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Study Finds Risks Posed by Diets That Aren’t ‘Medically Necessary’

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The Journal of Applied Psychology published a recent study. Qualitative Health Research, details the serious long-term effects of weight cycling, and diets that are not “medically necessary.” Weight cycling, also referred to as yo-yo dieting, is when a person regains the weight they lost, or possibly more, motivating them to pursue increasingly “unsustainable” dietary methods.

The small study, carried out at North Carolina State University, consisted of 36 adults—13 men and 23 women—aged 18 to 70 who had experienced weight cycling. “Nearly every participant acknowledged they were not motivated to lose weight to improve their health, but ‘[due to] societal pressure,’” Lynsey Romo, a co-author of the report, told Men’s JournalQuoted by one of the participants.

“Our findings suggest that it can be damaging for people to begin dieting unless it is medically necessary,” she said in A statement. “Dieting to meet some perceived societal standard inadvertently set participants up for years of shame, body dissatisfaction, unhappiness, stress, social comparisons, and weight-related preoccupation.”

Romo shared quotes by several participants, who all used pseudonyms for their privacy. Men’s Journal. Patrick, 23, explained that he was losing weight to “look good with my shirt removed and feel good.”

Romo noted that “family and friends also had a major influence on the participants’ opinions of their appearance.” “A loved-one or a peer trying to lose weight made the participants think that they should also shed pounds.”

Romo continued, “Many interviewed participants reported that they learned weight attitudes and behaviors through the media (especially on social media), their family and peers. They compared their bodies with others, felt unsatisfied with their appearance, and began their weight-loss journey. She also noted that “most participants spoke of social media in relation to their body dissatisfaction.”

Participants reported undertaking “disordered weight management behaviors” in pursuit of slimming down. These episodes included episodes of Binge eating and emotional eating, greatly restricting the amount of food and calories they allowed themselves to consume, as well as “memorizing calorie countsThe stress of worrying about what you eat and the number that appears on the scale. Relying on quick fixes, such as low-carbohydrate or diet drugs. [and] overexercising.”

Romo explained the behavior is not specific to any one gender or group of age. She said that both men and women talked about the pressure they felt to conform to beauty standards in society by dieting. “Dieting led to weight gain and then weight loss. The cycle continued.” This is not just a female phenomenon. 

The researchers also found out that almost all participants had anxiety about weight loss. They admitted to avoiding events where food was present in order to lose weight faster or keep it off.

“Weight loss became a focal point for their lives, to the point that it distracted them from spending time with friends, family, and colleagues and reducing weight-gain temptations such as drinking and overeating,” Romo said.

Many of those profiled referred to their erratic dieting as “an addiction or a vicious cycle.” While “the vast majority of study participants [remained] stuck in the cycle,” according to Romo, she told Men’s JournalWeight cycling can be avoided by increasing self-awareness and reducing harmful dieting behaviors.

Rose, 22 said she changed her approach “by not adhering to a strict diet plan and not being too rigid. [not] following crazy fad diets.”

Even those who can break the cycle say that the feeling doesn’t really go away. Kaylee, a 22-year-old woman, told researchers that she was “recovering” from weight cycling. “It’s still on my mind like a lot throughout the day,” she admitted. “It’s still something that I’m anxious about, and I still kind of obsess over.” 

Romo states that, “The combination ingrained thought processes, societal pressures, toxic diet culture and pervasive weight stigma make it difficult for people, even when they want to, to completely exit the circle.”

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