Losing weight may not always be the healthy thing it’s cracked up to be.
Kate Moss famously said, ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. Evidence is starting to emerge, however, regarding the potentially damaging effects of extreme dieting on the brain processes, & hence the moods, of those who undertake such weight loss programmes.
At one time losing a lot of weight in a short space of time was considered to be unhealthy, but concern for rising obesity levels appears to have made it much more acceptable, even among health professionals. Surgery has also become more commonly used as a way of addressing weight problems, & the Royal College of Surgeons recently demanded that gastric weight loss surgery be made more widely available on the NHS.
There seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence of family & friends being shocked by the apparent personality changes that can accompany extreme weight loss dieting. Often people report their loved one as looking half starved or unwell, & while losing some weight can be a healthy thing to do if you’re overweight, losing too much, too quickly ban be unhealthy leading to loss of energy, & affecting the immune system. But it is the psychological changes that can be an unexpected & unpleasant result of extreme dieting. Anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty in concentrating, impaired memory, & slower reaction times are some of the possible side effects that have been noted. Often people can become obsessive about food, going out of their way to avoid it, & this can mean withdrawing from the very social aspect of eating which can be integral to our relating to others.
There is also some evidence that our brain is affected - not just as a result of having too little food - but in response to the emotions attached to food deprivation. Experiments have shown that it is this feeling of deprivation that results in the altered mood so often reported by friends & family members of the person on a weight loss ‘programme’. Psychologist Susan Quilliam has this to say on the subject, ‘Food is one of the most fundamental ways of showing self-love, and it nurtures our spirit as well as our body. Depriving ourselves of food could easily make us feel diminished and punished on a subliminal level even if on a conscious level we think it’s what we want. So, even with the weight loss, we might not be happy until we start looking after ourselves again.’ To come full circle & return to Kate Moss’ well known quotation at the start, maybe skinny doesn’t feel quite as good as she thinks it does; witness her addiction problem & trips to re-hab.
The message seems clear - for most of us a healthy balanced diet, gradual weight loss, & exercise. For those who really need it a calorie controlled diet should only be undertaken with the support of an expert.