The Wrong Way to Lose Weight: Latest from The Chron’s Food Blog

I know a lot of women who aren’t happy with their weight. I suppose that’s obvious, though – who isn’t?

When I’m watching an episode of Party Down and Lizzy Caplan slips into a pool wearing her just her bra and panties, with her ribs countable and all here baby-bearing stomach fat gone from view, I quickly make a vow not to eat any more dessert at the dining halls. Or maybe I’ll pledge to do 50 crunches tonight, and a hundred the next night, and if I go exponentially up from there until I’m perfectly toned (and possibly dead) I’ll be able to count my own ribs whenever I want.

It’s this kind of logic that leads young women to make a decision I loathe: “Well, I just won’t eat.”

No, no, no. This idea isn’t just unhealthy, irresponsible, and dangerously closes to an actual eating disorder- it’s ineffective, and actually contrary to these women’s goals.

(I am, of course, referring to people who skip meals and consciously decide not to eat out of a misplaced desire to shed pounds at once, and not to real eating disorders- though the information below is relevant to them as well. I by no means seek to argue that anorexia or other disorders are not valid problems).

Dieting by not eating anything “forces your body into starvation mode,” according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Your body, losing nutrients and desperate to keep up, conserves much-needed energy by slowing down your metabolism.
Slow metabolism? Sound familiar? That means when you do consume food, which you must eventually do, it’ll have a sort of compounded effect. Your body needs to store food, because it’s so precious and rare. So, you will indeed lose weight at first, but as your body adapts quickly that will end. Often with this method, upwards of 95 percent of weight lost is actually water, not body fat, according to Water is much easier to lose and gain than body fat is.

Also, because this particular weight loss solution is completely counterintuitive to innate human drives, it of course includes some other negative effects, like weakness, loss of endurance, slower reaction times, increased stress and depression.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about – I heard it a long time ago, and it has always stuck in my mind for some reason: a friend once told me two weeks before a pool party that she’d decided to stop eating for the next 14 days so she could slide into her last summer’s swimsuit. I was shocked. I told her it was a stupid, destructive idea. Probably not the most PC thing to say.

I could also name several people who dislike healthful food, so when they’re tired of eating unhealthily they decide not to eat at all. This leads to binge-eating, which studies show is much more likely in people who skip meals, according to the Weight-control Information Network; I know too well the “democratic bargaining” that goes on in one’s mind when deciding whether or not to eat dessert.

Sometimes I think, late at night, “Well, I skipped breakfast, so I don’t have the calories from that…and I just ate a granola bar for lunch, so I guess I can consume all of the food in my house at this very moment.”

But this sort of thinking is a slippery slope, and crazed hunger logic makes no sense when you think about it. Any amount of ice cream, Cool Ranch Doritos, cheese sticks or yogurt pretzels I eat in the wee hours of the morning during the final throes of a particularly vile history paper doesn’t compare to a “balanced breakfast.” No surprise there.

Basically, food sustains us. Hey, that’s why hunger exists. It’s surprising, though, how many women see food as some sort of Greek Siren – ignore its tempting calls and you “win”. That is ridiculous. But sometimes I’m one of those.

So, what’s the solution? Face it, you know what I’m going to say. No secrets, no silver bullets. Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and the like, all in moderate amounts. Get outside and moving every day. Exercise. And despite living in a country which spends around $50 billion on weight-loss products every year, the solution to good health has always been just that.

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