Restrictive Dieting: Are you doing more harm than good?
“Cut then bulk” or "Let's start you off on a low calorie diet" - What if these little phrases were actually some of the worst suggestions possible for female health. Controversial? Probably, but it’s true.
When a woman has nutritionally neglected her body for months, years or possibly decades the majority of “transformation professionals” will suggest a heavily restricted lifestyle to get results. Will you lose weight quickly? Sure, but at what price. These “professionals” will tell you that you need to deprive the body in order to succeed, this is wrong.
Now, wind the clock back. Think about the time before kids, before family responsibilities, before your mental health seemed to cripple your every decision. A time before our society taught you that your needs need to come behind everyone and everything else. Seems like a lifetime ago? Maybe it was. Maybe you’ve never known of a time when this wasn’t the case. Whether this is a new or old habit, the stress load is the same – unbearable and unmaintainable. Now, I’m not just talking about the psychological stress but also the physical toll this type of stress load can cause. Whether it’s living with extra weight, not sleeping enough, not eating a balanced and tailored diet or ‘treating’ yourself a little too often. The reality is that every time we put our own health second to those around us, we are creating chemical responses within our system and these volatile responses only sets our health journey back further. It’s a vicious cycle.
So this leads me to Cortisol, the stress hormone. When your body is placed under high levels of stress your body will release the chemical Cortisol to help you cope and manage. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, what very few of us realise is that when you are a woman with excess Cortisol, this actually impacts your Testosterone levels. Testosterone? Huh, I’m woman, why is that important? When the female body detects high levels of Testosterone, it will cycle and convert the excess Testosterone to Oestrogen. So now, from a “little stress” you have created excess Cortisol and Testosterone and in turn now have rising Oestrogen levels. From here the changes are obvious, what was once a simple ebb and flow of hormones creating your “typical” menstrual cycle, your body is now in a state of hormonal inflammation that can severely impact your menstrual cycle and in turn your body as a whole.
So, how does the above tie in with restrictive eating to get results? Well, the truth of the matter is, restrictive eating does not work long term. Not only does it not work, it has lasting effects on our self-confidence, menstrual cycles, sex drive, and overall mental health. When we restrict our bodies of the calories it needs to survive, we are creating stress, which means cortisol – to reiterate, this is not good girl! Why is it stressful when you feel positive (for now!) about it? Well, because you we are starving, not figuratively, literally. Your body is not designed to cope with drastic change, so Cortisol is released and your metabolism slows and once your metabolism slows, you will begin to feel the effects immediately; sluggishness, bloating, low sex drive and mood swings to name a few. While this seems like no huge thing, restrictive dieting in this manner can have serious long-term effects on your overall health.
One of the main problems with restrictive dieting is that it sets you up to fail. You emotionally invest yourself in a system that doesn’t work, you think to yourself “When I lose the weight, I will feel better, right?” WRONG. You’ve lost the weight but now your hormones are out of whack, your emotional and reactive, tired, cranky and you’re thinking to yourself “But I did everything right. Why am I still feeling crappy?” Well the answer is simple, your body is out of balance. And so the cycle begins again; the weight is gone but you’re in a slump, you feel crappy and you need a pick me up and so you grab for the chocolate, the wine, lack of energy means you stop exercising.... get the picture?
So, what if you were to approach weight loss in a different way. Take out the quick but add permanent, remove weight and add lifestyle. A permanent lifestyle change.
The solution is not quick and it’s definitely not always easy. Learning how to replace the low nutrient foods you are addicted to with wholesome balanced food. Reframing your mind set from “dieting” to making better life choices. Removing the ingrained sense of negativity surrounding your relationship with food. Food is life, we need it to live, it is not a treat or a punishment but nourishment for your body to survive and better yet THRIVE. You deserve better than a quick fix, you deserve to feel amazing inside and out. Once your metabolism catches up and adjusts to this newly found appreciation of your body and food, it will balance. Balance is always key. From this balance you will feel your energy levels rise, any excess weight will shift and the most important part, you will feel satisfied in every sense of the word.
As women, our bodies are incredibly special. If it be your choosing, your body literally has the capacity to create and nurture life. By looking after your health and wellbeing, you are protecting one of the very few things that make you a woman. You are taking back control in a patriarchal system that has made you feel selfish for putting yourself first. You are empowered, you are your own woman.