This week’s article is a special guest post from Lauren Dorman, a Registered Dietitian and owner of the company Don’t Diet Dietitian! This is such an important topic for college students, and Lauren will be talking all about the dangers of dieting and what students can do instead.
Here’s a startling statistic: 91 percent of female college students will diet at some point during their collegiate years. And somewhere between 12 and 25 percent of those students will struggle with an eating disorder, though many will never seek treatment.
The truth is, people in all body sizes have complex, difficult relationships with food. You cannot necessarily tell just by looking at someone if that individual is struggling because the disease most commonly lies in the brain, which hyperfocuses on food and the body. If disordered eating is not addressed and treated, it could turn into a full-blown eating disorder. It is also very important for students to understand that they can still get support and guidance without a diagnosis.
This post is all about the dangers of dieting.
Let’s imagine that a diet came with a warning label: a form of voluntary starvation that doubles the enzymes that make and store body fat, decreases metabolism, and increases cravings and binges as the body tries to survive self-imposed famine. Yo-yo dieters have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, and elevated cortisol levels.
When young adults become aware of how destructive dieting can be, they can learn to say a firm “no” to diets, shifting their mindsets to approach nutrition and health long-term in a more realistic and flexible way.
Many college students have never learned what healthy, flexible, and mindful eating looks like. This is because we are surrounded by diet culture, which is a $70 billion industry that constitutes a system of beliefs about bodies that can impact a person’s behaviors and thoughts. It values thinness over health and well-being.
There are rigid rules, such as specific times to eat, what foods you should or should not have, portion sizes, and the “don’t eat late at night” myth. These rigid rules, along with food “labeling,” can easily lead to feelings of guilt and shame—emotions that are far worse for your health than the actual food.
If you’re either not eating enough or not consuming a variety of food categories, you may develop an array of side effects, including irritability, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, poor sleep, missed periods, food obsession, and more cravings.
How is social media damaging our relationship with food and body? Anyone can post anything about food, health, and nutrition. Influencers can portray themselves as experts. You could be seeing between 3,000 and 5,000 images a day of “perfect” bodies. This constant comparison can take a heavy toll on self-esteem, impacting body dissatisfaction and affecting eating behaviors.
Society places significant value on how we look, with too much emphasis on appearance being everything. We are inundated with the marketing of diets or weight-loss programs that promise to bring us love, fulfillment, and happiness. Societal pressures attempt to convince us that we must fit into a certain ideal body. Our culture and media may indeed contribute to the development of disordered eating, but they cannot produce the condition
on their own.
While we are unable to shield students from these dangerous messages, we can provide the knowledge and resources they need to become media-literate and recognize their potential harm.
You have the power to choose to unfollow an account that doesn’t make you feel good—such as anyone who is pushing a specific diet, supplement, or exercise plan, or an unrealistic wellness “lifestyle” in general. I encourage you to follow a Registered Dietitian and some other accounts provided below.
I believe that everyone deserves access to and education through a Registered Dietitian (RD)—a genuine expert in nutrition science who can provide practical solutions to help others improve their physical, mental, and emotional health outcomes.
Let’s focus on simplifying nutrition and health by promoting self-worth, behavior change, and self-care activities. Healthy eating can and should incorporate a variety of foods, such as those that are nutrient-dense and those that aren’t. In addition, students can focus on how they feel when eating certain foods and what these different foods do for their bodies.
Healthy behaviors include getting adequate sleep, managing stress better, learning how to cope with feelings, and incorporating joyful movement. I strongly favor having meaningful relationships, nourishing your body every few hours with meals and snacks, honoring hunger and fullness, and hydrating with plenty of water. All these behaviors can provide a feeling of confidence and empowerment.
Through Discover Don’t Diet, I have helped many students change their relationship with food and STOP:
- Fearing food
- Using food to feel better and numb difficult thoughts & emotions
- Blaming food for lack of willpower or control
- Giving power to food, instead empowering themselves
- Feeling guilt & shame when eating certain foods
- Making food the most enjoyable part of their lives
- Constantly thinking about their body & food-related decisions
Instead, they STARTED:
- Understanding that their core beliefs & self-talk were valid, though untrue & not helpful
- Eating foods that nourish & satisfy
- Understanding how all foods fit
- Using non-food coping mechanisms when uncomfortable feelings occurred
- Mindfully eating and tasting food flavors
- Becoming aware of how certain foods make them feel both mentally & physically
- Increasing their confidence surrounding food decisions
- Thinking about food less often and enjoying life more
- Feeling deserving of mental, emotional, & physical well-being
- Believing they are worth it!
Moving forward, these are the words young adults deserve to feel about food and body… Calming, Joyful, Easy, Loving, Peaceful, Beautiful, Nourishing, Confident, Satisfied, Simple!
CLICK HERE if you would like to receive the FREE guide on the 10 Ways to Practice Self-Care Through Nutrition.
Would you be interested in a simple meal planner and visual plate guide? Visit www.laurendormanRD.com and click “Workshops.”
If interested in attending Lauren’s virtual classes or having her speak at your college or for an organization, please contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helpful accounts to support you developing a more positive relationship with food and body:
This post was all about the dangers of dieting.