Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pet Peeve: To Diet or Not to Diet (Part I)

I've always firmly believed Garfield's description of dieting: diet is "die" with a "t." As I started taking nutrition, physiology, and other science classes in college, that idea seemed to reaffirm itself time and time again. I've been arguing with my parents about what's "good" and "bad" in the food world, but everything seems to go in circles! On the other hand, who doesn't want to lose weight, have more energy, and feel great?

I have been comparing all of the facts in my head for quite some time now. DanceSpirit recently did a great article on 5 Reasons Not to Diet Through Your Teen Years, which brings up some really good points. I'll try to list out my own reasons with the science behind them:

  1. Extremes are bad: moderation is always the key. Love bacon, or coffee, or chocolate? Have one piece, or one cup - not five. One can't hurt that much, but five can. In the same way, extreme dieting like the Atkins diet (all red meat and green leafies, no carbs) or the Master Cleanse (lemons, water, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and a laxative) can hurt more than they help for the reasons listed in the article. Technology may have advanced the human race, but the human body is almost exactly the same as the caveman's body was centuries ago. Your body is simple and stupid.
    • note: some people consider vegetarianism or veganism to be extremes. They can be for some people (my mom has terrible stomach problems if she doesn't eat meat), but for some people, it can be the right choice. Everyone has a different body chemistry - not everyone is cut out to be vegan, and some vegans are very healthy.
  2. Never, ever starve yourself: you're a dancer! Food is literally what fuels your instrument. If you try to diet by not eating enough, your metabolism will ultimately slow down because your body is tricked into "survival mode," thinking you're starving and can't find food. This will trigger cravings for starchy or sugary foods like fries, chips, and sweets because they are a quick way to get glucose, the only fuel your brain can use, into your bloodstream.
  3. Too much of a good thing: I'm repeating myself a bit, but extremes are bad. If you eat only celery and tomatoes because they're "safe," think again. You'll be missing a lot of vitamins and minerals you need that you'd get with a varied diet. Supplements aren't an answer - your body absorbs natural nutrients much easier and they're much more compatible with your body chemistry. Likewise, it's good to drink water, but it's possible to drink too much! You might be flushing out some of those important vitamins and minerals that you need, and in extreme cases you can thin your blood too much and pass out!
Of course, you have to do good things too, not just avoid bad things.
  1. Variation is key: Another repetition, but varying your diet is a way to diet! If you eat the same thing every day, your body will become very efficient at processing and storing that food. For me, I was eating a slice of whole grain toast with almond butter and a banana for breakfast every day. It started out as a very filling food that would last me hours, but within weeks, I was starving just 45 minutes later after eating exactly the same breakfast! Eating different things at different times each day will keep your body guessing, working, and burning more calories. Don't let it get lazy!
  2. Eat breakfast: Have you ever heard people tell you to work out first thing in the morning because it jumpstarts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories all day? Breakfast does the same thing - it starts your metabolism and helps regulate your appetite and hunger/thirst hormones for the day. Studies show that people who don't eat breakfast regularly (or forgo it for a cup of coffee) eat more throughout the day and are prone to making poorer health choices.
  3. Exercise!: As much as we all hate to hear it, the only way to truly "diet" is a lifestyle change, and that means food and exercise. I came up with some ways to stay in shape this summer, and remember that something is better than nothing! If you want to lose weight, you have to do more than you're currently doing (yes, even dancers). More muscle burns more calories even when it's sitting doing nothing, so pick up some strength training and tone up!

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