maintain weight but alas, it doesn’t work. When we adopt the mindset of X amount of calories is my ideal diet or food intake then food becomes the enemy when it should be something that nourishes our mind and body. People who count calories often skip meals or eat foods with little nutritional value to meet the calorie count criteria and end up starving the body of what it really needs and then binging or creating unhealthy eating habits in the process of preserving the calorie count. This is no way to live. Food is meant to be enjoyed. In fact, enjoying your food is one of the practices of mindful eating and can promote a healthy metabolism and digestive system. This cannot be achieved if you are afraid to eat.
While the solution to this problem is simple, it is not easy… you must learn to accept your body exactly as it is right now. When you come from that mindset, you will be better able to make diet and lifestyle decisions that will allow you to be truly happy and healthy in the long run. You can enjoy food AND nourish your body.