When it comes to challenges with body image, the conversation usually focuses on the emotional toll such struggles can take. They can severely damage our confidence and sense of self-worth, and that can hold us back from living our fullest lives.
However, you might be surprised to learn that body image struggles can be detrimental to our physical health as well. Those who suffer from a poor body image may try a number of tactics to reduce calories in their diet, and that can lead to a diet that is lacking in important nutrients.
Read on to learn how some of the most common calorie-cutting strategies can end up robbing our diets of the nutrients we need to be truly healthy.
Reducing essential fat
Often, because foods containing fat are frequently perceived as “high-calorie,” those with body image concerns opt for non-fat or low-fat alternatives. One negative consequence is that reduced-fat foods often use artificial ingredients to mimic the texture and flavor of natural fat, and those additives often have a host of negative health consequences.
In addition, essential fatty acids contribute to hormone production, thyroid and adrenal health, regulation of blood pressure and more. So being deficient in these compounds can have a shockingly negative impact on our health. Cutting fats indiscriminately, without being careful to keep the ones we need, can ultimately do more harm than good.
Eating a diet low in protein
Because protein-rich foods like meat and dairy contain animal fat, many people who are concerned about their weight may find themselves not getting enough protein. It is, of course, possible to get protein from lower-fat plant sources.
But, because most of these do not contain all of the essential amino acids we need, we have to eat two or more of them together, like beans and rice, for example. However, because these foods are high in carbohydrates, which are often perceived as being one of the root causes of body fat, many people avoid these foods as well.
Protein is a building block of muscles, bones, and cartilage. It’s important for healthy hair and nails. It can also help to keep blood sugar stable and prevent the dramatic spikes and dips that sometimes lead us to reach for whatever snack is handy, whether it’s good for us or not. When we eliminate protein from our diet in order to lose weight, we’re losing more than we know.
Consuming artificial sweeteners
In an attempt to cut calories, many of us turn to artificial sweeteners. But these are not always the healthiest option. Sweeteners like Splenda, for example, can’t be broken down by the body. And studies have associated aspartame with migraines, nausea, joint pain, depression and more, as well as more serious side effects.
Because they don’t occur in nature, our bodies don’t know how to process artificial sweeteners, and that can lead to a host of significant and adverse health effects. What’s worse, they’re marketed as healthy alternatives because they are low in calories. But this is nothing more than an advertising scheme. The developers of these artificial chemical sweeteners are not primarily interested in our health!
Of course, this is not to say we should all be consuming large amounts of sugar instead of NutraSweet. Granulated sugar is itself a highly processed product with little nutritional merit. The healthiest option is to cut down on sugars and sweeteners when possible and sweeten your foods with natural alternatives like fruit, honey, or maple syrup.
This is one of the most detrimental dieting behaviors because it is so wide-ranging. Cutting calories often leads to nutrient deficiencies across the board. It can lead to all of the behaviors discussed here—like reducing fat, reducing protein, and eating artificial sweeteners. It can also lead to meal skipping, and the consumption of meals that are simply too small.
Because all food contains calories, when we adopt the mindset that the best course of action is to eat as few calories as possible, all food becomes our enemy. We don’t enjoy our meals, and this leaves us without the proper emotional nourishment. We’re constantly deprived. The physical and emotional hunger we experience when we cut meals or don’t get the kind of nutrition we need can ultimately lead to boomerang behaviors like binge eating as well.
The solution to this, while it is not always easy, is to learn to accept ourselves and our bodies as they are. When we realize that we are inherently worthy, that we don’t have to prove our worth, then we will probably be less concerned about our weight or our physical appearance. And that allows us to focus on creating a lifestyle – and a diet – that will allow us to be truly healthy AND enjoy our food, rather than clinging to a way of life that’s designed only to keep us skinny.
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