A recent study by Linda Bacon, UC Davis nutritionist, and co-author Lucy Aphramor, a National Health Service specialist dietician, concludes that dieting and weight loss efforts may actually be detrimental to one’s health.
According to the study, focusing on weight is not only unsuccessful in creating thinner, healthier bodies, but may lead to unintended consequences – food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders and weight stigmatization and discrimination.
“Focusing on weight backfires,” said Bacon. “Students should focus on well being and contentment, because it tends to result in developing better life habits.”
In the study, Bacon stressed that changing health behaviors can improve blood pressure, self-esteem and other indicators of health and well being. While weight loss may occur with healthier habits, the goal is self-care.
In Bacon’s book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, she discredits the usual myths about weight loss, while providing helpful tips for creating a healthy lifestyle.
Instead of focusing on weight loss, students should establish healthy habits now in order to maintain a healthy body in the years to come.
In the beginning, diets can be effective, but at some point the body realizes deprivation and will reset the metabolism. While diets work in the short term, they won’t in the long term, and may even result in weight gain. Instead students should work with their bodies, Bacon said.
Liz Applegate, Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at UC Davis, suggested that students eat three pieces of fruit, three cups of vegetables and always pick whole grains when eating bread or pasta.
“Just those three categories are associated with being healthy,” she said. “That means having a healthier body composition and smaller waist size. Even though it’s not about losing weight, it is about establishing a healthy weight so you don’t gain the average one to two pounds a year that is associated with diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Plus you will feel better.”
With weight loss as the primary focus, students can end up making big mistakes that are damaging in the long run, Applegate said.
Skipping meals is the biggest mistake. When you skip meals, your calorie burning slows and you end up overeating because of all the restriction. Also, people join programs to lose weight and expect the weight to stay off once the program is over, which is unrealistic. Lastly, students think they can be good Monday through Friday, then eat or drink whatever they want during the weekend, Applegate said. The body is pleading you not to do that, because huge swings in calorie and alcohol intake are detrimental.
Cutting out these common weight loss approaches is only one aspect in creating a healthy lifestyle. Students are encouraged to think more about appreciating and enjoying food.
“It’s about honoring food,” said Bacon. “When you pay attention to the flavors, you will realize that grabbing something from a vending machine is very unsatisfying.”
In addition to eating well, exercise is a key component to a healthy body.
“Students should exercise 60 to 90 minutes a day, which sounds staggering, but it’s easy to accumulate those minutes throughout the day,” Applegate said.
Even if students have a busy schedule, making time for physical activity is possible.
“Exercise is a good stress release, a way to build confidence and take your mind off of school for a little bit,” said Kaitlyn Sitts, a senior nutrition science major. “Going for a 15-minute walk after dinner or getting up and walking around when you hit a block while studying can always help reduce stress.”
Applegate said that a healthy lifestyle will not happen overnight, but the transition from weight loss efforts to creating healthy habits is the first step.
“From this day onward you have the rest of your life,” Applegate said. “It’s really a matter of taking care of yourself now and starting [healthy] lifestyle habits.”
MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at email@example.com.