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{healthy} life with style: extreme dieting

Posted Jul 20 2012 12:00am

Hi friends! Happy Friday. I’ve enjoyed a relaxing morning at home with Rob today –  quite a change from my usual weekday morning routine! It’s a treat to have a day off every once in a while.


Last week I received an email from a reader about dieting. In particular, what diet I would recommend “to lose a quick 10 pounds.”

Now, I did the whole fad diet thing in college when the Atkins Diet was all the rage. Some unhealthy habits such as frequent trips to the dining hall, pulling all-nighters, attending football games with kegs of beer at my disposal and sipping many fruity cocktails with my girlfriends added a good 10 pounds onto my frame over the course of 4 years. It probably felt worse than it looked but in a desperate attempt to get Britney Spears-like abs during senior year, I decided to do the Atkins Diet with a friend.

I dropped those 10 pounds in about 2 weeks. I also almost went crazy. After 14 days, I just couldn’t do the no carbohydrate diet anymore. I was overcome by a craving, went straight to the ice cream shop where I got the largest ice cream I could find and ate every bite. Don’t get me wrong – indulging in a large ice cream is perfectly okay every once in a while.

Ice Cream1

The problem was, I ate a large ice cream every day for the next week. One day, I went twice. It wasn’t just the ice cream either. I ate significantly more at mealtime, too. I can’t describe it any other way than I just couldn’t help myself. As the pounds slowly started to come back, I felt more and more disappointed and was actually embarrassed by some photos of myself taken during our last week of college.

59957198507 0 BG

54137198507 0 BG

I look uncomfortable and believe me, I was. It turns out that those feelings of being out of control and not being able to resist overeating were my body’s way of saying “What the heck, Elle? FEED ME!”

Here’s where science comes into play:

recent experiment  with mice has shown that drastically changing eating behavior, such as switching from severe nutrient restriction to overeating actually changes the brain. Granted we do not have mice brains but mice are commonly used as models in research studies because scientists have discovered many, many similarities between us and them.

Calorie-restricted mice had significantly lower levels of leptin, a satiety hormone that actually tells you to tone-down the eating when you’ve had enough. Us RDs-to-be remember it as “eptin makes you eat ess.” If your leptin is low, the body’s signal to tell you to stop eating is significantly weaker.

Dieting, which the body recognizes as starvation, may actually “teach” us to overeat nutrient-dense (high calorie, high fat) foods when we again have access to them. Since access to these high calorie & high fat foods is not problematic in our country, dieters begin eating them again when willpower to avoid them runs out. This is where extreme dieting turns into a slippery slope. If your brain thinks you’re starving, it’s going to do everything it can to get you to fill up on fat and calories the next time it has the chance.

Two weeks on the Atkins Diet was enough to turn me into an ice cream eating machine. Over the course of the following months though, the impulses to overeat faded… likely because my satiety hormones had normalized and my body no longer thought it was starving.  I stopped obsessing about everything I put into my mouth and my weight leveled off at my previous normal number.

I’m a firm believer that small lifestyle changes are the most successful and manageable way of improving one’s health, and that holds true to food & nutrition. I don’t believe in dieting. The highs and lows are too extreme, it’s just not sustainable. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t work because drastic restrictions on calories or entire food groups sends messages to the body that change the way we think and our ability to make wise choices. It happened to me and it’s happened to most others who’ve tried extreme dieting before. It’s pretty much unavoidable!

Eating whole foods packed with lean protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber is what makes my body happiest. An added bonus? I’m as small now as I was at my skinniest in college and I haven’t restricted my eating in years. It’s a healthy lifestyle change that can actually be quite enjoyable and tasty if you go about it the right way.

What are your thoughts on & experiences with extreme dieting? Have you ever tried one? What were the results? What works best for you? I’d love to hear!

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