The Health Dangers of Dieting and Weight Loss That We Don't Talk About Enough

dangers of dieting
credit: Mikhail Nilov

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Although we finally started to embrace body positivity over the last few years, diet culture still reigns supreme.

Fad diets like Keto, Paleo, Whole30, and more continuously tout the “health” benefits of such eating styles but, in reality, many of these diets can be extremely dangerous.  Many popular diets include food restrictions and many, many rules, both of which can be harmful to your physical, sexual, reproductive, and mental health.

While there are certainly safe ways to lose weight, these diets might not be the answer. If you’re considering jumping on the bandwagon and trying out one of these diets, make sure you understand the dangers before you proceed.

1. Malnutrition

Many diet plans encourage you to cut out whole food groups, which can lead to a loss of nutrients. For example, Keto encourages you to reduce or completely avoid fruits and veggies that are considered too sugary or too starchy —i.e. bananas, apples, grapes, peaches, pineapple, potatoes, carrots, and corn.

The same can be said for Whole30 and Paleo, both of which have various restrictions on important things like fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

But many of these foods contain important vitamins and nutrients that your body needs! And unless you’re supplementing with other foods, you could be at risk of malnutrition.

Malnutrition can lead to very serious issues like loss of muscle mass, lower energy, heart problems, problems breathing, GI issues, decreased immunity, depression, and anxiety, to name a few.

2. Hair Loss

That’s right, restrictive diets can lead to serious hair loss issues that can become permanent — an issue that not even the best hair loss clinic in the world can fix.

Those who are particularly at risk of hair loss are those who lose weight too quickly and those who don’t get enough iron in their diet. A 2015 study found that, due to crash diets, women experienced hair loss caused by iron deficiency and stress.

3. Depression

Numerous studies have found that dieting can lead to serious mental health issues, including depression. According to Dr. Stephanie Fulton of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine,

“The chemicals changed by the diet are associated with depression. A change of diet then causes withdrawal symptoms and a greater sensitivity to stressful situations, launching a vicious cycle of poor eating.

Interestingly, Dr. Fulton’s study found in an experiment conducted using mice that those who ate a high-fat diet (ahem, Keto) showed increased anxiety as compared to the group who ate a low-fat diet. According to her findings, the high-fat diet led to an increase in corticosterone steroids, a hormone associated with stress.

4. A Screwed Up Menstrual Cycle

Not only is there a link between your diet and your mental health, but there’s also a link with your sexual health. Restrictive diets can disrupt the hormones involved in your menstrual cycle. This is particularly true of low-carb diets (ahem, Keto, Atkins). A lack of carbs and calories can increase cortisol, as mentioned earlier, which can disrupt your menstrual cycle or even halt it completely.

5. GI Problems

What you eat has a massive effect on your gut health and, if you don’t eat the right things, you can seriously mess things up. Depending on what you eat (or don’t eat), dieting can cause diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas. For example, diets high in fiber can cause constipation and stomach pains, in particular.

6. Chronic Fatigue

We all know that, in order to lose weight, you need to eat less than the energy you burn off throughout the day. But if you eat too little, you won’t have enough energy to do your regular day-to-day activities, leaving you constantly fatigued.

7. Loss of Muscle and Bone Mass

As mentioned earlier, a loss of nutrients from a restrictive diet can lead to a loss of muscle mass and a decrease in bone density. You may think that, as long as you exercise, you’ll get the benefits of building muscle mass, but without the proper vitamins and nutrients, that will be near impossible to do.