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Dieting: Healthy or Not?

Published on Sunday, January 17, 2016 by Samantha Wong

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Sather Health. See our Terms and Conditions of Use for details.

Dieting. From the Atkins diet to the water diet to avoiding meals in general, there are plenty of methods that one can take to attain one's ideal body image. While some diets are inspired by getting more exercise and healthy foods into one's diet, others take a more drastic turn and involve skipping meals entirely. The motivation to go on a diet also differs among individuals, with some hoping to lose weight and others wanting to live a more healthy lifestyle ("Why Do People Go on a Diet?"). However, before you choose to go on a diet, it's important to know how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy dieting.

Nowadays, dieting is focused on weight loss as an outcome. Michelle Wilkinson, author of the Living Healthy 360 article "Why do people go on Fad Diets," explains that people go on fad diets to lose weight quickly. In other words, the amount of weight you lose often indicates the effectiveness of your diet plan. However, a weight loss-focused diet can often have serious consequences, such as "food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination" ("Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift"). Dieting to lose weight isn't always healthy. After all, one can lose weight by skipping meals altogether. US News Health further explains that a diet that induces weight loss can be unhealthy if "it locks out or severely restricts entire food groups, relies on supplements with little scientific backing or clamps down on calories to an extreme." But if weight loss shouldn't be our main motivation to diet, what should our motivation be?

The article "Weight Science: Evaluating Evidence for a Paradigm Shift" describes an alternate approach to dieting called Health at Every Size, or HAES. Instead of prioritizing weight loss, HAES promotes health behaviors for people regardless of their weight, and weight loss becomes a possible side effect rather than a goal. The three main components of HAES include 1) encouraging body acceptance rather than weight loss/maintenance, 2) relying on internal regulatory processes of diet such as hunger rather than imposing external dietary restrictions, and 3) promoting general activity instead of structured exercise. These components shift the focus of dieting to health maintenance, allowing individuals to feel healthy and confident about their bodies through natural methods instead of strict rules about when to eat and exercise.

How can college students adopt the HAES approach to dieting? The article, "The Non-Diet Approach for Health at Every Size" lists several ways one can use HAES to guide their dieting strategy.

  1. The most important thing is to make health promotion and maintenance your main motivation. Everyone has different body sizes, and it's more important to be healthy than to lose pounds through unhealthy methods.

  2. It is also important to include foods from all food groups in your diet instead of cutting certain food groups, such as carbs, out. Each food group contains nutrients your body needs to be healthy, and the key word is moderation. One should also try to limit the amount of saturated fats and sugars one consumes daily. The article "Eight Tips for Healthy Eating" goes more into detail about how much of each food group you should have in your diet.

  3. Lastly, one can also incorporate more activity into all parts of one's routine instead of making trips to the gym a daily chore. Examples include walking to class instead of taking the bus and taking the stairs up to your apartment or dorm instead of the elevator.

Remember that it's more important to feel healthy than to have an external "ideal" body image. Be healthy both inside and out!


Tags: dietfoodweight loss

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