In order to understand the short and long-term impact of bingeing, skipping meals, using diet pills and/or going on and off restrictive diets, we must first understand how our bodies respond to calories- or the lack thereof.
Our bodies are designed to ensure survival during times of famine. To do this, our bodies store up calories that may be needed later when food supplies, and therefore calories, are low. While we do not experience the same type of famine today that our ancestors once did, we can provide our bodies with the modern day equivalent of a famine: the infamous “diet,” otherwise known as self-inflicted food deprivation. Our bodies, not knowing the difference between involuntary starvation and voluntary caloric restriction, believe there is a famine and go into survival mode.
Survival mode means that every calorie is a precious resource- possibly the difference between life and death. As such, our bodies go to great lengths to hold on to every calorie, including sending “storage mode” signals to fat cells and by slowing our metabolism so we burn even fewer calories than before the caloric restriction. Additionally, our bodies know that muscle burns more calories than fat, and in its sophisticated and stubborn attempts at ensuring our survival, the body will consume muscle mass for fuel so that precious stored (fat) calories do not need to be burned. This results in a loss of muscle and an even slower metabolism.
What this ultimately means for us, is that when we go on calorie- restrictive diets, the weight we lose isn’t all fat weight; it’s also muscle mass weight. As if all of this news wasn’t bad enough, there’s more. Once the famine/diet is over and we return to our old eating habits, our bodies don’t return to their old fat burning habits. Our metabolisms don’t automatically speed up again just because we have resumed consumption of a calorie rich diet. The body has learned its lesson- there are famines out there and it’s all about survival. This is why it is easier to gain the weight back after a diet than it was to gain it the first time around. The body has been put into calorie storage (a.k.a., fat) mode. Add the effects of reduced muscle mass and slower metabolism, and you have the ingredients for fat disaster. Imagine the results after your body has been through several cycles of famine! If you are like most people, you have been on several calorie restricting diets over the years. Don’t panic! There is a solution to this madness.
Just as the car is designed to function with gasoline and the computer is designed to function with electricity, our bodies are designed to function with nutrients derived from food. We must feed our bodies the nutrients they need if we expect them to function at peak level. If we do not give our bodies the proper nutrients in sufficient quantities, our bodies will not be able to fight off illness, recover from a workout, supply our brains with “brain power,” or burn fat. This means we will not see the results we are working so hard for.
However, supplying our bodies with the proper nutrients will boost our energy level, speed our workout recovery time, reduce illness, aid in fat loss, and help to increase the metabolic rate.
If you are still not convinced that starving yourself is counterproductive, read on. Skipping meals and/or starving yourself can lead to strong cravings, especially for sweets, because your body is calling out for a shot of quick energy that is found in simple carbohydrates like sugar. In addition, you may overcompensate for your hunger by eating a larger portion than you would have, had you not allowed your body to get so hungry in the first place.
Thinking of using a supplement to curb those cravings? You’re not alone. Diet pills, fat blockers, and appetite suppressants can be overwhelmingly enticing to many would-be dieters. Advertisers use emotion to sell their products; and they know that hope is a strong emotion. They want you to believe that a pill will solve your problems and answer your prayers.
The truth is, using these products will not only make you vulnerable to missing out on much needed nutrients, but will also put you in jeopardy of potential sleep disturbances, psychological dependence, allergic reactions, dangerous interactions with other medications, depression, mental illness, heart disease, kidney disease, epilepsy, high blood pressure, irritability, diabetes, and a host of other medical and psychological problems.
Is it worth the risk? Decide whether or not you are willing to put your body into “starvation mode” ever again. Reclaim your power to make the best decision for you and your body. Keep up the healthy choices! See you next week!
Melinda Haynes, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
California lic. no. 102308
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